In the fashion driven world we are given endless selections of cute baby and toddler outfits that are often hard to resist. Among these trends is a huge variety of baby shoes. It is an embedded part of our culture that when we see out little ones standing up that the inevitable “we need to get shoes” thought comes in mind. However, many experts recommend that barefoot is the best for learning to walk (and often beyond).
Let’s think about it for a minute. When we, as adults, get new shoes, we often need to get used to them. How many times have we felt like the shoes were making us walk in a little bit different way, gave us back pain or blisters? Shoes can alter the way we walk. Therefore, when a little baby is mastering a new skill such as walking, they need to do it as naturally as possible so they can develop the right balancing skills and stronger feet muscles. On top of that, walking barefoot gives children an invaluable sensory experience that teaches them so much about their new and continuously evolving environment. It also helps to develop their personality, for example what they like and what they dislike, as well as understanding danger or discomfort and with that learning how to move carefully and gradually being able to predict whether their next move is safe for them or not.
Soon enough after the first steps at home, your little ones’ exploratory drive becomes stronger and they will want to practise their new skill outside in the exciting wide world. At this stage the only thing they really need is something to protect their feet from the possible dangers of our (city) environment. Little booties/ soft sole shoes which are as squashable as paper with thin soles and which are very roomy to accommodate their wiggling toes are the best option. Such shoes won’t take away their sensory experience and will also allow their bones to grow and develop straight.
Once babies become more confident in walking and are independent walkers for about 2 months then it is OK to look for more “shoe like shoes”. However, they should still be incredibly flexible, have a toe box that accommodates their toes without squashing them, are as flat as possible and have a thinner rather than thicker soles. Such shoes are often called barefoot or minimalist and these are the three main factors to look for:
- Flexible thin soles
- Wide toe box
- Flat soles - zero drop from heel to toes.
The continuing research suggests that barefoot shoes (or *barefoot friendly) should be worn through any stage of life especially in a natural outdoor environment but the first months of walking are the most important.
*Barefoot-friendly or hybrid shoes are shoes that have some aspects of the barefoot but not all. There is a wide selection of articles online that try to differentiate the terminology of barefoot, minimalist and barefoot-friendly and their views can often differ. Barefoot-friendly shoes can for example have a very small drop from heel to toe(not more than 4-5mm) or offer a little cushioning at the heel, however there should never be a compromise on toe box shape and flexibility of the shoes.