Being barefoot a good part of the day is an important experience during childhood. For small children it not only allows for a sensory, exploratory experience but it also helps with the biomechanical development of their feet; it allows for healthy muscle development, experimenting with stability as well as free, unrestrictive movement of toes. Ongoing research suggests that barefoot experience in childhood has an overall positive impact on healthy development of musculoskeletal system. No wonder children like to take their shoes off most of the time, to our frustration but for their amusement and comfort.
There is a continuing debate regarding children’s healthy feet development with one group of professionals and parents alike supporting traditional, more rigid type of shoes, believing that feet need to be highly supported, and those who believe that feet need to have a chance to develop naturally and freely in order to function correctly through the life spam, on the other side of the argument. To make it more complicated for parents, manufacturers vary and provide footwear not only for each side of the scale but also for the many variations in between. Such footwear is then considered a hybrid between barefoot and more traditional shoes, which is also called barefoot-friendly or minimalist. Once again, even barefoot-friendly shoes can vary significantly from type to type depending on which conditions for “barefootness” they comply with.
The choice of shoes is plentiful. Most of the bigger, high street clothing brands offer a selection of footwear within their collections. There are also many brands that specialize solely in footwear which is equally overwhelming. The choice whether to pick barefoot or traditional footwear can be all a little confusing, especially when, as parents, we want to make the right decisions regarding to our little ones’ health. However, your decisions may largely depend on your own beliefs as a parent. With increased research in the past few decades, debating the effects on long-term feet functionality and causes of any medical issues based on the choice of shoes mainly in childhood, we would like to address a few points to help you understand what to look for in children’s footwear:
- Flexibility – first walking shoes, especially, should have extremely flexible soles. Very rigid shoes won't allow the toes to bend freely which can cause balance issues and toe damage. The shoes should bend well so when the child walks the sole bends at the same place as their toes.
- Sizing – for preschool children you should be choosing shoes that are approximately 12 mm bigger than your child’s feet(the range of 10-15mm). 5-6 mm is for free movement of toes and a further 5-6 mm allows for growth. As children’s feet grow quickly it is important to regularly check the space in your child’s shoes. If your child has only around 5 mm space in the front, the shoes should be swapped for a bigger size. Never let your child completely fill in their shoes as that can damage their feet or toes.
- Toe space – the top of the shoes should be as toe-accommodating as possible. They should be round rather than pointy, or be anatomically shaped. Pointy shoes do not allow free movement of toes and can cause serious damage to the feet or misalignment of toes.
- Right fit around ankles - the shoes should be fastened securely around their ankles to stop the feet from moving around and sliding forward towards the toe box. Remember, your toddler’s bones in their feet are very soft. Feet sliding towards the end of toebox can cause toe damage. (This might not be an issue in the case of very barefoot shoes, which are often extremely soft and would cause less issues considering this point.)
- Natural materials - children's feet sweat more than those of adults. Hence it is important to buy shoes from natural, breathable materials, and ideally, have a removable insole to be exchanged when or if necessary.
The points above are basics of what to look for but this would also depend on whether you are looking for barefoot-friendly or completely barefoot/minimalist-style shoes. If in doubt, feel free to get in touch with us.
We believe it is important to give a considerable thought to what kind of footwear your little ones wear because the development of their feet can be altered significantly during the first years of life. After all, those feet will carry them for the rest of their lives.
*Do keep in mind that not every brand has the same length and width of their footwear and it is important to remeasure the feet for each new pair of shoes.
Good luck, we are here for you.