As we continue to learn more and more about children's development, emerging research suggests that children are actually better off without shoes in the early years. At DMW, we give children the opportunity to choose whether they want to wear shoes or not - encouraging independence, autonomy and confidence!
While we will support the development of children and their readiness for wearing shoes at school, we will be encouraging our children to be shoeless whenever they are within the safe facilities of our service, classrooms or playgrounds. Enclosed safe shoes will still be required when we are regularly out and about in our community.
What's the research?
Tracy Byrne, a podiatrist specialising in podopaediatrics (children's feet), believes that wearing shoes at too young an age can affect a child's walking and cerebral development.
"Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot," she says. "The feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and causes them to fall down." Walking barefoot develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot's arch, improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.
Other studies have shown that wearing shoes can have a negative impact on a child's foot development including weakening the muscles, decreasing the range of movement in the foot and ankle and preventing the formation of fatty padding that protects our feet and supports healthy movement.
"Toddlers should go barefoot as often as possible to encourage balance, posture and coordination."
The link between shoes and sensory issues
Research shows that children can often concentrate more when they're not wearing shoes - it's a sensory thing! A child who is hypersensitive to tactile input may be feeling his sock seams, clothing labels or tight laces all day long. The constant irritation of these things can be distressing and distracting, to say the least! When a child feels physically or emotionally distressed because of sensory input, they will not be able to function at their best.
Think about the last time you wore an uncomfortable pair of shoes... it becomes the only thing you can focus on and you can't wait to get those shoes off! By giving children a choice to wear shoes, we are allowing them to remove those distractions and take control of their environment. In turn, this encourages self-regulation and gives the child an opportunity to explore the world on their own terms!
Which shoes to buy
Inevitably, there are situations where your child will need to wear shoes - whether it's a trip to the shops, a special family event or in preparation for big school. Here are some things to consider when purchasing shoes for your child:
a comfortable fit in length and width
plenty of room for the toes
a flexible, flat sole – check the sole can bend near the toe
the front of the shoe wider than the heel, to match the natural shape of the foot
a solid heel counter (part that goes around the back of the heel)
laces, straps or fasteners to prevent too much movement or slipping of the foot inside the shoe (remember that children aren't expected to be able to tie their shoelaces until about 7 or 8 years old)
Try to avoid buying shoes just because they 'look pretty' - expensive isn't always best! In fact, shoes like ballet slippers and sandals can actually be detrimental to the foot's development as their soles are often rigid. At DMW, we encourage parents to avoid thongs, shoes with laces and sandals for this reason. Opt for flexible joggers that move with your child's foot, rather than inhibit its movement!
Next time you're at the park or having some family time in the backyard, kick your shoes off and encourage your children to do the same. You'll be setting your children up for proper development as they grow (plus you'll be amazed at how much better it feels!)
Footwear and Locomotor Skill Performance in Preschoolers https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Leah_Robinson3/publication/51903232_Footwear_and_locomotor_skill_performance_in_preschoolers/links/540e409e0cf2f2b29a3a7a6b/Footwear-and-locomotor-skill-performance-in-preschoolers.pdf
Growing-up (habitually) barefoot influences the development of foot and arch morphology in children and adolescents
Increased hallux angle in children and its association with insufficient length of footwear: A community based cross-sectional study