My mom told me that she didn’t even start putting shoes on me until I was two years old. What happened with my feet that first winter, I may never know. But evidently I survived and my feet are probably all the tougher for it.
I grew up as a missionary kid; that’s my excuse for the weird looks I get when people see me walking around barefoot at the most inappropriate locations. Church, work, hiking trails, occasionally the grocery store… And then I married a South African who feels the exact same way about shoes that I do. So together we probably make a pretty odd couple.
Judging by our (lack of) love for shoes, I imagine our children aren’t going to grow up wearing shoes very often. So I was very encouraged when I did some research into this and found that there are actually a lot of medical professionals out there who agree with the barefoot approach! According to pediatricians and podiatrists, barefoot is better for kids learning how to walk and run. It improves their balance because they can feel the bumps and textures of the ground.
Walking barefoot also improves strength in children’s feet and ankles, while maintaining correct posture. Shoes can limit the amount of feedback the brain receives from the ground, which reduces instinctual corrections your body makes as you walk.
Shoes are meant to be protective, which means that as long as there is no hazard requiring them, they needn’t be worn. Most shoes made nowadays, particularly children’s shoes, are too stiff. They inhibit feedback from the ground which can cause tripping and loss of balance. Children learn to walk better barefoot. Even after learning to walk, many activities children engage in are easier done barefoot than in shoes.
It’s a common misconception that going barefoot is going to create flat feet. Feet, like any other muscles, require use. When we wear shoes with arch support every day, our arches no longer need to function on their own. Studies show that people groups that do not wear shoes on a regular basis actually have stronger arches than our over-shod society. Not to mention increased agility and flexibility throughout the entire leg up the hips!
Many parents express concerns about injury to children’s feet if they go barefoot. The reality is that, while small cuts or scrapes may occur at first, feet adapt quickly by forming callouses to protect them. My husband’s feet are so calloused by now that he can walk through thorns and not even notice because the thorns that stick in his feet don’t reach the nerves. Feet are naturally protected when we put them to good use.
On the other hand, ankles and knees are more prone to injury from excessive wearing of shoes which inhibits proper bone formation, flexibility, and muscle tone.
Another great article on this topic comes from Revolutionary Parent.
What do you think about going barefoot? What are the benefits and disadvantages?