“It’s fluffy Mommy!”, announced C excitedly, as he danced and jumped around in the soft, tickly grass in our backyard. Those first few barefoot days of spring are priceless – reconnecting us with the earth in the last gasps of winter. For our family, footwear has always been optional in warm weather. It’s not like we’re dirty hippies - we wear shoes to church, school, and the grocery store. But shoes are the first to come off when we arrive back home, both inside and out when the weather is warm.
I’ll be honest, for us it’s always just been a comfort thing – who doesn’t like feeling mossy grass beneath their toes and soft carpet under their feet? But as it turns out, their are substantial health benefits to walking around barefoot – ESPECIALLY for kiddos! More importantly, there are significant problems that can occur from too much or ill-fitting footwear. So kick your shoes off, get comfortable, and read on to see why your kids (and you!) should log in some barefoot hours…
1. NATURAL DEVELOPMENT - A child’s foot is not a miniature version of a grown-up foot. In fact, most of a baby’s foot is cartilage that slowly develops into bone over the course of several years. During the cartilage phase, the foot is hard at work to make the best foundation for that person’s body. Many foot problems such as bunions, hammer toes, and flat feet can be traced back to a history of restrictive, inflexible footwear. It’s only been in the recent years of human history that shoes have become the norm, when ironically, the instances of foot problems have increased drastically! Barefeet is what nature intended!
2. BETTER PROPRIOCEPTION - A whopping 70% of the brain’s information for movement is gleaned from nerves in the soles of the feet. So in some ways, you could make a case for the foot as a “6th sense” organ. When we lose the shoes, our feet gain the ability to put all those sensory receptors to work. Habitually working these sensory receptors increases proprioception (the body’s awareness of itself relative to it’s space.) When this happens, better coordination and balance ensues, leading to a lower risk of sprains and strains in the lower body.
3. INCREASED STRENGTH and AGILITY - Walking barefoot promotes increased strength and agility in a child’s growing feet, ankles, knees, and hips – benefits that children are going without in today’s over-shod society. The foot is constantly making minor adjustments as it encounters changing terrain, helping us to develop balance, stability, and posture. A shoe-clad foot can’t feel these subtle nuances, and therefore has a much harder time with these adjustments than the bare foot – eventually leading to injuries and imbalances. Our feet are what keep us grounded – literally!
While it’s not realistic to run around barefoot ALL the time, it’s actually more practical than most people think. Just like other parts of the body, the feet are amazingly adaptable, and very capable of adjusting to the majority of outdoor exposures. In fact, most practicing barefooters live by the mantra “if you don’t need gloves, you don’t need shoes.”
There’s obviously a good judgment component here. I’m certainly not advocating that you let your child run wild and free in a parking lot filled with shards of broken glass! But I will encourage you to let your kiddos (and yourself!) lose the shoes more often than not this spring. If your tootsies are cold or you are extremely tender-footed, ease into it gradually to allow your feet to “toughen up” by building a thicker callous of skin. A good way to start is by making your house a SHOE FREE ZONE. It’s a safe and easy way for your family to log some barefoot hours, and the added bonus is that checking your shoes at the door means a much cleaner house!
What’s your family’s stance/rules on shoes in the house and out? Do you and your kids spend the majority of your time in shoes, socks, both, or neither?