Did you know that young children have around 200,000 nerve endings in the sole of one foot alone?
By allowing your baby, toddler and pre-schooler to spend time barefoot in different environments, you are helping their brain to develop. As your child’s feet feel different textures, they are building their brains sensory awareness, which leads to optimal motor development while setting them up for the best future possible. As children learn to walk, the sensory input that their feet are giving them is paramount to developing balance, while helping the muscles and ligaments of the foot to develop strength (which helps prevent problems in the future). Most importantly it allows young children to develop their proprioception (a fancy word that means they are developing an awareness of where they are in relation to the space around them), a skill that they will use daily in life! Also read Effectively Encouraging Motor Skills.
If your child is still not yet walking (as in they are crawling or enjoying the bliss of being a new baby), stay away from shoes altogether. Allowing a child to crawl stimulates the brain (in fact, skipping this stage leads to future difficulties with learning to read and write, so you want to make sure you get it right). When wearing shoes, the motion of crawling or even tummy time is altered and made more difficult. It stops your little one from using their toes and feet from moving and exploring their surroundings and limits the amount of sensory input that their brain is receiving. Read Developing Motor Skills to find out which toys can help develop your child’s motor skills.
If your child is walking and you must put shoes on your child; which, sometimes let’s be honest is necessary- think of the path during the peak of summer, make sure the shoe ticks the following boxes:
– Its sole is entirely flexible (not restricting movement)
– The area around the toes is broad and deep (allowing toes to move and respond to the environment)
– A solid back (providing solid ankle support)
– Adjustable top closure to ensure it’s a snug fit (Velcro is the easiest!)
Once you embrace the barefoot notion, ensure your child’s feet are exposed to lots of different textures; grass, sand, mud, water, wood, leaves, smooth surfaces, rough surfaces. Most playgrounds, homes and parks are generally barefoot friendly!
As tempting as those ‘cute’ miniature shoes seems in the shop, think twice about the damage they could be doing to your child as they are growing and developing. Instead, pick shoes that allow your child’s foot to grow and develop naturally. Also read Should You Freak Out When Your Child Misses a Development Milestone?