There are 26 bones, 19 muscles, 107 ligaments plus an array of delicate blood vessels, nerves and tissue fibres all working together to control the movement of each foot.
Bones start out as cartilage and it isn’t until the child reaches about 18years old that all of the constituent parts of the foot are fully developed. So it is vital, especially in the first few years of walking, but ideally until 18, that the child’s foot is not subjected to ill fitting, rigid or inappropriate shoes.
Barefoot is Best
Medical experts worldwide agree that barefoot walking is not only the best thing for healthy foot development but also for general health. In fact, in countries where barefoot walking is normal, there are hardly any problems with knee, hip or back joints later in life.
The picture below shows a barefoot child, engrossed in her play, managing to balance perfectly well on a log. Here, by allowing her toes to perform their natural gripping action, her feet are naturally developing strength and coordination. Had she been wearing shoes, this natural development would have been compromised, meaning she would have had to adjust her bodily alignment to compensate, putting undue pressure on her spine and other major bone groups.
Barefoot might be best but it’s not always practical. When walking outside or on rough surfaces, tender skin needs protection from sharp objects and extreme weather conditions. Shoes should be as close to barefoot as possible.
Look out for the following features when choosing your child’s shoes to enable them to walk, run and explore with greater ease and confidence:
Flexible soles allow the foot and ankle to develop most naturally by enabling the foot to respond to changes in the walking environment and to make appropriate adaptations. They are recommended by podiatrists because they offer protection without being restrictive. When choosing a shoe, you should be at least able to bend the toe of the shoe up easily to help develop the immature muscles of the foot.
A foot has 250,000 sweat glands, with the potential to create a quarter of a pint of perspiration every day! Inners should be made of natural materials such as leather with uppers of leather or canvas rather than plastic or imitation leather. Breathable shoes will encourage good foot hygiene and prevent conditions such as athlete’s foot.
Shoes should not be heavy or impede the child’s movement in any way. Toddlers have enough of a hard time putting one bare foot in front of the other. The weight of a shoe, especially a heavy one, makes this task even more challenging. Heavy shoes can lead to a lack of confidence in agility, tired legs or worse with possible misalignment of the spine as children hold a different posture to overcompensate for the weight of the shoe they’re carrying.
With wide toe boxes
Children’s feet are not just a scaled down version of adult’s feet. They have a particular shape, rather like a triangle, and need shoes to reflect this. Good toddler shoes require a correspondingly much bigger toe area than the shape of an adult shoe. Many shoe manufacturers of children's shoes are simply scaled down versions of adult shoes. Wide toe boxes enable the child to wriggle their toes freely and importantly, allow their toes to spread without constriction as they grip the ground to walk. Not only should the toe box be wide, but the opening to the shoe should also be wide enough to enable the foot to slip in easily, without having to squeeze the toes in any way.
As shoes should only really be worn outside and in harsh environments, you need to make sure they will stand up to the elements. It is worth noting, however, that normal leather shoes are not 100% waterproof. Leather, in order to be breathable, is also permeable and can let water in. All of our shoes have been tested to withstand outdoor play but if you need a bit more protection, why not consider an overbootie like Stonz.
Non-slip flat soles
Soling material for outdoor shoes on hard surfaces such as playgrounds should be slip-resistant, shock absorbing and flexible. The best inner soles are protective while simulating barefoot conditions, meaning no heels, arch supports or other "moulding" features. Look for light rubber soles with grooves for traction or leather or suede soles with rubber padding in just the right places to provide greater durability.
Shoe and Foot Care
When you’ve chosen your child’s shoes, follow these great tips for keeping them and your child’s feet in tip top condition:
- Feet should be thoroughly washed and dried daily, especially between the toes.
- Toe nails should be kept short and straight.
- Footwear (including socks and babygros) should be made of natural fibres and not be too constrictive. Try not to tumble dry socks and tights as they tend to shrink.
- Socks and tights should have a heel and toe feature, not be just a long tube over the foot.
- Ideally, children should have more than one pair of shoes and alternate between them. Shoes should be changed 3-4 times a year. This prevents feet from becoming too ‘moulded’ to a particular shoe.
- Feet should be measured regularly, particularly in the first 3 years of walking.
- Shoes should be cleaned according to the manufacturers’ instructions.
- Shoes should be thoroughly aired after wearing them as sweat may cause dampness. However, do not rest shoes onto a direct heat source as this can warp the leather and cause the sole and upper to separate as leather and rubber dry at different rates.
Finally, remember, if your child walks very differently with shoes on when compared to how they walk barefoot, then the shoes are not right for them or don't fit correctly and shouldn’t be worn.