Tracy Byrne, a podiatrist specialising in podopaediatrics, believes that wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child’s walking and cerebral development and that going barefoot is far more beneficial.
“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, she continues, 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.
“Footwear was designed to protect the soles of the feet where necessary, and it was temporary.”
“The more parents know about the structure of children’s feet, the more we can prevent footwear-related damage being done,” she says.
The human foot at birth is not a miniature version of an adult foot. In fact, it contains no bones at all and consists of a mass of cartilage, which, over a period of years, ossifies to become the 28 bones that exist in the adult human foot. This process is not complete until the late teens, so it is crucial that footwear – when worn – is well chosen and that children be allowed to go barefoot as often as possible.
“Most children’s shoes ought to come with a government health warning,” believes Byrne.
This is of particular concern with toddlers learning to walk, because shoes cause them to bounce and tip forward,” she says.
Kids aged three should be turning cartwheels, skipping, climbing trees, running around – all barefoot. A completely rigid shoe will restrict movement of the forefoot to zero and this would seriously restrict such playful physicality – making it less fun and less enjoyable again making the case for barefoot play.
So what about shoes for kids that haven’t made it on to two feet yet?
Byrne says “Crawling is an essential skill to master, but it is very difficult when you are wearing pram shoes or ‘Crawlers’,” she says. “Crawling stimulates the brain to develop convergence of vision; people who skip this phase as babies may find it extremely difficult to learn to read and write as children. And in the case of children who crawl backwards to begin with, shoes can put extra pressure on the structures of the foot and leg.”
Remember barefoot is better, so get those shoes off and let them learn through their soles!
Carol Fitz-Gibbon – Principal