May 16

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Why and How to Let Your Kids Go Barefoot (Safely)

By Amanda Elder

May 16, 2016

Child Development, child health, free range, Parent, Simplify

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Do Kids Really Need Shoes?

What do you think when you see barefoot kids running around?

Do you shake your head and pity them?

Their mother must be negligent.

I know the looks because the barefoot kids are mine.

I wish I could say with integrity that their shoes are off because I don’t want any disturbance to the proper function and development of their feet.

The truth, however, is that in I’m lazy.

Locating socks and shoes may sound simple enough, but anyone with young children knows the struggle. My 4-year-old is never satisfied with the positioning of his socks, and always wants a particular pair of shoes. Usually not the ones I am presenting to him. Usually the most time-consuming ones to put on (think: high-top Converses with laces). I need to wrangle my rambunctious boys, and harness physical strength and patience to get those babies on their feet. I try to avoid getting frustrated with my little sweets. I pick my battles, and this isn’t one of them. I rather open the door and simply declare, “Let’s go outside!”

I’m lazy, yes, but not negligent. My intuition and 29-year-career of barefooting tells me that it’s a-okay to leave the shoes un-found when playing outside. However, I wouldn’t want to crumble into a pitiful puddle of mom shame if someone challenged me, so I did some research on the issue.

Below are four reasons to kick the shoes to the curb whenever possible:

1.) Going barefoot naturally protects children from getting hurt.

Kids are less likely to run on surfaces that aren’t comfortable, like concrete and gravel. A child in shoes may run full force on such surfaces, and suffer unpleasant consequences upon falling. However, the barefoot child runs more gingerly on rough surfaces, and faster on softer ones like grass, where a fall won’t be so bad.

I know what you’re thinking… Isn’t it shoes that protect children? Doesn’t going barefoot make them vulnerable to glass shards and other sharp objects? Yes, however, a bare-footer is highly aware of his surroundings. The bottoms of our feet our very sensitive for a reason- they quickly read, respond, and adapt to their environment. Not to mention, going barefoot often makes the bottoms of our feet thick and calloused- perfect built-in protection.

2.) If you’re worried about germs, they’re actually lurking inside of shoes.

Many people think shoes protect us from these offenses. However, they are actually the ideal places (dark, moist, and warm) for nasty bacteria and fungus to thrive. Shoes are the reason feet stink and people get athletes foot. Bare feet are exposed to fresh air and sunshine. They do get colored on the bottoms, but it’s nothing that doesn’t wash off in the tub. My 4-year-old doesn’t put his feet in his mouth, so whatevs.
barefoot kids and toddlers hold head higher, seriously!

3.) Going barefoot increases a child’s balance.

Tracy Byrne, a specialist of children’s feet, says being barefoot is necessary for the development of good posture, strength, and awareness of the world. She notes that toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot. She explains, “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.”

4.) Too much time in shoes causes chronic injuries.

They change the way our feet naturally develop. Most adult feet are shaped differently than those of infants. A baby’s foot is widest at the toes, and an adult’s is widest at the ball. This is caused from years of “fitting” our feet into tapered-toe shoes. Adults in cultures that don’t wear shoes don’t suffer from these deformities, nor do they have corns, bunions, or ingrown toe nails.

These changes affect our posture and gait, which play a big role in the health of our joints and back.

Dr. Carol Frey, associate clinical professor of orthopedic surgery in Manhattan Beach, CA says, “Besides growing up around man-eating lions, there’s a good reason Kenyans have won the last 10 consecutive Boston Marathons: They rarely wear shoes. This makes their feet extremely strong and far less susceptible to disorders such as fallen arches.”

Health benefits aside, going barefoot feels good!

There’s nothing like spreading your toes wide and connecting with the textures and sensations beneath your feet. It’s a simple pleasure in life, one that shouldn’t be so taboo.

Don’t worry about the judgment of others- barefoot kids benefit from greater balance, a heightened awareness of their physical world, and the friction and grabbing capabilities of their feet.

Want to see a kid do some impressive climbing? Let her take her shoes off!

About the author 

Amanda Elder

Panda is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom to two boys and wife of a resident physician in Orlando. When she is not doing dishes and playing with trains, she is writing about it. Learn more about her at StayAtHomePanda.com

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  1. Barefoot walking is best learned when you learn to walk. Even before you walk it’s best to keep feet free and bare as babies reach and grab for things with them as a preparation for walking. If you walk barefoot from a young age and it’s totally normal, you’ll feel more confident doing so without worrying about what people may thing. You will have stronger feet and avoid a number of problems. Your soles will be tougher and you will naturally watch your step, avoiding injuries.
    (Also there’s a lot of practical advantages: As children’s feet grow they go through lots of shoes, buying less of them is cheaper and better for the environment, it saves a lot of time not to pause to put on shoes when going out, also feet are washed so much more easily than shoes.)

  2. This is what I was trying to say.
    I don’t see nothing wrong with going barefoot if you are a male or female.It Ain’t so bad unless you have corns, bunions, callouses, foot odor or fungus. Besides being barefoot is cool. It would be even better than always wearing shoes & some barefooters are ticklish on their toes, soles or pads. I think being barefoot is OK for both genders but my twin brother believes that it is effeminate for men to do so although it ISN’T but more so unisex. Now that I think of it, I imagine myself as a little kid with a light gold coloured skin complexion, a white sleeveless shirt, blue shorts, cornrows & going completely barefoot without socks & that I enjoy getting the soles of them tickled by the Incredible Hulk (another person whom is known for going barefoot)as he uses his green fingers or his toes on them, & I giggle like a 4 year old even though in reality, I don’t like getting tickled too much on any body part including my stomach or my feet.

    1. if your barefoot 24/7 like me you wont/cant get bunion, corns, foot odor, fungus, etc and you NEED callouses to even walk on anything other than carpet

  3. I don’t see nothing wrong with going barefoot if you are a male or female.It Ain’t so bad unless you have corns, bunions, callouses, foot odor or fungus. Besides being barefoot is cool. It would be even better than always wearing shoes & some barefooters are ticklish on their toes, soles or pads. I think being barefoot is OK for both genders but my twin brother believes that it is effeminate for men to do so although it ISN’T but more so unisex. Now that I think of it, I imagine myself as a little kid with a light gold coloured skin complexion, a white sleeveless shirt, blue shorts, cornrows & going completely barefoot without socks & that I enjoy getting the soles of them tickled by the Incredible Hulk (another person whom is known for going barefoot)as he uses his green fingers or his toes on them, & I giggle like a 4 year old even though in reality, I don’t like getting tickled too much on any body part including

  4. If you can, make your home and garden a barefoot paradise for your children and yourself. There are many pleasant floor coverings from carpet to wood or cork, and if you have a garden you can tend to yourself, avoid gravel or thorny plants. Mow your lawn regularly in the season when clover is flowering as that attracts bees and your kids might get stung.

    Then again, childhood is the best age to learn going barefoot, and that includes the ability to watch the trail ahead, which helps all life long. So don’t be afraid if they want to go to town barefoot, just help them a bit when needed by pointing out where they better don’t step.

  5. I get told that we could get cps called on us if my kids who.love to be barefoot who doesn’t myself included. They are 9, 7, 4,2 and hate shoes. Is it really neglect?

    1. Anita:
      If you are concerned about CPS, the best approach is to ditch your own shoes too. If you are barefoot with your kids it is a lot more obvious that you are making a choice and not just being neglectful. The more often all of you are barefoot together the more people will believe you. You will be accepted as the barefoot family, instead of the “bad” mom who remembered her own shoes but let her kid run barefoot through Wal Mart.

  6. With barefoot season coming up soon, remember that you kids’ feet need a few weeks to toughen up. The more barefoot time the better to make that happen! The best way for Mom to know how things feel to the kids’ feet is to go barefoot too. When I see a mom in shoes but with barefoot kids, that looks more like neglect than good parenting. If the kids are barefoot, mom should be too.

  7. As a pastor’s wife in a central Florida church, I wanted to make our church a barefoot friendly place. You always hear “barefoot EXCEPT church and school,” and I wanted to remove church from that equation. The first step was getting folks used to seeing kids barefoot in church on Sunday morning. I noticed that our children’s choir had all sorts of different shoes peeking out from under their choir robes, so I suggested bare feet would look so much better. They are now so cute! With a dozen kids in front of the church barefoot every Sunday, it just seemed natural for the rest of the kids to take their shoes off too. The mom who is our choir director very helpfully insisted that her choir kids should just leave their shoes at home because she refused to have a pile of stinky kids’ shoes in her choir room. The last step was adding a big sandbox to the playground and adding outdoor play time to Sunday school. All it took was one complaint from me to my husband about how the kids were bringing sand into the halls and the sanctuary, and the very next week the pastor was asking all the families to please bring their kids to church barefoot so that we could keep the church clean. We have enforced that rule ever since. Now our children all say they get to be barefoot at church just like the kids in Jesus’s day.

    1. Eliza, I love your idea to have a barefoot children’s choir. At our church we call vacation bible school “babrefoot bible school,” and we follow that literally. We always recommmend in our mailer to the moms that the kids shoes should stay at home because we will be doing lots of barefoot activities. My favorite on the first day is footprints, which is exactly what it sounds like — footprints in fingerpaint on paper. Except fingerprint washes off way too easy, so I add my secret ingredient — a lot of house paint — to make sure all the kids get to have feet their favorite color that last for weeks. Most of our moms follow our advice and leave the shoes at home. For kids who show up with shoes on, we put each kid’s shoes and socks in a paper bag with the kid’s name on the outside and deliver the shoes that way to mom at pick up time. I know that sounds like a great system, but it happens a lot that the shoes get all mixed up the first day and generally never get sorted out. Most of the moms don’t complain much and just send their kid barefoot the next day, of course with their brightly colored painted feet.

    2. My ex sister in law is one of those people who is really hard to get along with, but my kids get to spend a lot of time with their cousins because my brother brings them over and drops them off every weekend, I am pretty sure over her objections. She thinks bare feet are trashy, but that is how my brother and I grew up, so their shoes and socks always stay behind in his car, no matter what my plans are for the day with the kids. They are really cool kids and don’t complain even if we need to use a gas station bathroom, since my kids are doing the exact same thing. I always try to get a picture for brother’s ex. In a pinch, ex-sister called me up to babysit once. I had to pick the kids up from school, but they were barefoot in no time as soon as they were in my car. Ex-sister wanted me to drop them off at her office, but I figured we should go to WalMart and the supermarket first. It was so much fun to walk through her office with her barefoot kids with black grocery store feet in front of all her co workers. Just for good measure I lied and told her their shoes were in their back packs. No wonder she does not like me!

    3. That was a great thinking, what church do you go to I would love to visit if we are in the area? I have three of my own that despise shoes as well as myself!

  8. I love Bettie’s story about how she helped educate another mom that bare feet are always best. We had a similar experience with a stuck up mom who moved into our neighborhood and did not want to let her kids play barefoot like the rest of us. We finally wore her down after we all put our heads together because we felt sorry for her kids. I think she went through about a half dozen “lost” pairs of shoes and an equal number of flip flops before she gave up. We all insisted on no shoes inside the house and of course the kids had to take off their shoes for the swimming pool and trampoline, so it wasn’t too hard for shoes to “disappear” or get left out in the rain or dropped in the swimming pool or worse. My two personal favorites was when our dog ate both her daughters’ brand new Crocs (who knew a beagle puppy would do that if you put a piece of bacon inside each shoe and left them in his kennel while the girls were playing Barbies) and when we “mistakenly” put their only school shoes in the charity bin along with some other clothes we collected to donate for Brownies. (They were eager to remove their shoes at every meeting as soon as mom drove away.) I knew she had finally given up when she brought both daughters barefoot to Brownies the other day. She had complained a lot about losing two pairs of school shoes, so we pointed out the obvious — if your kids want to go barefoot like some of the other girls, please just leave their shoes at home like we do, because keeping up with shoes they don’t want is not our responsibility. I think she finally got the message, and her timing was perfect. Hers were the only barefoot Brownies there the next week because nobody had told her we were taking a field trip. Oops! There was not time for her to go back home to get shoes, so we were all pretty vague about where we were going. Technically we were telling the truth when we said we were going to a park, but it would have been more accurate to say we were visiting a farm. We had to promise our host that none of the rest of us would take off our shoes if he let us in with our two barefoot Brownies. I think the girls got a big kick out of being the only ones barefoot, but we got an even bigger kick out of showing the photos to their mom afterwards, especially photos of her girls barefoot in the stable and the barnyard. Most of the girls stayed outside the animal pens, but hey, since she was okay with her girls being barefoot it would be easy to clean off their feet, right? I was so glad I had worn boots! The pictures with them barefoot in the barn and pens were worth it! They should really put those cute cows and horses in diapers! The girls really got into finding all sorts of things to squish between their toes and then holding up their feet for a photo; I don’t they really understood why some of the “mud piles” were warm. : ) We gave then a good spraying off with the hose before we got back on the bus, so no one was really the worse for wear. That was a turning point for our stuck up friend. After all the other moms know you are the ONLY mom who would send your kids barefoot to a field trip to visit a barnyard and your kids are the only ones to jump at the chance to squish their toes in cow pies and horse poop, how do you ever say no to bare feet ever again? : )

    1. “I was so glad I had worn boots! The pictures with them barefoot in the barn and pens were worth it! They should really put those cute cows and horses in diapers! The girls really got into finding all sorts of things to squish between their toes and then holding up their feet for a photo; I don’t they really understood why some of the “mud piles” were warm. : )”

      *sniff sniff. I smell a furry troll wearing a wig with a great big diaper/foot fetish.*

    2. I really like the story about “lost” shoes. I wish I had such friends who could convince my parents to let me go barefoot. I always had to wear shoes even at home but was eager to remove them when they did not see. Once on vacation I remember “forgetting” my flops under table in the dining room. Some minutes passed before my parents noticed meanwhile I took the pleasure of walking barefoot on the cool floor of the hotel. When mom noticed she yelled at me and made me return and get my flops. That’s what I did. I carried them to the room and dropped by the porch (not wishing to put them on) but mom said “You’re still barefoot?! Put them on immediately!”

  9. My kids go barefoot all the time, but it has taken some creativity to get the other moms in the neighborhood to realize barefoot is best. For example, our new next door neighbor’s son became best friends with our boys almost as soon as they moved in, but she refused to let him play barefoot even in our yard. Well, I guess I had to follow her instructions, right, unless I had a really good reason for him to go barefoot? So, about a week or two after they moved in, a heavy rain turned some new flower beds in my back yard into deep mud. Somehow, somebody suggested the boys should go have fun in the mud. My boys were soon happily squishing the mud between their bare toes, but for some reason their little friend was holding back. I could tell he needed some encouragement, so I picked him up and carried right into the middle of the muddiest bed before I would put him down. He kept trying to say something about shoes, but my boys were making so much noise I couldn’t really hear. I realized my mistake when I looked down and saw his shoes sinking ankle deep into the mud. At that point, I figured the state of his shoes was about the best reason possible to take them off right away and let him go barefoot. At least I tried right? His shoes were obviously A mess, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt if the boys used them as scoops to make mud pies. That little boy never wore shoes to our house again!

  10. All three of my kids go barefoot most of the time, two girls and a boy. If the school allowed them to be barefoot, they’d never wear shoes.

    When I was a little girl, my mom raised me to go barefoot, except for school and church. So when I had kids, they were always barefoot until they started school just like me.

    When they get home from school, their shoes and socks come off. During the summer their feet never see a pair of shoes until school resumes in the fall.

    All three have tough feet, they can walk on gravel, small pieces of broken glass, hot pavement, without pain or injury. I take them shopping and the girls love the freezer aisle where the floor is cold on their feet.

    During the summer my oldest daughter mows the grass (she is 12) and we have a push style mower with a safety device to make it near impossible for her to get hurt. Her feet get grass-stained but a few days and the stains wear off.

    All three play on the trampoline which seems to turn the bottoms of their feet black.

    This past summer a new girl moved in next door. She’s 11 right between my girls who are 10 and 12. The first time she came over, my oldest told her we have a “no shoes” rule, and that she would need to leave them by the front door. So the girl sat down, untied and removed them. I heard my girls inviting her up to their room upstairs, so I asked her to remove her socks because we have hardwood floors and stairs and she might slip in her socks.

    She slowly pulled them off and left them with her shoes. It was obvious she rarely went barefoot anywhere.

    Later the girl’s mom stopped by to ask if her daughter could stay why she does some errands. As they were all getting along well, I said of course. I offered to provide her daughter dinner (as she came after lunch) and as there was no school the next day, her mom said she’d come get her later tonight.

    After they got tired of Barbies, the three came down and asked their new friend if she wanted to go jump on the trampoline?

    Of course! As Anna followed my girls to the back sliding door she asked “do I have to be barefoot”? My oldest assured her she will get used to it.

    By the time they were done jumping, all three girls plus my son who had joined them had feet with black bottoms.

    As they were coming in, my youngest daughter asked Anna if she could swim. Yes, but she rarely goes to the (community) pool.

    That’s when she saw our pool. But she said she has no bathing suit and no house key and her mom is not home yet. My oldest daughter assured her she had one that would fit her and she could use. Before going in the pool it’s our policy they shower (outside shower near the pool) and this washed the black from their feet off the trampoline. They had a fun time.

    After the pool we ate dinner. Later when Anna’s mom came to fetch her, the girls were still in their bathing suits and my girls begged me to let Anna spend the night.

    I told them it’s up to her mom. Her mom is a single parent. Her answer was it’s fine for her to stay if it was ok with me. My girls quickly offered to go next door to help her carry her pillow and things she would need for the night.

    It was almost comical as they reached the street (due to the fence and hedge between the houses) that only then did she notice all three girls were barefoot. She asked Anna where her shoes were and she said in the house but she didn’t need them. Her mom reminded her the road will hurt her feet, but she said she’ll be ok, that was the start of Anna going barefoot. She also soon became a frequent guest, as it allowed her mom time to get things done.

  11. My daughter Loves taking her shoes off. She does indeed strut around with more confidence with her toes bare. She also climbs way better without them.
    My mother always let my brother and I run through our yard without shoes. Our feet were calloused which was fine because hot driveways and shells at the beach never really bothered us.

    1. @Marisa so true! It feels so good to just go barefoot, even as an adult. My favorite is always during beach cleanups where we live: shoes are “required”. I’m like, ummm, we were here yesterday barefoot so I’m pretty sure we’re good today. 😉

  12. Brilliant post. My 18 month old definitely walks better and faster barefoot. I like to go walking with my neighbors after work, and they all go barefoot. Just the other day I was the only one in our group of 6 who was wearing shoes, so I had to take them off. HA!

    1. Seconded @Amanda and @Julie! Although I admit the temp is rising where we live and my barefoot dash to the mailbox is getting faster and faster. Though I am building up some nice padding that I’m sure a pedicurist would HATE. #outdoorwin

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