The human foot is a complex mechanical structure made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. A newborn’s foot is mostly made up of cartilage, and your child’s foot will not be fully developed until well into their teen years.
There is much research into why being barefoot is advantageous. Research shows that in adults, especially older adults, walking barefoot – at least for part of the day, improves foot strength & flexibility and is associated with a decreased risk of hip and knee replacements.
Barefoot is best at the beginnings of life as well. Going barefoot is one of the best ways for young children to learn to walk properly. Not wearing shoes helps the foot grow & develop its musculature and strength naturally, ensuring a strong foot arch and improved balance. When toddlers walk barefoot, it also helps improve their proprioception (our awareness of body in space), because of the increased physical feedback of their feet connecting with the ground.
Going barefoot also means infants' toes have regular contact with the ground, letting them learn to articulate their toes for grasping. Research shows that when toddlers walk barefoot, they spend more time with their head up and less time looking at the ground. This is because they are receiving this feedback, and don’t have to rely on their other senses to ensure their balance.
We might think that shoes – particularly solid, stable shoes provide a steadier foundation for your toddler, the opposite is true. Shoes, especially those that are too rigid or tight, can change the shape of your child’s feet, weaken the muscles of their foot and ankle & alter their gait.
If shoes are necessary, due to weather or safety reasons, soft-sole shoes are the next best thing to going barefoot. Soft, flexible shoes closely resemble going barefoot, and therefore allow a child’s bones, muscles & gait to develop more naturally while still staying warm and protected.
Results: Wegener et al 2011; Wolf et al 2008; Rao & Joseph 1992; Alencar et al 2007