I remember distinctly the childhood ritual of visiting Clark’s for supportive, well fitted school shoes. It was a big thing to my mum that our first shoes were ‘Proper Clark’s Shoes’ and the same went for our school shoes in our younger years. It’s a common misconception that we need support from our shoes to enable them to function at their best – to prevent fallen arches or to support young ankles, but in evolutionary terms this doesn’t add up – why would our bodies be built to need external support? Why would the muscles, ligaments and bones of healthy feet not function in harmony enabling children to walk when they are ready?
Anyway, when our first child was close to walking the inevitable question came up… ‘When are you taking her to Clarks for shoes?’ I mean its become such a ritual in our society now that they even provide you with a photo of your child modelling their first pair! But we had no plans to go, and found myself explaining our decision to many people who were surprised that we weren’t looking to buy her ‘supportive’ first shoes. Now I can’t even remember how or where I first heard about barefoot shoes, but once I knew of their existence nothing made more sense when it came to choosing her shoes!
What’s all the fuss about then?
For a start, we actually walk best when we are barefoot – our feet are extremely sensitive, and move at 33 different joints when we use them. These tiny movements and the feedback on our soles from the ground help our minds create a mental image of the terrain helping provide more stability, our toes can spread to help us balance and grip, and when we regularly engage the various muscles of the feet, it gives them opportunity to become stronger improving gait, improving body alignment, increasing strength and arch support, and decreasing the risk of joint problems.
(Image courtesy of VivoBarefoot)
Many of the issues people experience with knee and foot pain now begins with footwear choice. The standard shoes available for both children and adults now are narrow (especially in the toe box), rigid soled and heeled – yep, even men’s and kids shoes. I’m not talking stilletos, but most shoes have a degree of incline which puts an unnatural strain on your body. Over time this style of shoe actually changes the shape of your foot, causing the toes to bend inwards, leading to bunions and other issues.
There is even research which shows a positive correlation between walking barefoot and brain development. The feet are the most nerve rich part of our bodies which means they offer a lot of opportunity for children to build neural pathways increasing their brain power!
Most of us have probably noticed the change in a toddler’s ability to walk when they are in shoes (or particularly wellies!) vs when barefoot… they are far steadier when barefoot and able to utilise their body to its full capacity, to me it makes perfect sense to allow them to spend as much time as possible barefoot especially in the first year or two of walking. Of course there are times when this isn’t practical – in cold or wet weather, or when walking on particularly sharp terrain for example. So what’s a Mother to do when her child needs shoes, but she no longer wants to choose the typical restrictive shoes available in most children’s shoe shops?
Barefoot shoes allow the foot freedom to spread, flex and keep their natural shape within a thin soled, wide toe boxed, flexible shoe, and are the closest thing to walking barefoot when shoes are a necessity. Brands differ in width, flexibility, sole thickness and style, but all barefoot shoes meet the criteria of:
– Flat – no heel rise at all
– Flexible across the whole sole including the heel area
– No structured arch support
– Wide toe box allowing freedom of movement for toes
So called ‘barefoot friendly’ shoes may meet most of the criteria but not to the same degree, for example they may be a little less flexible or have a slight heel rise, they are still better than stiff structured shoes for young feet.
We have now gone through a fair few pairs of shoes, most of which have been barefoot, or barefoot friendly (I’m not gonna kid you that she’s never worn a pair of less ideal shoes – she wanted Nikes like her Daddy’s for example, and has had some smart shoes which were for weddings / parties only etc but for the most part I try not to allow those to be worn often) and have tried shoes from as little as £5 to as much as £50ish and surprisingly they’ve all performed well.
I’ll be coming back with some more detailed reviews for you at a later date, but I’ll leave you with 3 of my fave brands for kids today. Not all shoes from these brands are BF or BFF, but the ones we checked for the criteria above, have performed brilliantly!
H&M – many of their baby / toddler shoes are BFF, especially their little summery pumps/canvas shoes. We paid about £6 for a pair last year which were brilliant, lovely soft flexible soles, wide toe box, adjustable ankle Velcro. They washed well in the machine too.
Livie & Luca – a pricier option, but especially for girls they have some lovely smarter / dressier options. They’re actually a little too wide for Flossie’s narrow feet but they’re adorable!
Kinder Feet – my absolute faves. 100% barefoot and handmade in the UK with ethical & eco-friendly materials. They come with the thinnest of Vibram soles on their new outdoor version (Gummi shoes), and soft leather soles on the original shoes which are best suited to new walkers or as indoor shoes. Flossie’s very first shoes were all leather Summer Moccs made by Eva who runs Kinder Feet, and I was so excited to trial soled shoes after asking several times if/when she would be making them. She’s just outgrown her last pair and is already requesting new yellow ones to replace her ‘comfy heart shoes’!
And as a little extra I have to add that I LOVE my Vivo boots!
Hope this gives you a good starting point… Happy shoe shopping,