Free the feet! The benefits of being barefoot

Benefits of Play  |  5 years ago

Free the feet! The benefits of being barefoot

At CedarWorks, we are big fans of letting kids go barefoot. You can probably tell if you’ve looked at many of the photos on our website. Our outdoor playsets hark back to our own childhoods and days spent outdoors with dirty knees and barefoot. One of the advantages of our playsets being made from Northern White Cedar is that it’s naturally splinter-free, so kids really can kick off their shoes and play, and their parents don’t need to worry about them getting splinters.

As much as we fly the barefoot flag, however, we were surprised to learn of studies showing that going barefoot is actually important for child development.  

Kids who are regularly barefoot have better-developed motor skills than those who regularly wear shoes, according to one recent study. The children in the study who habitually went barefoot were significantly better at balance and jumping tests than the kids who habitually wore shoes.

Child development expert Rae Pica says going barefoot is “important to development of the nervous system and to optimal brain development as well! Turns out the feet are the most nerve-rich parts of the human body, which means they contribute to the building of neurological pathways in the brain. Covering them in shoes, therefore, means we’re eliminating all kinds of opportunities for children’s brains to grow new neural connections.”

Shoes can often constrict movement of the feet, and can negatively impact walking, balance, sensory development, and proprioception (the understanding of our body’s orientation in the space around us). When someone is barefoot regularly, the sensory feedback from the foot becomes more detailed and refined, allowing the foot and brain to delineate small changes of sensory stimuli. The result is better control of motor function and balance.

So it’s a good idea to let your child have some barefoot time when you can. Walking barefoot indoors is good, but add in some barefoot time outside, too, when possible. Most kids won’t need a lot of encouragement. They have a tendency to kick off their shoes whenever they can because it feels good.

Some parents may be concerned about safety issues of going barefoot. Of course you want to discourage your kids from running around where there may be hazards like glass or nails, but on grass, dirt, or sand, kids should be fine, and their feet will get tougher the more they go barefoot. A couple of years ago we did a photo shoot on pea gravel which is basically just little tiny pebbles, that are pretty uncomfortable to walk on if you are a grown up, but many of the kids had no problem kicking off their shoes and running over the stones barefoot. The problem was that for this particular photo shoot, we wanted the kids to keep their shoes on, but that’s another story.

Going barefoot is great for a child’s development, but even more importantly, it’s fun! Think about the feeling of walking on sand or squishing mud between your toes. It feels great. Now you have a good excuse to let your kids shed their shoes and enjoys those sensations - it’s good for them!

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