Walking in Their Shoes

E putting on dad's shoes

by Dan Rindler, Child’Space Practitioner, GCFP,

“What is the best type of shoe for a new walker?   It’s a question I often hear from parents of young toddlers.  It’s especially relevant this time of year as Summer quickly turns to Fall and shoes are needed more often.

Walking barefoot is wonderful when it is safe to do so.  Babies who are learning to walk learn to use the movements of their whole foot, including all 5 toes for balance.  When your child walks, there is a constant feedback loop occurring between their feet and their brain.  The feedback of sensation from the foot and ankle, allows your child to constantly make adjustments to their movement to increase coordination, balance and efficiency of walking, and eventually running, jumping and other movements.  Walking barefoot allows your child to fully feel the ground beneath them and make small adjustments for balance and coordination.  Shoes are necessary for protection, but can dampen that “communication” between foot and brain, and therefore limit range of movement and balance?”

When choosing a shoe, I encourage you to think of it as foot-protection rather than as a tool for proper walking.  Choose a shoe that allows your child’s foot room to move.  A flexible suede slipper can work very well.  Your baby’s foot isn’t a fixed form –  it has many bones, cartilage where bones haven’t yet fused, fat tissue, ligaments, tendons and nerves.  It’s important not to constrain their foot in a shoe that limits movement of all of these different elements.  Make sure that the shoe is wide enough in front that their toes have room to wiggle.  After buying shoes, keep track of the fit.  Your baby’s foot is growing fast!  Try to check the fit after 6 weeks or so, to see if it has become tight around the toes.

I’m including a link to a short video that a colleague stumbled across and shared with me.  The video shows a new walker, first in slippers and then in a pair of sneakers.  They do a nice job of pointing out some of the differences in his gait with each shoe.  Here are a few points that they miss:  In the slippers the toddler’s head is free to look from side to side, to notice his dog off to the side, and his head and eyes move to take in the terrain where he is about to step.  In the sneakers, his system is busy with maintaing balance – his head and eyes are more fixed, his neck and his chest are more rigid.    You may also notice how in the slippers, his arms are free to move, even to bring his hands to his mouth as he walks, but in the sneakers his arms are held more rigidly and out to the sides for balance and later protection in falling.

Whether barefoot, slippered, or shoed – there’s lots of exploring and learning to be done.  Have fun walking, running, and jumping!

One Reply to “Walking in Their Shoes”

  1. Thank you for sharing this Dan! I really like the idea of thinking of “foot-protection rather than as a tool for proper walking.” I have long been fascinated by the feet and how they can take up so much real estate in the somatic cortex at birth, yet by adulthood many people don’t really know where their feet are. I think this early approach to choosing shoes will certainly help.

    And that video is phenomenal!


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