Walking barefoot can improve health and lead to the proper development of the feet and body. The type of shoes that you wear and how often you wear them matters to the health of your feet. Learn 10 benefits of going barefoot outside including; the healthy development of the feet, proper foot mechanics, kinesthetic awareness, sensory stimulation, fine motor control, and foot strength.
There are many benefits of walking barefoot that help me feel confident about allowing my kids ample barefoot play time.
Yup, I’m that mom… The mom that lets her little scallywag of a child storm the playground in her bare feet.
To your surprise, you will hear me happily proclaim, “sure” when the children in my care ask to take their shoes off while on a hike or to jump in a puddle.
Why? …Because walking barefoot is a great way to help the feet and body grow and develop properly!
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Benefits of Walking Barefoot Outside
There are many reasons I allow my child to go barefoot. Well researched barefoot health benefits that you may want to consider before you tell your little one “no” when they ask to take their shoes off.
As a Kinesiologist B.Sc., I spent an entire year learning about the structure of the foot. The foot is the foundation of the body. A poorly constructed foot will result in a poorly constructed body. Your body needs a strong foundation just as much as your house does.
I was fortunate enough to work for the Los Angeles County Fire Department as an ocean lifeguard for 20 years. Running around barefoot all day saving lives saved the life of my feet.
My late grandmother suffered from terrible foot problems and had many surgeries. I inherited her foot structure but have not suffered in the same way that she did. She made the mistake of wearing pointed high-heeled shoes in her younger years, while I ran around in the sand barefoot all day lifeguarding.
Because of my grandmother’s choice of footwear, she was not able to walk for the last 6 years of her life. I was able to strengthen my feet while she tore her foundation apart.
Barefoot Health Benefits: 10 Reasons Walking Barefoot is Good for Children (and Adults!)
1. Proper Development of the Foot and Body Can Happen Naturally When Children are Allowed to Go Barefoot
One of the most important advantages of walking barefoot is proper foot and body development–our physical foundation. Remember, your body needs a strong foundation just as much as your house does.
Walking barefoot can help develop and maintain an appropriate range of motion in the foot and ankle joints, in addition to adequate strength and stability within the muscles and ligaments of the feet and body.
Conversely, forcing children’s feet to conform to the shape of a shoe will most likely result in permanent changes to the shape or construction of the foot.
A poorly constructed foot (foundation) can alter one’s gait and lead to a malformed knee, hip, or pelvis. Sometimes, it will be a domino effect through the knee, hip, and pelvis and can even affect the spine and lung cavity (core) as the child grows.
The last thing your feet need is a big bad shoe making them conform all the time! Tell your shoes to go stuff themselves and go for a walk outside barefoot every once in a while.
2. Going Barefoot Can Help Strengthen the Feet and Body
Walking barefoot is the best way to strengthen and maintain the full function of your feet and body. For example, strong feet and leg muscles can help support the back to reduce or eliminate back pain in both children and older adults.
Because the shape and density of the bones and muscles in your feet is a direct result of the loads placed on your body, poor footwear can affect the way the bones and muscles in their entire body develop, and, lead to improper musculoskeletal development.
In other words, improper footwear can weaken foot and leg muscles and cause a loss of strength in the feet and body that will more than likely lead to physical pain over time because so many functions of our feet are altered when wearing shoes.
In the past, the prescription for flat feet was to walk barefoot in order to strengthen the feet. This is why it is so important to allow your children to strengthen their feet and body by allowing them ample barefoot play time.
3. Walking Barefoot Can Lead to Better Foot Mechanics
Overprotective footwear can interfere with movement patterns. Walking barefoot allows for better control of foot position when it hits the ground while stabilizing modern footwear can interfere with the development of a child’s foot strength, ankle stability, and movement pattern.
If a child wears shoes that help them stabilize their foot how will the child ever learn to stabilize their foot without the shoe? Avoid deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility by allowing your children to go barefoot every once in a while.
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4. Walking Barefoot Helps Develop the Fine Motor Muscles in the Feet
Children become more adept at using their feet when they are allowed to roam barefoot. When allowed to go free, the feet can become sensitive instruments and tools. Otherwise, they become the forgotten appendage forever bound within a shoe.
Could you imagine if we wore shoes on our hands? How would we develop the fine motor muscles in our hands if they were constantly bound? The feet have fine motor muscles that need to develop too!
Barefoot kids can improve fine motor muscle control, and learn how to use their feet the way they were meant to be used!
5. Walking Barefoot Can Help Children Improve Kinesthetic Awareness
Going barefoot can help improve kinesthetic awareness. Kinesthetic awareness is the knowledge of where our body is in space and how we move. It is also known as muscle memory.
When our feet are in direct contact with the ground it is a lot easier for children to develop their kinesthetic sense. Increased kinesthetic awareness can lead to improved body awareness and help children learn to navigate the space around them safely.
Kinesthetic awareness, proprioception, and the other sensory systems in the body work together to help us move properly from the inside and from the outside of the body. Walking barefoot can help these important systems in the body develop properly.
6. Going Barefoot Can Help Improve Proprioception
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of body parts in relation to the other parts of the body and provides us with information about our joint and muscle sensations.
In other words, it refers to the inner messaging of the body that tells us where one foot is in relation to the other foot, or where the feet are in relation to the head. When children are allowed to walk and play barefoot, they can improve their proprioceptive sense.
7. Walking Barefoot Can Help the Brain and the Sensory Systems of the Feet and Body Develop Properly.
Walking barefoot can help brain development as children learn to balance and develop all of the other sensory systems in the body including proprioception. When we place shoes on our children’s feet we reduce the amount and quality of sensory information the child is getting about their environment and body.
Feeling the earth beneath their feet allows children to develop their somatosensory, proprioceptive, and vestibular sensory systems in ways that are not possible with shoes on.
Our sensory system helps us perceive our body within the outside world through sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound; while our proprioceptive sense helps us develop a relationship to our own body in space, and, kinesthetic awareness tells us where our body is in space.
All three of these systems in the body are benefited by walking barefoot outside and all work together to improve the overall health of the brain and body.
8. Going Barefoot May Be Able to Stimulate the Reflexology Points on the Bottom of the Feet
When children are allowed to walk around without shoes the reflexology points on the bottom of the feet can stimulate every major organ in the body. This is good for the healthy development of the whole body. (source)
9. Walking Barefoot Outside can Help Us Connect with Nature and Literally Ground Us.
When bare feet touch the earth they come in contact with negative ions. These negative ions have been researched to have a healing anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
When we wear shoes we are creating a shield from the earth and restricting our exposure to the greatest antioxidant source in the world.
Earthing (also known as grounding) refers to contact with the Earth’s surface electrons by walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems, some of them patented, that transfer the energy from the ground into the body. Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect. The research, along with many anecdotal reports, is presented in a new book entitled Earthing. (source)
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10. Walking Barefoot Outside can Help Kids Stay Safe.
Barefoot kids are safe kids!
I know what you’re thinking… Walking barefoot can help my child safe!? But what about glass, bees, dog feces, and other hazards?
Going barefoot outside can help keep children safe because they will have more control when climbing, running, playing on the playground, etc. They will have more control because their feet will be in direct contact with whatever surface they are on.
You’re right… They will have to be on the lookout for glass and other hazards, but their feet will be tough and able to handle most everything else.
If disease and contamination are what worries you about walking barefoot outside, try the barefoot shoes listed in “recommended shoes for children” below.
Or, allow your children to go barefoot only in areas that you feel are safe enough for your children’s bare feet to run around in. Even if the only place you allow your children to go barefoot is in the comfort of your own home.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a whole lot safer knowing that my child is able to feel the tree (or rope) that she has her foot on instead of struggling to keep her sole from slipping off of it.
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Walking Barefoot Outside Can Help Children Develop Properly
The advantages of going barefoot are many, and I have personally witnessed a massive transformation in one child’s foot health as a result of walking barefoot outside.
When I ran childcare in my home many years ago, I had a one-year-old child in my care with clubbed feet. This is where one or both feet rotated inwards and downwards. In her case, it was both feet.
This sweet little girl traveled 2 hours once a month to be poked a prodded by doctors and specialists that said she would never walk normally.
At that time, we lived on a 1-acre lot with lots of uneven terrain and secret places to explore. It was a wild acre with one massive oak tree in the middle, and at least 10 other large trees and bushes growing around it.
On most days, weather permitting, I allowed the children plenty of barefoot playtime both inside and outside.
After spending 8 months in my care, the doctors and specialist claimed that this little girl was “cured.” They called it a miracle and asked her parents what they had done to make such a dramatic improvement.
When her parents explained the barefoot play therapy her daycare provider had given her they were shocked, but not surprised. Of course, they said… That makes perfect sense. “Going barefoot helps the feet develop properly!”
Shoe Recommendations for Barefoot Kids
Even though there are lots of advantages to walking barefoot outside, shoes are necessary and wonderful additions to anyone’s wardrobe!
This article was not written to encourage everyone to abandon them completely and run for the hills like a bohemian army–lol!
However, stiff and compressive footwear may cause weakness, deformity, and loss of mobility. Improper footwear can also cause bunions, hammertoes, and other foot deformities over time.
What children need are shoes that can allow them to move and grow as opposed to shoes with too much structure and rigidity. The most helpful shoes allow the foot to both breathe and move properly.
Look for shoes that are durable, flexible, and have plenty of room to grow. Have a look at our favorite shoe recommendations, including barefoot shoes, listed in the next section.
Should kids be allowed to wear high heels?
Whatever you do, please, please, please keep your children far away from high heels.
If they must be worn, reserve them for only very special occasions… And make sure the feet get plenty of barefoot freedom (or at least comfortable shoe freedom) before and after the event.
Why are high heels bad for girls?
Although the structure of the foot is developed by 2 years of age, the bones in a child’s feet are not fully developed and hardened until they reach adulthood.
Wearing high heels before the age of 18 can decimate the feet.
Just ask my grandmother.
Recommended Shoes for Children
Baby’s and pre-walkers do not need shoes for any other reason than to provide warmth and protection if they are worn at all. Look for flexible shoes or booties that do not bind the feet and allow a full range of movement like THESE.
Toddlers and children need a flexible, lightweight, and well-ventilated shoe. Some popular shoe brands that make excellent shoes for kids can be found below.
The most recent innovation in shoe design for healthy feet is barefoot shoes. Barefoot shoes have also been labeled minimalist shoes.
We love barefoot shoes because they are designed with enough support to provide stability and protect the feet while allowing for movement and flexibility. They mirror the natural shape and design of your feet while allowing important sensory feedback, proper foot mechanics, and body alignment.
Unlike bare feet, barefoot shoes have the added bonus of a sole that won’t leave you vulnerable to whatever may be laying on the ground. Even barefoot kids need barefoot shoes sometimes!
A few of our favorite barefoot shoes for kids (and adults) can be found listed below. Mom and dad need barefoot shoes, too!
Barefoot Shoes for Kids
Barefoot Shoes for Adults
- VivoBarefoot Mens Barefoot Shoes
- Xero Men’s Barefoot Shoes
- VivoBarefoot Women Barefoot Shoes
- Xero Women Barefoot Shoes
Barefoot Benefits for Kids
The type of shoes that you wear, and how often you wear them, matters to the health of your feet. Walking barefoot can improve the function of the feet and can help the feet and body develop properly.
Give your child’s feet and sensory systems the opportunity to grow properly by allowing your children to go barefoot once in a while.
If walking barefoot outside is still NOT your thing, please don’t look at me like I’m a terrible mother that should make her children put her shoes on. I’m not giving you sideways glances about the fact that your child has their shoes on am I?
As parents and caregivers, we are all entitled to our own choice. I am confident that you will make the choice that feels best for you and your family, just as I have made mine.
You may also be interested in 15 Reasons to climb a Tree and Other Benefits of Risky Play, and this amazing collection of outdoor learning ideas and nature activities for kids.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the power of the imagination, learning through play, making this world a greener place to live, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…