Learn ten benefits of going barefoot, including; the healthy development of the feet, proper foot mechanics, kinesthetic awareness, sensory stimulation, fine motor control, flexibility, and foot strength.
There are many benefits of going barefoot, and they help me feel confident about allowing my daughter ample playtime outdoors without her shoes on. Yup, I’m THAT, mom–the mom that lets her little scallywag of a child storm the playground with her bare feet. To your surprise, you will hear me happily proclaim, “sure,” when she asks if she can take her shoes off while on a hike or jump in a puddle.
And bare feet are standard attire for the kids I take on learning adventures in nature most of the year–and I know I’m not alone. Several other outdoor parents, youth education leaders, forest school kindergartens, and nature school teachers do the same. Why do we allow children to go barefoot outside? Because barefoot kids are healthy kids!
Walking barefoot is a great way to help the feet (and body) develop correctly in childhood–and can help children grow into healthy full-functioning adults. Scroll down to see a list of ten benefits of walking barefoot below. You might also enjoy this list of Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day.
Benefits of Walking Barefoot for Children and Adults
There are many reasons I allow my child to go barefoot outside. And these well-researched barefoot health benefits might even make you consider taking your shoes off the next time you head outdoors. Read on to learn more about how walking barefoot outdoors can help YOU!
Is Walking Barefoot Healthy?
The type of shoes you wear and how often you wear them matters to the health of your feet. Walking around barefoot can improve health and lead to the proper development of the feet and body.
Walking Barefoot Can Help Build a Strong Foundation
While attending CSUN and getting my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology, I spent an entire year learning about the structure of the foot, and how important it is for the health of the entire physical body.
The foot is the foundation of the body–and a poorly constructed foot will result in a poorly built body. Think about it–your body needs a strong foundation just as much as your house does!
I was fortunate enough to work as an ocean lifeguard for the Los Angeles County Fire Department for 20 years. Running around barefoot outside all day saving lives–saved the life of my feet. I’m not kidding–it’s one of the reasons I can still walk!
My late grandmother was not so lucky. She suffered from terrible foot problems and had many surgeries. I inherited her foot structure but have not suffered as 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 as a lifeguard.
Because of my grandmother’s choice of footwear, she could not walk for the last six years of her life. I was able to strengthen my feet while she tore her foundation apart.
Is It Okay to Walk Barefoot Outside?
Yes, it is more than okay to walk barefoot outdoors. Many pediatricians and podiatrists recommend walking around barefoot without shoes for healthy feet. Read on to learn ten benefits of walking barefoot, and an example of how walking barefoot helped one little girl’s feet heal!
Barefoot Health Benefits: 10 Reasons Walking Barefoot is Good for Children and Adults of All Ages
1. Proper Development of the Foot and Body Can Happen Naturally When The Feet are Allowed to Roam Free
One of the most significant advantages of walking barefoot is the proper development of the foot and body–our physical foundation. Remember, your body needs a strong foundation just as much as your house does. And 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. (source)
On the other hand, 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 children grow into adults.
Thus, forcing children’s feet to conform to the shape of a shoe will most likely result in permanent changes to the form or construction of the foot. And the last thing your feet need is a big lousy shoe making them conform all the time–lol! Tell your shoes to go stuff themselves and go for a walk outside barefoot every once in a while.
It’s also a good idea to invest in more flexible footwear and reserve those uncomfortable damaging shoes for special occasions. Scroll down to see a list of barefoot shoes and footwear recommendations for kids and adults.
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, and well-developed feet and leg muscles can help support the back to reduce or eliminate back pain in children and older adults.
Because the shape and density of the bones and muscles in your feet directly result from 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 become altered when wearing shoes.
In the past, the prescription for flat feet was to walk barefoot to strengthen the feet. For this reason, children need ample barefoot playtime to support the healthy growth and development of their feet and body. (source)
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. Stabilizing modern footwear can interfere with the development of a child’s foot strength, ankle stability, and movement pattern.
And, if a child wears shoes to help stabilize their feet, how will they ever learn to stabilize them without shoes on properly? Avoid deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility by allowing your children to go barefoot every once in a while.
Modern athletic footwear of the current fashion that incorporate yielding – resilient materials in the soles, attenuate adequate stimuli of these receptors, necessitating reliance on less precise sensory sources for foot position judgements. This results in poor foot position awareness, and consequently poor stability, frequent ankle sprains and excessive impact. (source)
Related: Kids Yoga: Tips for Getting Started
4. Barefoot Walking Helps Develop the Fine Motor Muscles in the Feet
Children become more adept at using their feet when they roam barefoot without their shoes on. 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 strengthening, too! Allow children to go barefoot outside to help them learn how to control the fine motor muscles in their feet and use them in ways many modern children have forgotten.
5. Walking Barefoot Can Help Children Improve Kinesthetic Awareness
Going barefoot can help improve kinesthetic awareness. Kinesthetic awareness is knowing where our body is in space and how we move. It is also called muscle memory. And when our feet are in direct contact with the ground, it is much easier for children to develop their kinesthetic senses.
Increased kinesthetic awareness can lead to improved body awareness and help children learn to navigate the space around them safely. Walking barefoot and allowing children ample barefoot play time is a great way to do this.
6. Going Barefoot Can Help Improve Proprioception
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one body part compared to another body part in space. In other words, the proprioceptive system delivers the inner messaging of the body that tells us where one foot is versus the other foot or where the feet are in relation to the head.
The proprioceptive system can also provide information about joints and muscles. When children (and adults) are allowed to walk and play barefoot, they can improve their proprioceptive senses and develop this part of their sensory system into a fully functioning 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 each of the sensory systems in the body. 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.
Our sensory system helps us perceive our body within the outside world through sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. In contrast, our proprioceptive sense helps us develop a relationship to our body in space, and kinesthetic awareness tells us where our physical body is in space.
Thus, feeling the earth beneath their feet allows children to develop their somatosensory, proprioceptive, and vestibular sensory systems in ways they could never do with shoes on. Each of these sensory systems benefits from walking barefoot outside, and all of them 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 on, the reflexology points on the bottom of the feet can stimulate every major organ in the body, and stimulating the body systems in this way is excellent for the healthy development of the whole body. You can read some recent research about reflexology and its benefits –> HERE.
9. Walking Barefoot Outside can Help Us Connect with Nature and Ground Us.
When bare feet touch the earth, they come in contact with negative ions. Research tells us that these negative ions have a healing, anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Conversely, when we wear shoes, we create a shield from the earth and restrict our exposure to the best antioxidant source in the world. Our bodies need to be in contact with the earth to be healthy, and there is nothing better than going barefoot for that!
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)
Related: Get Outside and Connect
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, needles, 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. And they will have more control because their feet will be in direct contact with whatever surface they are on.
You’re right. Your kids will have to be on the lookout for glass and other hazards, but their feet will be strong enough to handle most everything else. And, if disease and contamination concern you when thinking 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, such as your backyard or a grassy field at your local park. And, if none of those options are available, at least allow your children to go barefoot inside the comfort of your home.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a whole lot safer knowing that my child can feel the tree she is climbing or the rope that she has her foot on–instead of struggling to keep the sole of her shoe from slipping off it.
Related: Positive Parenting Tips
How Walking Barefoot Helped a Child Develop Properly
The advantages of going barefoot are many, and I have witnessed a massive transformation in one child’s foot health due to 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 when one or both feet rotate inwards and downwards. In her case, it was both feet.
This sweet little girl traveled two 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 uneven terrain and secret places to explore. It was a wild acre with one massive oak tree in the middle and at least ten other large trees and bushes growing around it. So, on most days (weather permitting), I allowed the children to walk around barefoot both inside and outside to get all the healthy benefits of going barefoot outdoors.
After spending eight months in my care, the doctors and specialists 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 and Adults
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 barefoot walking shoes that can allow them to move and grow as opposed to shoes with too much structure and rigidity. The most helpful shoes, for both children and adults, allow the foot to 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 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 young children need flexible, lightweight, and well-ventilated shoes. Or, shoes that support the foot in a way that helps their gait develop properly without taking away all of the information that the sensory system can deliver. Some popular shoe brands that make excellent shoes for toddlers, preschoolers, and older 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, matter 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. Feel free to take your shoes off, too–I always do!
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 child put her shoes on. I’m not giving you sideways glances about the fact that your child has their shoes on am I?
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!