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. (First published in March 2016; This post is regularly updated and republished.)
Going barefoot has many benefits that help me feel confident about allowing my daughter ample playtime outdoors without her shoes on. Yup, I’m THAT mom. The mom that people stare at disapprovingly whenever I allow my little scallywag of a child to storm the playground with her bare feet. To the surprise of many onlookers, I’m also the mom who will happily proclaim, “Sure,” when my daughter asks if she can take her shoes off while hiking or jumping in a puddle.
But even with the dirty looks, I’m proud to say that 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. In fact, my daughter’s favorite outdoor program (Earthbound Skills) allows her to take her shoes off when in attendance. And she will no longer attend any other outdoor camp because they make her keep her shoes on.
Why do parents and teachers like me 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 removing your shoes the next time you head outdoors–especially if it’s May Day or the warmer spring and summer months. In the past, May Day (and the warmer days that followed) was traditionally a time for children to kick off their shoes and play barefoot. And plenty of adults also walked outside barefoot after May Day because they knew it was good for them.
Is Walking Barefoot Healthy?
The truth is that type of shoes you wear and how often you wear them matter to the health of your feet more than most people realize. While walking around barefoot can improve health and lead to the proper development of the feet and body. Read on to learn more about how walking barefoot outdoors can help YOU!
Walking Barefoot Can Help Build a Strong Foundation
While attending Cal State Northridge and getting my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology, I spent a year learning about the structure of the foot and its importance for the physical body’s health from head to toe.
Believe it or not, everything that happens in the feet affects the entire body. Because the feet form the body’s foundation, a poorly constructed foot will result in a poorly constructed body. Think about it. Your body needs a strong foundation just as much as your house does!
For example, I was fortunate enough to work as an ocean lifeguard for the Los Angeles County Fire Department for 20 years. And I’m happy to say that running around barefoot outside all day, saving lives, literally saved the life of my feet.
My late grandmother was not so lucky. She suffered from terrible foot problems and had several surgeries throughout her lifetime. And although I inherited her foot structure, I have not suffered as she did. Because unfortunately, she made the mistake of wearing pointed high-heeled shoes in her younger years while I walked (or ran) barefoot in the sand all day working as an ocean lifeguard.
And because of my grandmother’s poor choice of footwear, she could not walk for the last six years of her life. True story. In other words, I spent my life strengthening 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 occasionally to improve the health of the feet. If you are curious about how and why going barefoot contributes to healthy feet, read on to learn the ten benefits of walking barefoot. We even share how walking barefoot helped one little girl’s feet completely heal below our list of ten reasons walking barefoot is good for you. So scroll down to learn the hows and whys.
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. Trust me, the last thing your feet need is a big bad shoe making them conform all the time–lol! So, tell your shoes to go stuff themselves and go for a walk outside barefoot every so often.
It’s also a good idea to invest in more flexible footwear. And reserve those uncomfortable damaging shoes only for special occasions. We all like to dress up sometimes, but the daily use of unhealthy footwear (heels and pointy-toe shoes) will only cause problems in the long run. Just ask my grandma.
If you’re curious, we have posted a list of the best shoes and footwear for healthy feet after this list of barefoot benefits. So if you’re looking for a list of footwear recommendations for kids and adults, scroll down.
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 how 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. The prescription from many podiatrists for flat feet is to walk barefoot to strengthen the inner arch and, thus, the feet. For this reason, children need ample barefoot playtime to support the healthy growth and development of their feet and body.
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 a developing child’s foot strength, ankle stability, and movement pattern.
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 whenever possible. This research article investigates the effects of children and adolescents that are habitually barefoot and shows that going barefoot can lead to improvement in both foot mechanics and motor performance.
Related: Kids Yoga: Tips for Getting Started
4. Barefoot Walking Helps Develop the Fine Motor Muscles in the Feet
Children will become more adept at using their feet when they are allowed to roam barefoot without 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.
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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 improve body awareness and help children learn to navigate the space around them safely. Walking barefoot (and allowing children ample barefoot playtime) 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. And when children (and adults) can walk and play barefoot, they can improve their proprioceptive senses and develop this part of their sensory system into a fully functioning sense.
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.Foot Position Awareness: The Effect of Footwear on Instability, Excessive Impact, and Ankle Spraining (Source)
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 sensory system 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 with 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. Because each sensory system in the body can benefit from walking barefoot outside, and when they are all working properly, they can 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 nothing is 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 book entitled Earthing. (source)
Related: Get Outside and Connect
10. Walking Barefoot Outside can Help Kids Stay Safe.
Barefoot kids are safe kids! Now, I know you might be thinking, how can walking barefoot help my child stay safe!? When there is glass, bees, dog feces, needles, and other hazards on the ground outside?
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 she has her foot on–instead of struggling to keep the sole of her shoe from slipping off.
Related: Positive Parenting Tips
How Walking Barefoot Helped One Child’s Feet Develop Properly
So as you can see, there are many advantages of going barefoot. To put more proof in the pudding, 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 twice a month to be poked and prodded by doctors and specialists who 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 barefoot outside and inside to get all the healthy benefits of going barefoot outdoors and indoors.
Amazingly, after spending eight months in my care, the doctors and specialists claimed this little girl was “cured.” They called it a “miracle” and asked her parents what they had done to dramatically improve the condition of not one but both of her feet. 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 walking barefoot outside has many advantages, 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. And even worse, improper footwear can cause bunions, hammertoes, and other foot deformities over time.
This means that children need walking shoes that allow them to move and grow instead of shoes with too much structure and rigidity. The most helpful shoes allow the foot to breathe and move properly for both children and adults. So look for shoes that are durable, flexible, and have plenty of room to grow. We have a list of our favorite shoe recommendations 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. And if they must be worn, please reserve them only for special occasions. But please ensure 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 foot is developed by two years of age, the bones in a child’s feet are not fully developed and hardened until adulthood. While attaining my undergraduate degree, I learned that most people’s feet continue developing until the age of 24. This means that wearing high heels before then can decimate the feet. Just ask my grandmother.
Related: The Best Social-Emotional Development Games for Children
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.
- Birkenstocks (You knew I would say that, didn’t you?)
Best Shoes for Healthy Feet
No matter your age (child, adult, or elderly), Birkenstocks and their patented footbed are one of the best shoes you can wear for healthy foot development. Made from a mix of cork and latex, the Birkenstock footbed features a deep heel cup, arch support, and a roomy toe box.
The deep heel cup and supportive longitudinal arch of Birkenstocks provide stability and help control pronation. They also have a raised toe bar which can help most wearers put their toes in a more comfortable position when walking or standing. And this makes them beneficial for people with bunions, hammer toes, flat feet, or those that suffer from arch pain.
Each of these details makes them a great choice of footwear for most people. And like my mother before me (fortunately, she did not follow her mother’s high-heeled footsteps), I am in LOVE with their brand and all the footwear they offer–Birkenstocks are the BEST! If, however, you have a severe foot ailment that needs a more personalized approach, it’s always best to consult with a podiatrist when choosing proper footwear.
Another 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 your feet’ natural shape and design while allowing important sensory feedback, proper foot mechanics, and body alignment. And unlike bare feet, barefoot shoes have the bonus of a sole that won’t leave you vulnerable to whatever may be lying on the ground. Even barefoot kids need barefoot shoes sometimes!
However, they don’t work for everyone and can even harm people with severe foot ailments of various types. So once again, ask your podiatrist for recommendations. If you’d like to try them, a few of our favorite barefoot shoes for kids (and adults) can be listed below.
Barefoot Shoes for Kids
- VivoBarefoot Kids
- More barefoot and minimal shoe options for kids
Barefoot Shoes for Adults
- VivoBarefoot Mens Barefoot Shoes
- Xero Men’s Barefoot Shoes
- VivoBarefoot Women Barefoot Shoes
- Xero Women Barefoot Shoes
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Barefoot Benefits for Kids
In conclusion, the type of shoes 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.
Allow your child’s feet and sensory systems to grow properly by allowing your children to go barefoot once in a while. And 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 who should make her child put her shoes on. I’m not giving you sideways glances about your child having their shoes on, am I?
You may also be interested in 15 Reasons to Climb a Tree (and other benefits of risky play) and this amazing list of outdoor learning ideas and nature activities for kids.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
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