There is a very nice article about letting kids go barefoot at education.com, which describes itself as “An education & child development site for parents”> The article is Why Barefoot is Best. It has a ton of good information, and some practical hints for letting kids go barefoot more.
But they just cannot leave it at, and throw in mythical caveats at the end.
It really is a great article, highlighting Simon Wikler’s 1961 book, “Take off your shoes and walk”. It talks about how going barefoot (particularly with growing feet) gives greater flexibility and strength.
In addition, a number of studies of children in cultures that don’t habitually wear shoes show strong arches and ankles, and no flat feet!
Then they consult with a modern podiatrist:
New York City podiatrist Sherri Greene agrees, pointing out that “young children’s feet need to have a free connection to the earth.” And although shoes in themselves are not the enemy, children’s shoes should be soft and protective, not rigid. “We have to wear shoes in the world to protect the feet,” she says, but adds that “the intrinsic muscles of the foot are not exercised in shoes all day.”
Continuing, it gives suggestions for more barefoot time for kids, “Barefeet at home”, “Barefeet in nature” (even suggesting barefoot hiking!), “Barefoot games” (picking up objects with toes), “Don’t wear athletic shoes all day”.
But that is where the article starts to go astray, and their podiatrist (Dr. Greene, above) just starts spouting her unsupported myth.
When talking about athletic shoes, she correctly notes
[A] recent study has shown that the wearing of athletic shoes actually contributes to arthritis of the knee, probably because each step is so cushioned that the wearer is not feeling the ground under the sole of the foot, and the body doesn’t make the muscle adjustments to align the bones for stability (Arthritis Rheum., 2006).
But she nonetheless says that athletic shoes are needed for after school sports: “Of course, for after-school sports, a good supportive sneaker is important to protect the foot”.
Hold it. She just told us about how going barefoot strengthens all those muscles. Strong muscles don’t need support. Yeah, the kid probably has to wear an athletic shoe for after-school sports, but that is only because the kid’s coach also believes in the support myth (as do their competition rules, for the same reason).
Their podiatrist continues off the rails with the final suggestion:
Don’t wear flip-flops all day. As far as the adolescent fashion to wear flip-flops all day, even to school, Dr. Greene says, “this is not beneficial” to the feet. “They are just not supportive enough.” Compromise with your teen and find some stylish, yet supportive, sandals.
Huh? Go barefoot (without support) to build up the feet’s muscles, but don’t wear flip-flops because they are not supportive enough? How can she hold these two contradictory thoughts in her head at the same time?
Yes, people who start to wear flip-flops after a winter of not doing so may experience some soreness, but that’s because they’ve let their foot muscles go soft over the winter. Of course, it is best to re-strengthen them by going barefoot, not wearing flip-flops, but blaming flip-flops for lack of support is like blaming huffing and puffing after a sedentary winter on your singlet.
[H/T: Kent Wadenpfuhl]