Here is a very interesting blog entry from a runner, Marc Curtis, about getting his son his first pair of shoes.
It surely helped that Marc runs in minimalist shoes (or even sometimes barefoot).
Here is the blog entry: Children’s shoes & the weak foot myth. It’s really good.
It addresses all the stuff we often rail about. How a stiff sole weakens the muscles of the foot. How the foot gets squished in there and shaped by the foot. How seeing all these weak feet, caused by wearing shoes, makes us think that feet are “fundamentally” weak. Of course, the causation runs in the other direction. It’s not that feet are weak and need shoes. In reality, reet are put in shoes and become weak.
Here’s a great quote on how that happens:
The stiff sole will stop their feet from flexing, so the developing bones will stiffen and stay nice and thin. The raised heel will stop their achilles tendon from stretching, keeping it nice and short. The ankle support will splint their ankles (just like a plaster cast) and the raised arch will produce an unnaturally high arch, which will need a life time of orthotics to maintain.
There is one thing he says, though, that I have to disagree with:
Our society wears shoes. We need to, because most of the year the ground is wet and cold and dirty. Shoes are very much an essential part of the kit we need to be healthy and active in our environment.
No, no, no.
Yes, sometimes the ground is wet. No, you don’t need shoes because the ground is wet. Your skin keeps the wet out. In addition, if your feet get wet in shoes, your feet stay wet in shoes. If your feet get wet when barefoot, as soon as you remove the wet, they dry out pretty quickly.
Yes, sometimes the ground is dirty. No, you don’t need shoes because the ground is dirty. Your skin keeps the dirt out. Wash the feet if it bothers you.
Yes, the ground is sometimes cold. No, you generally don’t need shoes because the ground is cold. Human feet do just fine when the temperature is above freezing. When shoes are not cutting off circulation to the feet and the muscles are being properly exercised and drawing in even more warm blood, you’d be surprised how warm they stay in cooler temperatures.
From his blog post, Marc is pretty obviously in the British Isles, which have a long tradition of people going barefoot (particularly the Scots and the Irish). It generally doesn’t get that cold there, because of the Gulf Stream.
For toddlers, they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves if their feet are cold and they want shoes on their feet. Just don’t make it the default.
Actually, as far as I can tell, if you let your kids go barefoot, the main downside is having to listen to all the “helpful” (and sometimes coercive) advice of every other parent out there who is sure you are doing it wrong!
Anyways, in the end, Marc got this sort of flexible shoe.
They’re better than the usual fare. (I was going to say, with brain on autopilot, “They’re better than nothing,” but no, they’re not better than nothing.) If you’re going to get something, those are surely better than the over-engineered monstrousities we so often see.
It also looks like they’ll have to be replaced quite often as his kid’s feet grow. Bare feet are cheaper, too.
Anyways, go read the article. You’ll be glad you did.