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Tread Softly: Why My Kids Wear Barefoot Shoes


Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats The Cloths of Heaven

In our house we tread softly because we are barefoot. When we leave the house we wear minimal shoes. We do this because it is better for our feet and our bodies. It is really important for children’s growing feet to wear a shoe that facilitates their foot development. They need space for all of their joints, ligaments and bones to move. They need to be able to feel the ground to give sensory feedback to their brains. Lastly, a zero drop shoe helps to prevent foot, knee and hip injuries. This is a quick post written to explain why my daughter will not be wearing supportive, padded and heel raised trainers to her new dance class. Aggressive? Yes. Embarrassing? Probably - sorry/not sorry because:

Children’s feet are amazing

At first, the bones of a child’s foot are only partially ossified and the ends are cartilage. As the cartilage grows the ossified zone expands until finally the adult bone is complete in late adolescence. When children’s bones grow most of the growth happens at the ends, existing bone tissue has to be broken down so the bone can reach its adult shape. My daughter is not yet ten and her feet have grown 16 shoe sizes in her life already.

here is a picture of an X ray of an adult's foot next to that of a three year old’s - amazing hey? See the gaps in between the bones? See the round shapes that will slowly morph into the tarsus/bones of mid foot ?

It makes sense with all this important growing going on that my kids shoes have a wide toe box, not a pointed one, to allow their toes to grow straight instead of conforming to the shape of the shoe. It also makes sense that the shoes are zero drop this means that the sole has no slope and the heel is the same height as the toe. A slope is going to send uneven weight through the feet with more pressure at the ball of the foot. This stresses the arch of the foot, the calves and the hamstrings. In 2007 researchers in South Africa compared the health of the feet of 2000 year old skeletons (who had lived a barefoot lifestyle) to that of 180 modern humans - the skeletons had healthier feet. This is in part because

Our feet are force transducers

They are strong flexible levers that push the body off the ground during walking and running. Our arches spread as weight is applied to the foot and then contract again dissipating the force through the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the foot. Here is an illustration by Eric Franklin demonstrating this idea.