There's a kid running around the playground, laughing like the other kids, but the only difference is that he's barefoot. Are you this child's parent, beaming at him as he enjoys his day, or are you the parent of another child, with shoes securely tied? Regardless of where you stand, there are a great number of benefits that can come from letting your child go barefoot outside, and one mother set out to dispel the myths that say otherwise.
"Two common reasons parents give for not allowing their children to go barefoot outside include fear of injury to the foot, and fear of picking up some unsavory disease or illness through their feet," says Lauren Knight for the Washington Post.
She argues those two myths simply: unless you live in a city where the risk of broken glass or otherwise is high, the chance of injury is minimal (especially on a soft rubber playground), and in terms of illnesses, children are much more likely to contract something from their hands, either by putting them in their mouth or rubbing their eyes or face, which is how most diseases enter the body.
"In fact," she says, "shoes actually create an opportunity for illness by trapping bacteria and fungus . . . establishing an ideal environment for the growth of icky things like athlete's foot and toe fungus."
It seems that there are, in fact, many more benefits than detriments. One benefit of going barefoot is that it helps children to develop body awareness — feet have one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in the body, which "makes us safer, more careful, and better able to adapt to the ground beneath us." Dr. Kacie Flegal, who specializes in pediatrics, said in Natural Child Magazine. "Feet are one of the most sensory-rich parts of the human body. . . . Yet we live in a culture where wearing shoes through most of the day is the norm and, thus, we inhibit the establishment of strong neurological pathways and connections."
Another benefit of going barefoot is that it encourages a healthy natural gait, something that shoes actually interfere with. Adam Sternbergh went so far to say in a New York Magazine article that we "walk wrong," and that developing a natural gait is made almost impossible by wearing shoes. "Parents often put shoes on their babies even before the little ones start walking, which can keep little feet restricted from the normal movement and exploration that is needed to prime the pathway for when they become mobile," says Dr. Flegal.
A third benefit, Knight says, is that going barefoot is "a joy to the senses," and if you've ever seen a child run through the grass on warm day or curl their toes into hot beach sand, then you know exactly what she means.
Tell us: will you let your children go barefoot from now on?