It drove my mother crazy when I went barefoot as a kid. Still does – because I’m in stockinged feet in the fall and winter and barefoot the rest of the time!

I can’t stand the confinement of shoes. And I’ve long been an advocate for children to go without them. As I wrote in the very first edition of my textbook:

“Children have been moving in sneakers for physical activity for so long we seem to have forgotten that feet do have sentient qualities. They can be used to grip the floor for strength and balance, and their different parts (toes, ball, sole, heel) can be more easily felt and used when bare. Furthermore, there is evidence indicating that going barefoot strengthens feet and improves body alignment. Young children feel a natural affinity for the ground that can be enhanced by removing all the barriers between it and the feet.”

Nothing really startling there. But you might be surprised to learn that there’s scientific evidence that barefooted is better. Among other things, it’s important to development of the nervous system and to optimal brain development as well! Turns out the feet are the most nerve-rich parts of the human body, which means they contribute to the building of neurological pathways in the brain. Covering them in shoes, therefore, means we’re eliminating all kinds of opportunities for children’s brains to grow new neural connections.

Of course, it’s worry that keeps parents and teachers from setting children’s feet free. One common concern is that kids will contract germs by going barefoot. (That’s my mother’s issue.) But our skin is designed to keep pathogens out. We’re much more likely to become ill from touching something with our hands, which are in contact with so many things during the course of a day. I’d hate to think we’d keep kids in gloves all day to prevent germs!

There’s also concern about injury. But being barefoot actually toughens up the bottom of the feet, so unless children are walking through a construction site full of nails, the likelihood that they’ll injure themselves is slim.

The truth is, many podiatrists contend that shoes can be much more harmful to little feet than nakedness can. Feet should be allowed to develop naturally, not conform to the shape of a shoe. Also, shoes can often constrict movement of the feet, and can negatively impact walking, balance, sensory development, and proprioception (the understanding of our body’s orientation in the space around us).

If you’re worried about the potential chaos of many children shedding shoes and socks at the same time, you can establish and practice routines for removing and retrieving footwear. Socks should be put inside shoes and shoes lined up against a wall or placed in each child’s cubby. And should you have children who are reluctant to remove shoes and socks, you can encourage them with concepts like “barefoot time” or, for toddlers, “tippy-toe time.” They’ll also become more enthusiastic about bare feet if you remove your shoes and socks as well.

If you still face reluctance (and even if you don’t!), offer sensory experiences like those shown in a couple of fabulous videos I’ve shared on Facebook (here and here). In them, children are walking barefoot through plastic bins filled with many different textures, including water, soapy water, sand, leaves, and more. It would be the rare child who’d pass up temptations like these!

17 Comments

  1. I am 59 yo and am preparing to run my fourth consecutive barefoot Auckland Marathon here in NZ. I have been running barefoot since turning 55. Totally agree with the benefits for children but why stop there. Consider the benefits for seniors who so often struggle with balance and general foot strength/sensitivity. It’s also hard to overrate the additional benefits of increased blood circulation in the lower legs and perpetual warm feet. I wish I had known that at the point where I started wearing shoes because that was the social norm as a teenager. Thanks for raising the awareness. Right on the money!

    • Tom, thanks so much fo ryour comment. I hadn’t considered the benefits to seniors…even though I actually qualify as one! I’ll definitely bring this up the next time someone frowns on my barefootedness!

    • I was think that very thing when reading. Older people tucked away with feets covered and rugged. They may feel more alive at the beach and on a walk bare foot. How nice that might be for them .

  2. Thanks for this Rae. In my primary school days we kids, all went barefooted to school. just the norm. Also there is the phenomenon called earthing. …which is best barefoot on grass and ground.

  3. I lecture at a university and my students often laugh at me when I kick off my shoes during a tutorial session and walk around without them. I also tend to remove them when I’m in my office. However because of I am so comfortable doing this, I’ve noticed that many of my students and colleagues have now started doing the same and have also started walking barefoot in class and the office. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s definitely more comfortable!!

    • Christine, you’re singlehandedly (footedly?) starting a revolution! I often kick off my shoes when I’m conducting staff development training. I may need to start doing it during keynotes as well! The only problem: I’m then even shorter than usual. 🙁

    • I love it! I was always so very happy when my teachers taught classes barefoot, because it totally validated my love of not wearing shoes! Barefooter for life, here!

  4. Love the article! I am an unapologetic barefooter, lifelong, because bare feet simply bring me joy & make me feel young at heart! I always dance barefoot at wedding receptions with my gal pals, who all love that I’ll party in bare feet with them, as fast as they shed their high heels and leave them under the table for the entire reception! I also get regular pedis, because I figure that, if I’m gonna promote the happiness of bare feet, I’d better make sure I keep my goods looking top-notch! 🙂 Thanks again, and #livelifebarefoot

    • You’re welcome, Al! Dancing barefooted is the only way to go. I’m sure you last a lot longer on the dance floor than your high-heeled friends! (I’ve never really understood how anyone can walk in those, let alone dance!)

  5. Additionally, I love the idea of teachers going barefoot in class! I used to go barefoot at school a lot, during my high school years, and at Stonybrook U., when the weather was warm enough for it! It turns out, I had a 9th grade social studies teacher, and an 11th grade math teacher, who both would kick off their heels behind their desks, and taught their classes barefoot, almost everyday! In fact, there was one funny incident where I was barefoot in that math class, my sneakers tucked in my backpack, and my teacher, with her shoes already off, patted me on the shoulder and laughed, “Looks like I’m not the only one who loves bare feet!”.. Hah, I knew I wasn’t so completely crazy after all! 🙂

    • Happiness from my side!
      Barefoot is my style (sometimes to my family’s dismay) hahaha!
      Staying in Cape Town, which makes me more relaxed, I recently went to visit my sisters in Gauteng. Here I am so used to going into shops barefooted, but there I was frowned upon when I forgot my shoes at home and went into a mall barefeet. Nevertheless, I just walked on. Call me eccentric, I said to my sisters but never boring!

  6. I had wide feet to begin with and hated constrictive shoes so I was usually barefoot and that trend stuck (I also attended school for the ‘gifted’ and was tested to have a very high IQ. Not something I usually share but seemed relevant, given the topic of discussion). Now 40, with two middle school age kids, I was recently told by a podiatrist that I had the healthiest feet he had ever seen! My children attend a school where it’s written in to the dress code and code of conduct that children may remove shoes when on natural surfaces like grass and dirt at will, and in the classroom when permitted by a teacher. They are expected to wear shoes on man made surfaces. I found that interesting and was glad to read it as there was no leniency on this topic when I was in school. Their elementary had children out of shoes often (same school), and I (of course) have encouraged it all their lives. I’m often appalled at the rigid shoes parents put on their infants, let alone young walking children. We need more articles like this to raise awareness. Thank you!

  7. My kids all went barefoot. My youngest didn’t even keep her shoes on in preschool. She had half her class going barefoot every day at preschool. We all still go barefoot as much as we can.

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