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!

47 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!

      • Tom is right. I am 64 and hate wearing shoes. That’s the first thing I ditch at the door when I get home from work. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to wear shoes in the house so a big thank you goes out to my mom. As a senior I can honestly say the only time I have balance issues is when I’m in shoes. Barefoot, I can feel the Earth’s rotation through my tootsies!

    • 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!

          • Alan, thanks for letting us know about your organization! I just got a call this morning from a mom whose toddler is being forced to wear hard-soled shoes in child care, supposedly due to “state health regulations.” She’s put in a call to her health department and is awaiting an answer, but I was fascinated to see on your site that that statement is almost always untrue.

  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.

  8. I’ve always been mostly barefoot and at 47 only wear shoes when I go out. My childhood was spent barefoot and climbing trees, clambering over rocks and roaming the bushland. My kids are all barefooters, in fact my youngest who is aspergian only owns one pair of “shoes”…thongs! I despaired of getting shoes on his feet when he went to school, but they were accommodating and allowed him to wear soft, comfortable shoes. Still, he had them off more often than not. Now that he’s home schooled, he only wears “shoes” (thongs) outside the house.

    • Lisa, I’m so glad that when your son did go to school, they were accommodating! I can only begin to imagine how distracting it would have been for him to suddenly have his feet “entombed!” Thanks for sharing your story!

  9. I am a senior 72 years old and I go barefooted all the time. I have nueropthy and can’t stand to have shoes on. when I go out for dinner I have to wear flip flops can’t even put shoes on.

    • Sharon, at the opposite end of the spectrum was my grandmother. She wore shoes with heels and wedges (even her slippers were wedged!) for so many years that she completely lost the ability to lower her heel to the floor. Her achilles tendon couldn’t stretch! It’s ironic that people will worry about “germs” when people walk barefoot, but few seem to consider the hazards to knees, hips, spines, and more that occur when women wear those ungodly high heels!

  10. What a wonderful article. I grew up in South America on the edge of the rain forest. The only shoes we had were the ones required for school which were taken off and preserved the second we arrived home. As the time went by and we were able to afford shoes to wear other than at school I remember my dad would get annoyed by our shoe wearing habits and as a result we did not wear them as often. His only explanation was that they were not good for us because we couldn’t feel the bottom of our feet in shoes. His generation understood something science is now shedding light on. Interestingly, none of us 12 children have any foot issues and I am the youngest now at 53.

    • Sorry for the delay in posting your comment! It got stuck in the spam filter.

      I love your story — and the fact that your father intuitively understood what was best for you!

  11. I am a preschool teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland where regulations require children in a childcare setting to wear shoes at all times including rest/nap time.

  12. At 66 years of age , having been a tomboy when I was young and free, then confined to the norm as an office worker for 30 years I have found freedom. Diagnosed as diabetic of late I noted that when I was wearing slip on shoes it felt like I was walking on cardboard. Of late have been walking barefoot and there definitely is a difference . My toes are getting stronger and feet feel “more”. Mentioned it to my podiatrist, she had a chuckle and said “Stay barefoot , it is very good for you.” As she is a native of Tonga I considered her statement in the light that these people have a connection with the earth and are always smiling. Thank you for the post , it validated my barefoot joy.

  13. Good article! I started going barefoot full time (work excluded) about 20 years ago. I go everywhere barefoot (shopping, homes of friends and family, church, etc.), all year round. I no longer suffer from tendonitis in my knees, lower back discomfort, or achy feet. Also, I am hardly ever ill. Plus, the comfort and freedom are added bonuses. Truly, one of the best decisions I have ever made. My teenage daughter has followed in my “bare” footprints as well. She only wears shoes for school, and only for class. Once class is over, she is permitted to go barefoot. She is looking forward to college next year, where I’m sure she’ll be attending classes barefoot.

    • Kent, thanks for joining the conversation! I’m curious to know where you live, that you’re able to go shopping and to church without shoes!

      • Hi Rae! I live in the deep south of the U.S. People here either don’t notice or don’t care. I have had maybe three confrontations over the past 20 years. Two were at stores and one was at a restaurant. One store and the restaurant ended in my favor. In regard to church, me and my daughter have had nothing but positive inquiries and comments about our bare feet.

  14. Thankful for your article. My 8 year old son Was, runs, plays, climbs etc. Barefooted…we realized that he is a completely different child with shoes that we could hardly deal with. We were planning a hiking trip when he was 2. As a baby he was without shoes. So anyways we thought a good pair of Hiking shoes would make him walk miles…he was not, he was crying, in a bad mood etc. Once we were up the mountain he suddenly took of his shoes and socks and you could see that child breathe…and smile all over the face. He since then takes of his shoes in the middle of March and takes them on to walk to school in the Middle of November. He does everything without shoes, we even spent a week in Rome this year and he walked Via Apia without shoes. He has never ever got injured on his feet, he is a very fast runner, he can hike 6h without moaning, he to me is the downearthed human being I got to know in my life- very sensitive, very powerful. To us, as older he gets, it s becoming difficult to let him do so in public and it costs a lot of back up. People think we force him, we are poor that we have no money to spend in shoes, that he is dirty (we live in Switzerland where water and money for shoes is no problem🙈) We stand against strong winds but we know that we have a well balanced boy who knows exactly what is good for him and his little body and soul. No back pains, headaches and body structure problems on his side and he stands perfect on his own feet. Sometimes he says: you guys have to take the shoes off and feel the ground and then we do and this is one of the most connecting things we do as a family. Hands up for No shoes required areas…! Thanks again for the article.

    • Thank you for sharing your story with us, Carolin! Congratulations for standing firm in the midst of what I’m sure is a lot of resistance!

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