My littlest baby is not so much a baby anymore.
Nathan is now 13 months old and is crawling and cruising everywhere — and sometimes, taking steps. Unlike my other babies (who all walked around 11 months), he’s much more interested in trying to talk or manipulating things with fine motor control. But he’s getting there.
Especially now that the warm weather’s coming, he’s desperate to get outside and play like the other kids. Seriously — if someone opens a door, he’s turned himself backward and is scooting out. It’s no longer enough for him to be barefoot when we’re out and about since he’s now down and playing. He needs something for his feet.
My older children all wore normal baby shoes — the hard soled, typical shoes that kids wear. They started wearing them by 8 months or so, even before they walked, to “protect their feet.” And I thought it was just fine. I don’t know if I’m “crunchier” now or if my mommy instincts are telling me that Nathan needs something different, but I can’t bring myself to put hard-soled shoes on a kid who is just barely walking. I don’t think it’s the best thing for his gross motor development.
Surprised? Let’s explore the physiology of walking and foot development, and look at some “shoe” options to determine the best ones.
How Do Babies Learn to Walk?
In a very basic way, we know that motor control starts at the head/neck and moves downward. So, infants learn to hold their heads up first, then learn to use their hands, then sit, then crawl, and then walk. Each step is a necessary part of their physical, gross-motor (large muscle) development. Skipping or mixing up stages may be an indication that something’s wrong, actually, but that’s a topic for another time.
Younger babies spend a lot of time squirming and kicking, which helps them to strengthen their leg muscles. This is not an attempt to hurt you (ha), but a pre-walking exercise. Once they have that muscle strength, how do they actually learn to walk?
Babies actually learn to use their bare feet to balance, especially their toes. This is why it is best to allow them to be barefoot as much as possible when they are young, or newly walking. Their bodies are learning to balance, support their weight, and move independently. It’s why sometimes you’ll see newly-walking babies tripping once they have shoes on — their sense of balance is thrown off by this.
This is best done with no shoes, no socks, and loose clothing.
The Problem with Shoes
Okay, so it’s better not to wear shoes, but is it actually problematic? Some say yes. Stiff, hard shoes are often not appropriately shaped to the feet. In adults, this could cause bunions, hammer toes, or back problems.
But in babies and toddlers, hard shoes can actually deform the feet and train them to grow incorrectly. Young children may end up with fallen arches, toes that are close together (they should be spread apart), and may seem clumsy (tripping often) or tire easily while walking. They may experience pain in their feet, legs, or backs. This is not something children should grow up with!
Read more about the development of the foot and cause of foot pain HERE.
Sometimes, kids just have to wear shoes. We all do. When we’re out and about, our feet are exposed to hard or possibly sharp terrain, and must be protected. Plus, most public areas require shoes.
A soft-soled kid’s shoe is the best option. These soft, shapeless shoes do not mold or shape a child’s feet. They do not try to ‘correct’ arches or hold a child’s feet steady. Instead, they protect the foot from any potential harm (hard/rough surfaces) but otherwise allow the foot to balance as needed.
This is the type of shoe we really all ought to wear! I’m tossing around the idea of making some for myself…. And speaking of making them, I found this free pattern online. I’ll be making Nathan a pair or two of shoes from it (and I’ll share a tutorial on how to do it at the end of the week). I honestly believe until he’s older — and I’m not sure how old — he really needs these flexible shoes.
It’s certainly possible to buy them, as well, but I believe they are usually $20 – $40 each, which is a bit pricey for shoes they’ll outgrow in a few months. They can be found in many cute designs on Etsy (I have no affiliation with any of these shops).
Our feet simply weren’t designed to “need” shoes — or even to do that well with them. Haven’t we all noticed young children walking outside barefoot, even on hard or rough surfaces (think gravel) without seeming to hurt? I know it’s hard for me to do that, and I’m amazed that my kids can! They’re made to be barefoot, really, and at home we are most often. It’s only when we are out that we must wear something on our feet.
Especially with babies and toddlers, skip the hard shoes and go for the soft.
What kind of baby shoes do you choose and why?