Letting Your Kid Go Barefoot May Boost Their Motor Skills


In the world of raising kids, there's one thing that every parent can count on, and that's that there will always be conflicting information about what's best for your kids.

Years ago parents were told that buying their infant and toddlers proper walking shoes was crucial to their development. That they needed proper foot and ankle support to ensure they learned to walk properly. You've probably been hounded by your own parents to buy your kids those stiff, hard heeled walking shoes because that's what they grew up buying. However more recently doctors have stressed that allowing children to go barefoot as much as possible is actually beneficial to a child's development.

A study conducted by German and South African researchers have found that children who go barefoot more often have better motor skills than those who have grown up typically wearing shoes.

The study, published in Frontiers in Pediatrics found that kids, especially between the ages of 6-10 who were often barefoot, were notably better at jumping and balancing than their counterparts who were often in shoes, Science Daily reports.

"Walking barefoot is widely thought to be more natural, and the use of footwear has long been discussed as an influencing factor on foot health and movement pattern development," Professor Astrid Zech from the University of Jena, Germany, who led the study, explained.

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girl running barefoot with dog outside
Credit: iStock / Tuned_In

The study was the first to compare kids who have grown up wearing shoes to those who typically were allowed to go barefoot. They were assessed in balance, a standing long jump and 20m sprint. In the study Zech and two research teams studied 810 children and adolescents across 22 schools in rural South Africa and urban northern Germany. This cross section of children were selected because in South Africa the children are often barefoot, while those in Germany are almost always wearing shoes.

The children who were normally barefoot did markedly better in the jumping and balance assessment. However, those who wore shoes more often did better in the sprint. Researchers believe factors surrounding the sprint tests, including the kinds of shoes the kids were wearing (the South African students were wearing 'school shoes' vs the German students who typically wore athletic or running shoes) and the the fact that the South African children ran outside while the German children ran inside may have affected the results.

"So while our results suggest that growing up shod may be beneficial for fast sprinting, we need to investigate this further," Zech said.

The study shows that more barefoot activities, even in schools, should be encouraged for children as it does seem to benefit important motor skills.

"Physical education classes, exercise and sport programs, and reactional activities that aim to improve basic motor skills could benefit from including barefoot activities," Zech said. "Parents could also encourage regular barefoot time at home."

While it's not always easy to allow your kids to go barefoot thanks to weather or hygiene or a number of other reasons, this does seem like a reason to try to keep the shoes off as much as possible.

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