If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Whole Body Barefoot. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Schoolhouse Series Snacks: Your Toes and Calves.
The winding up of summer vacation means a lot of things, and for a lot of us it means Shoe Shopping. Minimal shoes should be part of your healthy-body, healthy physical development program; this idea I’ve put forth in two books and dozens of articles about feet, so I’ll spare you the “why” details here. What I will post are some shopping tips that I hope make your life easier and save you time sitting in front of a computer, trying to figure out what to order.
The best time to try on shoes for fit is at the end of the day, specifically after you and your kids have been up and moving around for a couple hours. Your feet change size with blood flow. Fitting your shoes to early morning feet (after you’ve been laying down) or after work feet (after you’ve been sitting for hours) will skew your foot size. If you’re purchasing footwear for exercise, sizing your feet right after the bout of exercise will give you the best sizing data.
Step on a piece of paper, spread your toes away from each other*, then trace your foot. THIS is a width of your foot that your foot should be allowed to achieve while moving. Your shoes are likely to be too narrow for your foot. Keep this piece of paper in your wallet and before you buy a pair of shoes, set the shoe on top of it to see if your shoe is actually too small for your foot to do its foot thang.
Traditional guidelines say that Kid’s shoes need to be at least ½-inch longer than their feet. Given that children’s feet are constantly growing, anyone else see the challenge in this recommendation? A well-fitting shoe can quickly become too small. (P.S. Buying shoes a size larger than what they need is also not good. Too-big shoes affect whole-body movement just as ones that are too small.)
There is no way around the fact that kids will likely need more than 2 pairs of shoes per year. They really need a new pair every 3-4 months, and that can be expensive. This is my solution (which means that it works for where I live—seasons, with regular wet/rain, and occasional freezing days):
Buy a pair of water (swim/pool) shoes at the beginning of the year, and again mid-year. Water or pool shoes are super inexpensive (typically less than $14.00) and you can get at least two pairs throughout the year, accommodating foot growth. They’re fine for wet-ground walking (not great for puddle stomping) and paired with some wool socks, my kids are happy even in really cold weather, as long as it’s not currently raining. These are the most affordable, easily findable, and water-resistant minimal shoes I’ve found for children. I got these at a thrift store for $0.99 last week.
INVEST in a pair of well-made minimal shoes slightly later in the season, as late as November if you can get away with it. My kids’ feet tend to grow more rapidly in the summer and slower in the cooler seasons (from what I’ve observed). Winter shoes tend to last them the full season, especially when I buy late Fall. Brands I like include Soft Star Shoes, MyMayu, and Minnetonka. There are fuller lists of recommendations in the back of Whole Body Barefoot.
If you winter hard (I’m looking at you, Nova Scotia) foot warmth is high priority. Again, buying later in the season can be your friend here. INVEST in a pair of boots and better yet, find a community that INVESTS in their footwear and trade or buy used shoes. (Pictured boots below are from Soft Star Shoes.) Because I get lots questions regarding hard winters and boots, here is a testimonial from an actual maritimer:
“I live in a Maritime province that has seen some brutal winters in recent years and my kids and I basically live in our Soft Star Phoenix boots from late October to May, except when it’s rainy out (they’re fine in slush if we keep up with the waterproofing). Until it goes below about -15°C, we don’t need socks, and with wool socks we’ve been comfortable down to around -30°C, at which point we sensibly hibernate.”
Pair your new minimal footwear with barefoot exercises. Minimal shoes offer more movement than traditional ones, but you’re still shod. Foot-strengthening exercises are great, but telling kids, “Hey, guess what, we’re going to do some foot exercises, aren’t you excited!?”— rarely works; and throwing a “Foot Exercise!” themed birthday party might be a dud, even if you get a huge foot piñata. What kids DO like are obstacle courses. Create sensory paths, balance beams, and pillow trains and get your move on, even if it’s freezing outside. Especially when it’s freezing outside. You know who else likes obstacle courses – adults!
If you homeschool or teach health/anatomy/basic science at a traditional school, add a unit that covers one quarter of your body–the feet (calculated by number of bones and muscles). I’ve prepared one for you here.
To learn more about feet and footwear, the KatySays podcast episodes 18, 19, and 20 cover this matter well. Listen by clicking below!
I said I would spare you all the WHY details, but I can’t post on kids and shoes without at least linking to the post on kids and heeled shoes: Your Child Might Be Wearing Heels, Right Now.
If you haven’t read either Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet or Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear might I suggest these as your textbooks for Fall? Getting educated in your body pays off.
Use this cheat sheet below while you’re shopping:
*If your toes don’t spread, allow me to suggest these back to toe-abductor educators for your feet: