Yesterday my niece stepped on her first nail. She survived. And I know she survived because I got this text from my sister:
Survived Rae’s first nail through foot – she is doing fine.
And then I texted:
YAY! Just like mama.
Only I have an iPhone, so it auto-corrected it to “Just like mana.” Because everyone knows that the word mana is more popular than the word mama. (?)
And then SHE texted back:
and I’m not sure why. Did her husband step on a nail too as a kid? Did one of her 47 kids have the phone? Had she forgotten when she stepped on her first nail? So I texted:
No u did that too I remember the very moment
And I did too. She was about nine and on the phone (probably talking to a boy), when she shifted her weight forward onto a piece of wood with a nail in it. BAM. And here’s the funny thing — She didn’t hang up the phone. No, I remember she was trying to keep the conversation going with stuff about how she had a nail in her foot. She really liked talking on the phone.
She remembered too, because then she texted:
And then she wrote:
Barefoot in the apple hut*
Only here’s the the thing — she wasn’t barefoot. She was wearing black keds. And I remember, because when they pulled the nail out of the foot/shoe, the shoe filled up with blood. It was cool. Probably because It wasn’t my foot. So then I texted back:
No you weren’t barefoot it went through your shoe and u were on the phone
And when I read my text I can see why my little sister thinks I was bossy as a kid (only as a kid, right sis?) Plus texting always makes me sound like I’m about 12.
And then she texted back:
Hurt like a mother.
And then I texted:
And then we stopped texting because:
1. I have a new baby and a whole bunch of other stuff I should be doing.
2. She has 67 kids and a whole bunch of other stuff she should be doing.
3. We are over thirty-five now, and why are we texting in the first place?
So, let’s talk for a second about the barefoot movement. In a nutshell, feet weren’t designed to be in shoes any more than hands were designed to be in mittens. Our cultural habit of wearing shoes has left us with affluent ailments (osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, knee-hip-back pain, bunions) at much higher percentages than unshod populations. And you don’t have to be a genius (but you might be!) to go: Yah, I get it.
With kids, it’s even more important that they get abundant barefoot time because the proper development of natural gait patterns and deep body stabilization depends on the super-sophisticated feedback systems that come from the nerves sensing the ground and the brain.
This happens in two ways.
1. There are nerves that interpret the shape of the ground by how the bones in the feet bend at 33 different points (joints). This creates a mental image in the brain (similar to how a dolphin uses sonar to avoid obstacles). Wearing shoes prevents any motion in these joints (except the ankle) and leaves the shoe-wearer “blind” to the environment. This is what makes stiff shoes the worst when it comes to natural development.
and, P.S. This goes for adults too.
2. There are nerves that are sensing other things about the environment. Things like temperature and terrain. These nerves, designed to convey abundant information are now stuck just reading the inside of your shoes. And what is that environment like? Damp and smooth? Ew. The more you expose these nerves to the same input over and over, the more their information gets put on auto-pilot, into a part of your nervous system called an inter-neuron.
More about the inter-neuron: You know how when you walk into a room with a fresh baked pie, it smells delicious, but after a few minutes you don’t smell it anymore? Your brain moves information that is constant into a different part of your brain to free it up for other things, so the more similar your environment, the less your nerves work to perceive. And the less they work, the less healthy they are.
This is why it is important (for everyone, not just kids) to walk on different terrain, on a different path, in different weather. Carrying different weights, wearing different shoes, and eating different food. Habits are not great for biology.
Anyhow, this is why everyone – kids too – need lots of time to *feel* with their feet. Make the house a no-shoe zone and encourage the exploration of different areas sans footwear.
I brought up the nail-in-the-foot conversation because, yes, there are incidents that happen, but in the case of my sister – and her little girl – they WERE wearing shoes. Wearing shoes doesn’t prevent the one or two foot catastrophes that happen and wearing shoes only teaches kids how to pay less attention to what is going on beneath their feet.
Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t going to be places for kids to go with shoes. But when they do, here are a few suggestions.
1. Select super-flexible shoes with no heels. My favorite company for better kids’ footwear is Soft Star Shoes.
Keep in mind, shoes get expensive, and it’s important to not let kids wear shoes that are too small — this is where toe-curling habits get started. So before you run out right to the store right now…
2. Don’t buy “fancy shoes” in the summer. Kids will grow a lot this season and will probably not fit into their shoes at the end of the season. Summer is also the best time to be barefoot, so maximize barefoot time right now.
The best footwear is actually (I’m not kidding) a swim-shoe.
Lightweight and flexible, breathable and super-inexpensive, get your kids a pair at the beginning of the summer to supplement their barefoot time, and donate them once they’re too short. Maybe even get the next size up while they are available, for Fall, if you live in a temperate climate. Swim shoes are much better than flip-flops as the biomechanical gait changes we do to keep flops on really messes with the natural gait pattern.
An interesting note: Neurologists will often recommend wearing swim shoes year-round in kids with any sort of neurological delay, as it improves neurological function of the feet for better gait (walking pattern) development. But why only improve the gait of some kids? Let’s all do it, shall we??
3. Play foot-detective games. Having your kids in their bare feet, try having them guess various objects using their feet only. The more the textures vary (wet, smooth, sand paper, yoga mat, carpet, wood) the more it will challenge their sensory nerves!
4. Have a little foot-massage time before going to bed. Just like book reading, put a 5-minute foot rub into the bedtime tasks. Skin on skin stimulation will help stimulate the movement of each foot joint, increasing circulation of the foot’s tissues.
*For those of you who don’t know, I grew up on an apple farm. The apples were sold in the apple hut. The Apple Hut was also the name of the business. Clever, right?