We’re a “shoes optional” family. We don’t wear shoes in the house, and despite the dog poop landmines, wooden deck, and potential for stepping on a bee, if it’s a warm day, you’re as likely to find my kids outdoors without shoes as with.
Same goes for in the house, though we do opt for socks on cold days!
But while baby and toddler toes are impossibly cute, the temptation to buy almost-equally adorable tiny footwear is definitely there. We buy babies shoes to take those first steps, thinking that it must be easier to walk with shoes on…but it turns out, that way of thinking is flawed, because studies show that walking barefoot is beneficial for a child’s development.
In their early years, a child’s sensory system is growing and changing all the time. Their brains are learning to grow, learn, and adapt, and being able to use all five senses simultaneously is the best way to encourage the process.
Our sense of touch is often seen as less important than the others, but anyone who has ever heard the term “sensory bin” knows that for toddlers, it’s definitely on par with the others.
There are two sensory systems that are super important for little, developing brains – the vestibular system and the proprioceptive system – and walking barefoot helps improve both.
Proprioception is the ability to understand motion and how it relates to our body’s positioning. Receptors in our muscles, joints, and other tissues send signals to the brain, while the vestibular system helps with coordination and balance, along with our center of gravity.
With shoes on, kids aren’t as able to receive input for the proprioceptive system, and input for the vestibular system is diminished, as well. Without tactile sensations, the feedback is muted, the sensors unstimulated – think of what it feels like to walk barefoot in cool grass, to wriggle you toes in the sand, and things like that.
It’s great, it’s new, it gets your neurons firing on whole new levels, and that’s exactly what developing babies and toddlers need.
So if it’s a safe space, even if it’s not entirely clean), forgo the shoes. It will be winter soon enough, and you’ll have all kinds of chances to show off those adorable kicks.