Everywhere we go these days, we are encouraged to carry with us a pack of wipes or anti-bacterial gel, to ward off the germs that we pick up along the day as we proceed with our activities. As many of us instinctively know, and as studies have confirmed, going barefoot has huge health and developmental benefits, and it’s important that we support changing the stigmas associated with allowing our children to play for extended periods of time with their feet free to explore and experience all that the sensory world has on offer.
We have come to believe that spending endless hours with our feet wrapped in shoes is normal and natural, yet that is far from the truth and pediatric podiatrists around the world confirm that allowing children to walk barefoot provides many benefits. Two of the primary reasons parents prevent children from playing outdoors with their shoes off is for injury prevention and for preventing diseases or infection, however, the likelihood of an injury occurring on a children’s playground or at a park is minimal, unless you are living in an urban neighborhood where discretion is always advised.
The benefits of going barefoot include a range of advantages, but studies have proven that children who are permitted to play without shoes on have a heightened perception of their surroundings and anticipate danger with a tendency to avoid playing on uneven or unsecured surfaces or structures. Their feet toughen up which leads to them developing a more natural protection from minor injuries.
As for picking up an illness from going barefoot, our skin is designed to keep pathogens out, and we are far more likely to spread or contract an illness through our hands where germs are abundant. Also, children are much more likely to put their hands, not their feet, in their mouths and touch their faces and eyes, where disease or illness most commonly enters the body.
One major benefit of allowing a child to go barefoot is that it strengthens the feet and lower legs, making the body more agile and less prone to injury. It also enhances proprioception, the sense of the relative position of limbs and their movement. In other words, going barefoot helps a child develop body awareness.
The nerves in our feet are sensitive (the sole of your foot has over 200,000 nerve endings– one of the highest concentrations in the entire body) and therefore they make us safer, more careful, and better able to adapt to the ground beneath us. When barefoot, we are better able to climb, pivot, balance, and adjust rapidly when the ground shifts beneath us, as it does when we walk on uneven terrain, or anything besides concrete and pavement. Therefore, one of the best ways we can encourage proprioceptive and vestibular development (the development of a sense of movement and body/spatial awareness) is to allow our babies and children to go barefoot.
SEE ALSO: Zaya Early Learning Center
At Zaya Early Learning, we believe that our children can greatly benefit from the freedom to remove their shoes, in class and out. They are encouraged to bring a pair of non-slip socks or slippers to wear in class, but this is not mandatory. Playtime outdoors is a time to be free in every sense of the word, and children are not only encouraged to go without shoes, but they are also provided a play environment encompassing real grass, sand, real wood jungle gyms, stepping logs, and the opportunity to explore all their space while uninhibited by shoes.
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*Please note that visits to the ELC and Nursery are on appointment basis only.