Babies and children often like to pull their socks and shoes off and go barefoot. We adults, for all kinds of reasons, (like cold, safety, custom, or because those little shoes are just so darned cute), often put them back on. If we work in an early years setting it might just seem too hard to keep finding and re-finding the socks and shoes that have disappeared again. Simpler just to keep them on.
Let’s face it, we live in culture where wearing shoes most of the day is the norm so we have to think twice if we are going to do something different. On many surfaces, of course, children will need those shoes on.
Shoes have been around a long time for good reason - about 5 millions years it would seem. Originally they were made from animal skins.But our children’s shoes are generally made from a lot firmer stuff; a lot less flexible. So perhaps when they pull them off they are trying to tell us something. Something useful?
Lots of specialists talk about the benefits of going barefoot in developing and maintaining foot strength, stability and agility. We’ll look at that another time. Here we’re going to focus just on the sensory benefits of going barefoot.
Our feet are one of the most sensory-rich parts of our body - that means we gather lots of information through them.
The souls of our feet are extremely sensitive to touch giving us the potential for good communication with the ground beneath us.
And we have lots of proprioceptors in the joints and muscles - these are the sensory receptors that give us feedback about the position of our body, from big changes in our whole body position, through to the tiniest shifts in the shaping and positioning of the 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons in our feet. That’s an awful lot of information!
As babies begin to walk, (and young children test their physical capacity to the utmost), they will need all the information they can get. Shoes muffle that information.
Just like putting your hands over your ears whilst trying to listen intently to what someone has to say, putting shoes on feet muffles the amount of information they can ‘hear’. But we need that information.
We human beings are constantly listening with our feet as well as our ears.
A moving child is listening to the surface of the ground beneath them so they can feel connected and tuned in
They are listening so they can adapt their foot shape as the surface changes underfoot; and then adapt their whole body shape on top, so they stay balanced.
And we need to repeatedly listen and respond, in order to build strong neurological pathways and connections (sensory and motor) from foot-to-rest-of-body. This will underpin so much abut how grounded we feel and how confident we feel as we move upright.
So when our children pull their shoes and socks off perhaps they're just trying to listen more carefully.
Which, in other areas of their lives, is something we usually encourage!