The National Institutes of Health recently published a study on the effects of children’s shoes on gait. They found that (emphasis mine):
Shoes affect the gait of children. With shoes, children walk faster by taking longer steps with greater ankle and knee motion and increased tibialis anterior activity. Shoes reduce foot motion and increase the support phases of the gait cycle. During running, shoes reduce swing phase leg speed, attenuate some shock and encourage a rearfoot strike pattern. The long-term effect of these changes on growth and development are currently unknown. The impact of footwear on gait should be considered when assessing the pediatric patient and evaluating the effect of shoe or in-shoe interventions.
Most of us won’t be too surprised with the results—traditional shoes change the way we walk. And it changes our walk from the very beginning.
A review of children’s sports shoes literature concluded, “The child's foot differs in anatomy and function from the adult foot. Children sport shoes should meet the child specific requirement. Small children should have a sports shoe, which is as flexible as their own foot.”
It’s all well and good to listen to researchers, but I wanted to know what the experts thought about barefoot kids. I interviewed Anders (4.5 years) and Finn (almost 3 years).
Do you like to be barefoot?
Anders: Yes. Finn: Yes.
A: It feels better and I can feel better. F: I don’t know.
What does it feel like?
A: It feels like gravel. And grass and water.
F: It feels like sticks and trees.
What’s the hardest part about being barefoot?
A: Sometimes it hurts my feet. F: Rocks hurt my feet.
Do you like to walk in water?
A: Yes, it feels like a wetland. F: I like to splash with my toes.
Where do you like to go with your bare feet?
A: Chadz. (A local coffee shop. He does wear shoes in the coffee shop.) F: Hiking.
Tell me about your feet.
A: They are quick as food. F: They feel like toes.
Conclusion: Despite a few difficulties, these kid-experts prefer being barefoot and often speak unintelligibly.