Bare feet are best for little feet, but there are times when shoes should be worn for protection.
These should be as natural and simplistic as possible so that toddlers’ feet can do what they are naturally meant to do and develop properly.
Watching their adventurous boys, John and Nicole van Besouw noticed their young sons stumbling over tree roots and struggling to climb rocks during family walks in the forests of Cape Town.
They realized that the hard, thick-soled shoes the toddlers wore hampered their movements.
As an occupational therapist, Nicole knew that incorrect footwear could have a negative impact on the foot and overall development of children.
“It’s natural for moms and dads to want to protect their children’s feet, but it’s wrong to think that toddlers need arch support or padding, even if their feet seem dishes”, explains Nicole.
According to Nicole, the less cushioning they have, the more the ligaments and muscles naturally strengthen.
“Forcing developing feet into the wrong type of shoe will negatively impact gait and may even cause deformities,” Nicole said.
As Dr. Irene Davis of Harvard Medical School states, “If we start our children wearing minimalist shoes, there won’t be any adaptation needed in adulthood and I think that could be part of the holy grail. to reduce musculoskeletal injuries in adults.”
“Shoes should support the physiological function of the foot and the shape and dimensions of the shoe should be the same as the foot. As children’s feet are still maturing, they are more vulnerable to outside influences such as shoes.
The couple began researching shoes designed for bare feet for toddlers.
By combining Nicole’s knowledge with John’s engineering expertise, they created a shoe from local materials designed for movement, stability and natural play.
Since then, their handmade designs have been tried and tested by many children to ensure they tick all the boxes in terms of health food development and barefoot shoe design.
The success of these prototypes and the feedback the couple received from parents led to the launch of Common Tread Shoes last year.
Based on her research and experience, Nicole shares some tips below that parents can use to ensure they buy the best shoes for their little ones:
• Zero slope from heel to toes and minimal cushioning: a heel on the shoe modifies the position of the muscles of the legs and the spine.
• A flexible sole: it provides grip while allowing optimal flexibility of the forefoot when climbing, running and jumping. The foot must be able to absorb the constraints and adapt to all terrains.
• Thin and minimalist sole: this allows optimal feedback from the environment because the foot is a sensory organ receiving messages to be sent to the brain, the more the child feels, the more confidence he has in his movements.
• Wide toe: the toes should be able to play in the shoe in a natural position as this enhances natural foot function and stability during play, improving balance and proprio-receptive feedback.
• Soft, natural and toxin-free materials: Parents should choose shoes made from natural materials. An example is a vegetable tanned leather liner which is breathable and naturally fights foot bacteria that cause foot odor. Shoes should also be lightweight and easy to tie so children can put on their own. This is important to encourage independence.
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