On a recent holiday to Andalucía I persuaded my reluctant mover of a hubby to come and walk El Torcal. Admittedly I may have painted a slightly rosy picture of this amazing landscape formed by tectonic land plates shifting. I read that there was an easy level stroll around 2km long and surely he could manage that and take a look at the shapes the rocks have formed to see if he could spot the Camel and The Dog.
When we arrived he was distracted by the gift shop so it was easy to get him walking on the path and I omitted to tell him we would be opting for the intermediate route…
Somewhere along the way, as he squeezed through narrow canyons and slid down over big boulders he became suspicious but when we finally made it back he was very proud of his achievement. During those couple of hours he had squatted, climbed, stepped and crawled probably more than he had for a couple of years. I think the last time was a river walk that I’d conned him into. Ha!
Over coffee, while we were discussing how well he had done, he said how surprised he was that the children around us had really struggled. He assumed that they would be like nimble mountain goats laughing at the middle-aged man’s attempts to get around, over and under the landscape. Instead, he saw how scared they were to try and climb or slither.
Why were children struggling to walk the trail?
I too had noticed that the children had a hard time walking El Torcal, while my bare feet had no issues with feeling the ground and holding tight where necessary and moulding to the floor beneath me.
As I observed the children, I saw how they were trying to feel and find the ground but their shoes were blocking the messages. Their movements were uncertain as they tried to use their other senses to figure out a safe passage through. Many times I heard the comment “Senora sin zapatos” – she has no shoes – and probably followed by a request to do the same.
I hear this so many times. Children spot my bare feet ploughing through the outdoor space and instinctively they know it’s a better way to be. Many times I hear their request turned down because it’s “dangerous”.
When you realise that your feet have over 7000 nerve endings per foot and a quarter of all your joints are in your feet, maybe putting children in shoes is dampening down their nervous system and not allowing many neural pathways to fire.
Many children’s shoes are mini versions of adults, forcing growing feet into an unnatural shape. Add to that soft soles that feed no information back to the nervous system and heels that pitch little bodies forward and it’s not a huge leap to see why kids have a hard time moving in nature.
We live in a time when children are encouraged to be adults from an early age and maybe, just maybe, letting them run wild in the wild may reap long-term benefits to their health, both mentally and physically.
When feet are bare they get the stimulus of temperature, light and texture of the ground. They become alert to everything going on and you become very aware of your environment.
I notice that as soon as I have a shoe on that I no longer take note of my surroundings in quite the same way. When you’re barefoot and the nervous system and brain are constantly getting feedback so that you can move safely, you interact with your surroundings in a completely different way.
Children have this innately from young. Watch how a toddler will squat down and inspect something at ground level. They know that the world around them is theirs to explore and learn from.
When you block the feet you block so much sensory information
Imagine having to spend the day in mittens and complete your daily tasks. Pretty much that’s the experience children’s feet are having. The flat surface of the soles, temperature controlled with no access to light sensory input is minimal. When you deprive an area of sensory input the cells literally die, there is no reason for the body to expend energy keeping something maintained when it’s not being used.
I would imagine if you were told your child would be put into a situation of sensory deprivation, that you would know immediately that would not be a good thing.
It’s interesting to me that schools who trial bare feet see an increase in concentration levels. Exam results go up and the children are happier.
Along with the bare feet, these schools encourage natural movements like squatting or floor sitting. This would appear to be a clear indicator that conventional shoes are doing our children a huge disservice.
Recently listening to a podcast with the Galahad Clark, founder of Vivobarefoot, he spoke about the shoe industry knowing that they are creating shoes that are distorting little feet. Fashion is more important than function.
My clients have told me how shoe shops tell them not to let children spend too much of the summer in bare feet as their feet won’t fit into conventional shoes in September. I have my own personal opinions of an industry that behaves this way but most people don’t question or think about it. When something is the “norm” it doesn’t get questioned.
Minimal shoes can be a good stop gap
If you’re not up for letting your little ones run wild or it’s not safe in an urban area for them to do so, minimal shoes have wide toe boxes allowing toes to spread and grip. The soles are completely flat and flexible allowing for natural movement and thin so they can feel the ground.
Minimal shoes allow feet to behave like feet while obeying the rules of a society that expects children to be shod.
For now, I’ll enjoy being the crazy middle-aged lady with no shoes on, skipping past the kids!
photo by @robbie36