Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barefeet and Babies

"Our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch of our ancestors as we walk over this Earth."
~Chief Seattle, Duwamish Suquamish~

There was a time when bare feet or handmade footwear were the only options for our feet. And, as we all know, all of the earth is not soft sand or soil. Rocks, thorns and rough terrain make walking without shoes a daunting and often dangerous thing to do. The ancients knew this and made shoes out of both animal hides and plant products. The oldest intact shoes (a pair of sandals over 10,000 years old) in North America were found in a cave near my town of Bend, Oregon.

Times have changed. As natural as bare feet are, if you are walking outside, shoes are usually the right choice for the modern foot.

The exception to this statement is young children who are learning to walk. If the walking environment is safe and soft (such as a clean carpet or sandy beach), barefoot is the best for babies. Babies don't have arched feet. They need a lot of toe wiggle-room and a flexible soft surface that encourages their feet to move and to develop without artificial influence. Don't be fooled into thinking that a toddler's foot needs "support" with a stiff shoe/boot. Even a sandal is too much if it has a stiff sole. A stiff-soled toddler shoe is confining and clunky for a kid. Lifting the foot and turning in a stiff-soled shoe is hard for a toddler, promoting tripping and awkward balance.

The best shoe for a baby/toddler is a moccasin or similar type of shoe such as a flexible Aqua sock. Test a baby shoe by bending the sole between the toe and heel. The baby shoe should easily crumple and bend.

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