Today I nipped to the Clarks outlet store near work to buy our toddler a pair of sandals. I thought he might need them because we’re going on a big adventure next week – a seven-day bike ride in Austria – and the weather is forecast to be pretty hot. I merrily went to pay and was feeling really happy with my bargain purchase until the sales assistant stamped my receipt with a big red stamp of shame – ‘self fitted’, it said.
It so happens Oscar’s feet were measured a few weeks ago, but it nevertheless made me panic – what if the shoes fit badly and leave his bones permanently misaligned? What if he needs the stiffer, ‘walker’ shoes these days? And then I wondered, if the weather’s going to be so warm, why on earth does he need shoes at all?
It made me realise that when I drop him off at his childcare each day in shoes, it’s not to protect his feet from all the perils at nursery – it’s because that’s just what you do. I’ve made his feet a fashion accessory (mine, not his). And that’s despite all the evidence suggesting barefoot is best, not just for toddlers learning to walk but for adults too. Better arch strength, stronger muscles and ligaments, and healthier skin and nails… they’re just a few of the benefits.
The main reasons to go barefoot go way beyond your ankles. Growing up in Australia, I went unshod for half the summer. I can still remember vividly how it felt to hop across the sharp gravel of our driveway, or to hot-foot it down a blistering road to the beach, or to run across cool, prickly lawn. Going barefoot is such a sensory experience (OK, woolly slippers can be too…) and it’s one of the things we all remember about being a kid. It makes you feel happy. Who wants their child to miss out on that?
This summer, then, we’re going to make a point of kicking off our shoes more often. We’ll start with a few minutes on the lawn tomorrow morning (that’s not a long time, admittedly, but I’ve just seen the weather forecast!), then hopefully build to bigger things like a barefoot walk or two somewhere safe. And the best bit? If I do manage to overcome my need to accessorise his feet, I’ll be able to spend the money I save on my own shoe collection!
PS don’t forget to check back to see how our big bike tour goes!