We South Africans have always been told how our grandparents walked to school barefoot until they reached high school age, and then only then could their hardworking parents eventually afford to buy them their first pair of shoes. Yes, our parents and grandparents have the ability to use the truth sparingly when it comes to their tough upbringings, but one thing they did right was to not wear shoes for many of their starter years.

Yes, barefoot is best!  Once your baby starts getting around the best shoes are no shoes. Their tiny toes need to grip the floor and coordinate their little steps, and this is best done barefoot. The development of your baby’s feet to walk requires proprioceptive input and sensory stimulation of the feet which is all required for the walking motion and this is best developed while barefoot.

So why do we wear shoes?  Because we are the generation of mom’s that care and we want to protect our little one’s feet and keep them warm and snug and if I have to tell my daughter to “just go put some slippers on” once more this winter I’m going to need more Botox. And because those same grandparents that walked barefoot over mountains to preschool will look at you barefoot baby and tell you to put shoes on them!

So which shoes are best? (enter disclaimer that this is my opinion only)

For tiny babies any slip-on wide slippers with loose ankle elastics around their ankles and no socks will keep them snug. Their little feet can still move around and wiggle and explore inside as they are lightweight, and we have a warm heart. They must rather be wide and not be snug to allow natural foot development.

For crawling and babies who are starting to walk indoors I love soft leather moccasin shoes.  They are lightweight and flexible and support natural foot movement. The leather allows their feet to breathe and they are amazingly comfortable. They should be wide enough but snug enough to not constrict movement and be comfortable around their ankles.

For toddlers and outdoor activity, I still prefer leather shoes but with a rubber sole for traction and less slips and falls. They should still be lightweight and flexible. You also get lovely slip-on sneakers that are light, flexible and breathable and they also have a little Velcro strap to keep them from slipping off during activities.

So, my standard checklist for babies and toddlers is: 

  • Can their feet move and breathe and grow inside?
  • Are they lightweight?
  • Is the sole flexible?
  • Are their ankles restricted?
  • Is there enough traction on the sole for running and jungle gym climbing?
  • Check shoes every 2 months…. that’s how quickly they grow!

Remember it’s not about fashion and the cute factor but more about comfort and support.  Don’t assume a shoe is comfortable just because your little one hasn’t complained ….and definitely don’t listen to your grandparents who always said get one size bigger. Babies learn to walk through the soles of their feet so once again BAREFOOT IS BEST!