A new study conducted by German and South African scientists suggests that children who often walk barefoot or don't wear shoes all the time develop and grow up with better motor skills over those children who wear shoes.
This doesn't mean that your kid has to walk barefoot all the time, neither does it mean that your child will improve on her/his walking speed. They have better motor skills, as in, they jump better, their feet and stance are better.
As part of their research, the scientists and pediatrics studied children who walked barefoot often and children who wore shoes most of the time.
- How was the study conducted?
- What were the results?
- What were the factors that affected the results?
- What was their conclusion?
- Are there any other benefits of being barefoot?
- So should I let my kids go barefoot?
How Was The Study Conducted?
To study the children's motor skills, three tests were conducted by the scientists - a balance test, a 20-metre sprint and a standing long jump. This was conducted on some 810 children of all three age groups - 6 to 10, 11 to 14 and 15 to 18 years - half of them from Western Cape South Africa and the other half from urban areas of northern Germany.
The kids from rural South Africa grew up barefoot whereas those from Germany grew up wearing shoes most of the time.
What Were The Results?
The results showed that children who were habitually barefoot and grew up without shoes performed better in the balance and long jumping tests. This held true for all 3 age groups, but under the age group of 6 to 10, the gap between performances was considerably wide.
Another finding was that kids used to being barefoot performed better barefoot than with shoes on. Even though habitually barefoot children outperformed the others in the two tests, the results were entirely opposite in the sprint test - the kids used to wearing shoes performed better.
What Were The Factors That Affected The Results?
The tests being conducted in two different countries with different climates, the weather and environment could have been major factors which influenced the outcome of the tests.
In the case of South Africa, the sprinting test was conducted outdoors, on different surfaces whereas, in Germany, the test was conducted indoors in a sports hall having a sprung floor which absorbs shocks to prevent injuries and enhance performance.
It is possible that not wearing shoes or wearing school shoes could have reduced the performance of South African kids who ran on the ground and that good quality shoes and sprinters could have improved the performance of the German kids who ran indoors.
What Was Their Conclusion?
The results suggest that growing up barefoot improves motor abilities like jumping and balances. But they are yet to come to a conclusion on whether growing up with shoes has an advantage of growing up barefoot when it comes to sprinting abilities, as there were multiple factors at play.
They stated that they're yet to investigate further on it. Although it is usually considered that growing barefoot is natural and improves biomechanics in kids, but again, that is yet to be ascertained.
The researchers from Germany as well as South Africa have now prompted parents to let their children be barefoot more often, at least around their home as it would improve basic motor skills, helping the child to perform better in physical education classes and sports. Growing up barefoot is also believed to help with proper muscle and ligament development as well.
Are There Any Other Benefits Of Being Barefoot?
Yes, there are other benefits of walking barefoot, not just for kids but for everyone.
• Parents usually urge their kids to put on their shoes so that they don't come into contact with germs. But shoes may actually contain more germs than we think. However clean we keep them, there are chances that moisture will build up making it an excellent place for germs to breed. Being barefoot keeps the legs fresh and in contact with the open air.
• Moreover, walking barefoot can improve blood circulation and stimulate the nerve endings. Kids would be accustomed to their habitat, the ground and natural environment.
• Being in shoes most of the time may increase the risk of leg injuries because-
(a) Shoes constrain and pack together the toes while they actually need to breathe and be free.
(b) Being used to wearing shoes, your kids' feet may be delicate and may get wounds or cuts when they're required to walk on coarse grounds.
• The river, the grass, the pebbles, the mud - all these are experiences that can potentially shape our kids' minds. Being barefoot and exposed to all these experiences also makes them more sensitive towards the environment.
So Should I Let My Kids Go Barefoot?
Yes, you sure should! But make sure you keep band-aids and antiseptics handy, just in case there are slight cuts or wounds.
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