If anyone has ever given you a tough time about letting your kids run around barefoot, now is your moment to gloat. Recent research shows that regular physical activity without shoes may provide an enormous benefit to children, improving their motor-skill development early in life.
The July 2018 study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics looked at three different motor skills — jumping, balancing, and sprinting — in 810 children and adolescents. One group of children from South Africa was habitually barefoot, while the other group from Germany wore shoes most of the time. As it turned out, the typically barefoot kids performed significantly higher than the kids who usually wore shoes in both the jumping and the balancing tests. Interestingly enough, this was true for all age groups of barefoot kids in both of the testing conditions — with shoes and without.
"Walking barefoot is widely thought to be more natural, and the use of footwear has long been discussed as an influencing factor on foot health and movement pattern development," said lead author Astrid Zech, PhD, in a press release.
Although the kids who usually wore shoes did perform better in the sprinting test, researchers noted that both groups of children did this test in different environments while wearing different types of shoes, so those factors might have played a role in that particular result.
All in all, researchers said that this study — which is the first of its kind — emphasizes the potential benefits of going barefoot for our children, especially when it comes to motor skills. Luckily, there are many ways they can reap these benefits.
"Physical education classes, exercise and sport programs, and [recreational] activities that aim to improve basic motor skills could benefit from including barefoot activities," said Dr. Zech. "Parents could also encourage regular barefoot time at home."
We can't think of a better time to start than right now during the summer!