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First Shoes for First Steps and beyond: The importance of fitted footwear and its impact on physical development

As parents, we witness the remarkable journey of our children's growth, from their first tentative steps to the confident strides of independence.



In this journey, the importance of proper footwear cannot be overstated. While barefoot exploration is ideal in the early stages, the transition to shoes marks a significant milestone. But what distinguishes a quality pair of shoes from those that fall short? To unravel this, we delve into the insights of Wayne Lubbock, Head of Technical Development at Start-Rite, to understand the pivotal role of fitted footwear in fostering healthy physical development.


How does a child’s ‘gait’ and body change over time?

From child to teenager, kids’ feet undergo massive change throughout the years. A baby’s foot begins square like a brick and is ‘blob-like’ – fleshy and flat and very wide relative to its length, and instead of solid bones, the foot is comprised mostly of cartilage. As the child grows, the bones in their foot will continue to develop from that cartilage up until they are around 18 years old. Alongside this change on the inside, the child’s walking ‘gait’ (or ‘walking style’) changes noticeably throughout their childhood. The natural step of a baby/toddler is much more like a ‘stomp’ than a ‘step’. Then, as the child grows, an arch underneath the foot begins to develop and a more natural style of walking is adopted where we roll off the outside of our heel, diagonally through to the tip toe. This is why it’s vital that children’s shoes are shaped for children’s feet and are not simply adult shoe shapes in  small sizes.

 

How does a quality, fitted pair of shoes foster development during these changes?

There are several considerations that need to be made in order to create a quality pair of children’s shoes. For ‘First Shoes’, the focus is on light structure and support. Transitioning from barefoot, these kids need plenty of sensory feedback to establish balance and co-ordination. Soft leather uppers with highly flexible soles to allow the foot to move naturally while protecting it from the ground beneath, supported with supple fastenings are essential for first shoes, to keep feet comfortably in place and nurture growing confidence in the child’s stride. Furthermore, a ‘toe spring’ at the front of the shoes allows for the lack of an arch, meaning little ones are less likely to trip over.

At the next stage of development, precise biomechanics should be engineered into the shoe. The pattern of the flex grooves in the sole of the shoe should reflect the age and walking gait of the wearer, supporting the developing arch and accounting for a more outstretched foot as you go up in age and size.

 

What are the dangers of poorly fitted children's shoes?

We often associate ill-fitting footwear with blisters, but a blister is the least of the problem for children. Until a child starts school, their feet are still mostly made up of cartilage that is developing into bone. This cartilage can be misshapen by an ill-fitting shoe. This will alter the way it can function and can lead to pain. An ill-fitting shoe can also force a child to walk unnaturally, which sends signals to the brain that something is wrong, and the brain will compensate for it. This can lead to problems in later life, including problems with knees, spine, even the way we walk can been affected for life. The bones in our feet continue to develop until we are teenagers, so shoes are of critical importance to our children’s development.


How can I ensure that my child is wearing the correct pair of shoes?

Professional shoe fitters know how to match the right shape of shoe to the foot. If, for example a child has a very flat foot, it will need a shoe with a slightly higher heel raise than normal to reduce the pressure on the flat foot. However, a child wearing the same shoes with an increased heel height who does not have flat feet, can encounter problems. It’s always advisable to talk to a fitting expert, as they will know what’s best. Also, you can never measure your kids’ feet too often, and growth spurts can often mean sizing is less straightforward.


Author: Start-Rite

Instagram: @startrite_shoes

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