Importance of Bare feet for Infants Learning to Walk
Infants, whose bodies cannot regulate temperature effectively, are typically kept warm by parents and caregivers. It is normal practice to ensure that the baby’s feet are always kept warm in socks – possibly to avoid getting a chill and falling sick.
Babies are sensory learners. They learn about their environment through their hands, feet, and mouth. As babies grow older and begin to move independently, we provide a rich environment for the developing sensory and musculoskeletal system. Along with the various physiological systems that develop in the baby, two other systems (proprioceptive and vestibular) also begin to develop so that the baby learns awareness of the world around her/him. Proprioception is the ability to perceive motion and the
position of our bodies in space. The child understands her/his body space with the input received by the proprioceptive and skeletal system. The vestibular system aids the child in balancing and coordination as well as posture. One of the simplest ways to motivate proprioceptive and vestibular development is to let babies be barefoot as much as possible.
Most babies begin crawling when they are around nine months old; this is followed by learning to pull oneself up and eventually walking. As soon as babies begin crawling, their feet are often covered with socks and shoes in an effort to aid the budding walker. In fact, for a long time, it was believed that babies needed to wear shoes to learn to walk. However, research on pediatric podiatry indicates the opposite. Babies need sensory impressions from the soles of their feet to be able to learn to walk. Foot wear either shoes or socks, hinders the proper development of the baby’s ankle and foot which may also cause gait problems in the future.
Just as hand development is vital to a baby’s cognitive development, feet play an equally important role in developing the proprioception and vestibular development in the baby. Feet are one of the most sensory-rich parts of the body. The soles of the feet are extremely sensitive to touch and in fact the feet alone have as many proprioceptors as the entire spinal column! Placing a barrier between the sensitive soles of feet and the ground impedes the child from getting optimal proprioceptive or vestibular stimulation to develop neuromuscular strength, spatial orientation, balance, and coordination.
Placing these little feet in socks and shoes restricts normal movement and exploration, which is crucial in creating the neural pathways required for learning to walk. Learning to walk may be delayed in some children whose proprioceptors are not allowed to be optimally stimulated, and vestibular input is inhibited.
As the baby learns to crawl and walk, the baby must be able to place her/his entire foot on the ground. Neural connections must be made by the foot on the ground to provide vital sensory information – soft, hard, cold, warm, damp, dry, etc. These sensory impressions are also extremely important for the developing musculoskeletal system. When a child is allowed to be barefoot, her/his tactile pathways feel the surface of the ground, proprioceptors respond to pressure, and the terrain creates slight imbalances
that create neuromuscular strength, spatial orientation, balance, and coordination.
In the Caterpillar room, we encourage our children to crawl and walk in bare feet to aid the development of higher brain centers which are responsible for social, emotional, language and cognitive skills. Keeping babies in bare feet encourages them to be conscious of their entire body. Encourage your baby to walk bare foot on the ground, in the grass, on carpet, on tile or wood floors – let her/him experience the rich and stimulating sensations from the soles of the feet which are so vital for neurological