Children learn about the environment not only while using their hands to manipulate objects like Lego, dolls and toy cars, but also when using their mind to interpret or think about the functions and meaning of those objects.
Surprisingly, the same learning experience can also take place when the child goes barefoot.
Barefoot is a state of not wearing any footwear.
Some parents prevent their children from going barefoot while walking outside as they believe footwear provides protection from injury to the feet (from any cuts, abrasions, bruises, impact from objects or sharp material on the ground), and it can prevent dirt and infection.
However, removing footwear outdoors is essential for a child’s maturity and physical growth.
This article highlights five reasons why being barefoot helps in their developmental process.
> Barefoot is the natural way to develop foot arch: While the child is stepping over various surfaces and textures without footwear, the steps that they take on the ground are indirectly and naturally developing the foot arch.
The surface can be even or uneven, smooth or rough, dry or wet, and can include grass, sand, mud, tiles, road, wood and carpet.
Thus, exposing your children to different terrains is important to ensure foot arch development, which will then lead to better walking and stronger feet.
> Barefoot exposes the child to different sensations: Being barefoot prepares the child to learn naturally about various sensory functions that they receive and perceive from the soles of the feet.
There are thousands of nerve cells over the sole that make the foot highly sensitive to stimuli.
This sensitivity enables the child to feel and quickly identify the types of surfaces and textures that they are stepping on.
This leads to them further identifying if the surfaces are dry, wet, cold, hard, smooth, rough or slippery, as well as helping them regulate the body to adjust and adapt their soles to these various surfaces.
> Helps balance the body: When going barefoot, all the toes will spread out to make the base of support over the sole wider.
This takes place in order to stabilise the sole and balance the body while the foot steps on the ground.
For example, when stepping on a soft spot (on the mattress), the toes will naturally spread out to maintain body balance and avoid falling over the surface.
> Helps the movement of the whole body: Information from the senses of the feet helps to regulate the movement of the body, depending on the surface being stepped on (including adjusting the steps and body posture).
The more the child goes barefoot, the more they are skilled at organising steps and movements.
This is one reason why ballet dancers often wear dance socks instead of shoes during training.
> Helps to focus and build confidence: Going barefoot helps the child to be highly conscious of what to step on and how to respond or react to that surface.
Failure to be attentive can lead to missteps, slips and falls!
So, encourage your child to go barefoot on grass, bricks, sand, hard and soft floors, water, mud, jump on sofas and beds, climb stairs, house grills, chairs, and so on, with adult supervision.
If your child avoids footwear and goes barefoot most of time, is overly sensitive with exaggerated response, or is toe walking while barefoot, then it is a red flag in their development.
Take your child to the paediatrician or therapist as soon as possible to sort out the issue.
Nur Atiqah Azman is a lecturer at Perdana University’s School of Occupational Therapy. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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