For some of us, it feels like we were just buying a new pair of shoes for our kids last week. For others - we actually were buying a pair last week! Always busy playing, exploring and adventuring, children literally run through shoes faster than we can get them to put 'em on. But what kinds of shoes should kids actually be wearing - and at what age should they be wearing good shoes? Today, we answer all of this and more!
So, what makes a good kids shoe?
To best answer this question, we’ve got to throw a question right back at you: How old is your child? As children’s feet grow bigger and stronger, the features that their shoes need to have change. We’ve broken it down into a few stages for you:
Before they walk
Before kids learn to walk, their bones are still soft and developing, their muscles are developing, and they respond to what they can feel. Soft, flexible shoes at this age are great for allowing kids to still feel while they crawl or kick, while protecting their little feet from grazes or anything painful. No need to worry about foot function and movement just yet!
This is the age where your child has learnt (and is continually learning!) to walk but hasn’t started school yet. Their little feet are growing quickly, but are far from the strong and stable feet they will grow into. When they first start walking, you want the shoes to protect their feet without tripping them up or weighing them down. Think lightweight and flexible, with a slightly firmer sole than before but nothing rigid.
As they start walking more confidently and continue to develop their strength, you want to look to increase the firmness of the sole of the shoe to help give them additional stability and support. Shoes that have velcro and are close-toed are always a winner as they adhere much more closely to the fit and reduce the likelihood of accidental falls. Again, still opt for the lighter materials at this stage!
SchoolThe school age is when we do shift our footwear focus to be stabilising, supportive and facilitating throughout a wide variety of high-impact and fast-paced sporting activities - and life activities. Whether it’s a school shoe or a sports shoe, we recommend that it has:
- A firm heel counter - this is the area at the back of the heel. Pick up a shoe and squeeze the back of the heel down into the shoe. If it easily bends in and down, the heel counter is not firm and won’t be providing much support or stability to the ankle joint. It should be difficult to push that heel counter down - and almost impossible on some new pairs of shoes before they’ve been worn in!
- A wide toe box - make sure there is plenty of room for movement and growth - as your kids will be doing a lot of that! It’s becoming increasingly common for children to develop hammertoes or clawed toes because there’s that toe or two that keep hitting against the end of the shoe and so begins bending downwards. Mindfully find the longest toe (not always the big toe!) on the longest foot and make sure the toe box is suitable for it.
- The right amount of flexibility - just like how our feet bend at the joints at the balls of our feet, our shoes should facilitate this movement and bend here too. They should be a little less flexible through the middle of the base of the shoe as this will help facilitate our gait and momentum.
- A good fastening mechanism - laces and velcro help secure a shoe well to the foot, instead of a slip-on that won’t wrap as closely around the foot and ankle to add support and stability. Buckles can work here too.
- Removable, supportive liner - having a supportive liner will help support the foot while helping to absorb shock and impact forces from everyday activities that would otherwise pass through the bones and joints. Having a removable liner means both that you can replace the liner if it gets dirty without taking up more room in the shoe, as well as having the option to have custom orthotics fitted to those shoes if your child needs them or sustains an injury.
And what brands do you recommend?We’ll recommend a few of our personal favourite for kids shoes, but the features we described above are really much more important than the brand of footwear. We’ve found that sometimes, great brands can make not-so-great shoes that lack many beneficial characteristics, while other no-name brands can produce some decent shoes. So always check that the shoes have the features you need to optimise your child’s foot health and provide what they need at their age. As for personal recommendations, we love:
- New Balance
- Stride Rite
Any tips for buying school shoes?
- Buy shoes towards the end of the day, not in the morning - our feet can swell slightly as we walk throughout the day
- Bring your winter socks to the fitting to make sure the shoes will still be comfortable and fit right come winter
- Stop and look to see which toe is the longest - often it’s the second not the first! Make sure you measure the size of the shoe based on the longest toe on the longest foot - you should have one fingers width between the end of the toe and the end of the shoe
- Always bring your kids into the store - even if you’re getting the same brand, different models can have different sizing and fit so get it right the first time!
- Many school and sports shoes will have a natural pitch (heel) of around 2 - 4 cm these days. Make sure it’s not over 4cm!
- Feel inside the shoes to make sure the seams are smooth and the stitching isn’t going to irritate your child’s feet or cause blisters
- Get the kids to wear in the shoes around the house first before wearing them out