Tips &

Tips &

Should Early Years settings introduce barefoot play?

April 2022
Janthea Brigden
More Tips & Tales

I’ve been reading about the benefits of going barefoot, mainly because my eldest son is regularly walking about outside in all weathers without shoes and waxing lyrical about how great it feels!

When my children were little, they frequently went barefoot, in fact, they frequently went bare! My daughter particularly relished the freedom of ditching attire and covering herself in mud, standing out in the rain whenever she could. On beaches, they loved the sensation of rolling in the sand and then rushing into the sea.

 I’ve noticed that children in my settings automatically remove their socks and shoes almost as soon as they arrive and often dislike putting them back on again.

I’ve always thought this was a sensory thing, and whilst I have understood that the sensations and pressure received on bare feet from the ground must be similar to reflexology, I hadn’t appreciated the full and rather incredible benefits of being barefoot!

According to scientific research, ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ (going barefoot) for 20 minutes a day can help us in a multitude of ways.

10 benefits of walking barefoot for children

1. It releases antioxidants

The earth’s surface carries a negative charge. Going barefoot, or touching the earth’s surface with any part of your bare skin, results in a charge exchange and releases antioxidants to protect you from free radicals that damage cells and cause illness. 

2. It regulates your nervous system

Going barefoot can help to regulate our autonomic nervous system and our circadian rhythms — which synchronize our body temperature, hormones, digestion and blood pressure. 

3. It’s more natural 

Walking barefoot restores our natural walking pattern or gait. This, in turn, has many other physical benefits to other parts of your body. 

4. It improves your balance

Walking barefoot helps to evenly distribute pressure across your feet and, therefore, improves balance and proprioception. 

5. It can relieve pain

Walking with even pressure across your feet greatly reduces the force of impact on the ground. This creates greater body awareness, both of which can help with pain relief. 

6. It can improve strength 

Walking with a more natural gait can lead to improved motion and strength in the foot and ankle joints and in the hips, knees, and core. 

7. It reduces stress 

Grounded walking has been shown to almost instantly reduce stress levels and moderate your heart rate. 

8. It can improve muscle tension 

Walking barefoot keeps all your joints, muscles and ligaments working as they should, reducing muscle tension. 

9. Improves sleep 

Research has shown that walking barefoot regularly can improve the quality of your sleep. 

10. It supports your immune system

One study has shown that red blood cells appear to increase when people walk barefoot regularly, whilst white blood cells decrease, hinting at a strengthened immune system. 

Should we be encouraging children to go barefoot in childcare settings? 

When a toddler is learning to walk, parents are told to let this process happen naturally, and without shoes. That’s because shoes can affect how a child uses the muscles and bones in their feet.

As a child gets older, we shove their feet into shoes and lose the benefits that come from walking barefoot.

If being barefoot is a natural, instinctive impulse and its benefits are backed up by science, shouldn’t we be encouraging and actively championing this practice in nursery schools, creches and other settings?