Our friends at children's shoe specialist Bugalugz offer their tips on choosing shoes for little feet.
The bones in a child’s feet are formed from soft, pliable cartilage, which doesn’t solidify into bone until about five years old. That’s why the shoes children wear in childhood can make (or break) their future foot health.
The Bugalugz 5 Bs of choosing shoes:
1 Soles must be BENDY Shoes need plenty of flexibility so children can bend and flex their feet naturally. Make sure shoes are lightweight with soles that bend easily to at least 55 degrees at the ball of the foot.
2 Material must be BREATHABLE Strangely, kid’s feet sweat twice as much as adult feet! So choose shoes made of breathable material such as leather. Avoid synthetics as they encourage sweating, and don’t ‘give’ much so they tend to rub more.
3 Toe box must be BROAD Plenty of room and width in the toe area allows toes to spread and anchor - vital for learning to balance.
4 They must have a BACK (or back strap) Avoid backless styles as they force the foot and toes to curl to keep the shoe from falling off. A well-fitting shoe should be fastened onto the foot so that it follows the foot in ANY movement, without needing effort from the foot to keep it on.
5 Check that they are big enough! Toes should never touch the end of the shoe – there should always be enough ‘wiggle room’ for growth (5mm-1cm).
Ages and stages
When choosing shoes, it’s also important to take into account the stage of development. For example, a baby who is just starting to take their first wobbly steps has quite different needs from a full-speed-running toddler.
Stage one: crawling and cruising – about 6-12 months
The only ‘shoe’ to consider at this stage is a suede-soled leather bootie, which is useful when babies crawl outside (to protect toes on rough surfaces) and when they start to cruise around furniture, as the suede soles are naturally anti-slip on smooth surfaces like wood or tile floors.
Stage two: first walkers – about 10-18 months
For outdoor wear, leather-soled baby shoes are nearly as soft as leather booties, but much more durable. Look for soft, thin leather soles to enable children to feel the ground beneath their feet with every step. Many will include ‘non-skid pads’ for that little bit extra slip protection.
Stage three: toddlers – about 12-18 months +
Then comes the confident walking, followed quickly by running - a good sturdy sole is now required to protect little feet from sticks, stones, toys and so on. These soles are generally made of rubber, which is supportive but still gives full flexibility for natural movement.
Ignore shoe sizes!
Never rely on the shoe size – studies have shown that 97% of marked shoe sizes are wrong, some by up to 2cm, so you could inadvertently buy a shoe that’s completely the wrong size. The ONLY reliable way to choose the right size is to measure your child’s feet, and then to measure the innersole length of the shoes you’re looking at, making sure there a decent amount of ‘wiggle room’:
Baby shoes / leather booties / first walkers – the soles are generally soft enough that a bit of extra length doesn’t create a trip hazard, so allow 5mm-1cm.
Toddler shoes – allow 5mm for feet under 15cm long, and for less confident walkers. Feet over 15cm long and very confident walkers can cope with a full 1cm wiggle room.
Little Kids – can handle the adult ‘rule of thumb’, of adding 1cm-1.5cm