4 Ways to Support Barefoot Play
I spend a lot of time barefoot. I am barefoot indoors, I am barefoot outdoors, and I prefer to drive with barefeet. This explains how one morning, many years ago when I was the director of a beautiful service, I got out of the car when I arrived at work, and realised that I had no shoes. Yes, I was going to be shoeless for the day. I quickly scanned my brain for important meetings, or activities that would require footwear, before deciding that I could probably manage the day without them.
While there are no doubt times where footwear is essential (like moving equipment around in the outdoor storeroom, or walking across to the post-office) and it plays a role in protecting our feet from dangerous objects, taking opportunities to move around without shoes is valuable for both adults and children. It can make it easier to navigate terrain, to climb, and the added bonus - no more shoes filled with half a kilogram of sand!
Some of the other benefits include:
- Reduces stress
- Regulates the autonomic nervous system
- Reconnects you with the earth
- A boost in immunity
When it comes to children, being barefoot is ideal for developing muscles and the overall sensory experience.
Tash often tells a story of watching an older infant learning to walk. She was attemping to walk up and down a small ramp, but was stumbling. Tash suggested to the educator that they removed her shoes, and the change was remarkable. By being able to really feel the ground beneath her, the child was better able to make her way.
So, if we know it's beneficial - how do we support it in a practical sense?
1. Safety first - regularly check for hot or dangerous surfaces: It is vital, particularly in outdoor areas where infants and toddlers are playing (as they may not be able to communicate "hey, this is hot!"), to routinely check the temperature of the ground, espcially if wet-pour rubber or synethic surfacing, or concrete is used in the space. Morning hazard checks (our OSHC team uses amazing software that guides them through this easily), as well as checks throughout the day, are so important for ensuring children are safe. You should also consider completing a Benefit Risk Assessment around barefoot play to indentify and mitigate any potential risks.
2. Have a place for shoes - we often had a shoe rack or shelf that sat on our veranda so it was easily accessible from both indoors and outdoors. Children were asked to put their shoes on the rack (with their socks tucked inside, so we weren't finding fifteen odd socks in the sandpit each afternoon!) so that they always knew where to find them. If educators took of their shoes, they were put on the rack too.
3. Share the benefits - having identified that being barefoot is beneficial for children in navigating the environment, developing muscles and enhancing the sensory experience, share that information with families or colleagues who may be hesitant or resistant to children being barefoot in the service.
4. Have fun with it - get in the sand pit or the mud pit with the children and enjoy the feeling of mud between your toes. Modelling being barefoot is a great way for children who are hesitant to feel comfortable with the idea