Fun for Feet: Shoes for Kids’ Healthy Foot Development

Fun for Feet: Shoes for Kids’ Healthy Foot Development

I know it’s weird to write about feet. But honestly, I’ve spent an embarrassing number of hours researching “kids’ healthy foot development” and “best shoes for wide feet” and “barefoot shoes for kids.” And what I’ve found has changed the way I look at my kids’ feet!

After all, if your family is anything like mine, you probably rely on sturdy yet functional footwear for all kinds of outdoor adventures. It’s tough to compromise when it comes to a wardrobe piece that can affect our kids’ futures, and that’s exactly what shoes can do!

Here’s what I’ve learned about our kids’ feet, plus which shoes we’ve tried, which ones we love, and which ones are next on the list.

What Does Kids’ Healthy Foot Development Mean?

Essentially, healthy young feet need lots of room to grow (just like kids!). That means trapping their feet in too-narrow or too-rigid shoes isn’t just uncomfortable. Close quarters for those little piggies can mean blisters, abnormal bone growth, ingrown toenails, and other issues.

Most kids tend to be vocal about uncomfortable shoes, but that doesn’t mean their footwear is healthy for their development. Kids should be able to feel the ground while walking, maintain their natural gait while wearing shoes, and be able to walk, run, and climb without pain.

Essentially, we want minimalist style shoes for kids, ones which aim to be as much like bare feet as possible. But to find shoes for healthy feet, you have to know what to look for and what to avoid.

What’s Not Good for Healthy Foot Development

Honestly, no shoes are best for kids. Seriously: going barefoot has a ton of health benefits.

And unfortunately, even super convenient sandals don’t quite fit the bill when it comes to minimalist footwear, as flip flops can be downright dangerous for kids.

The older kids get, the safer it is for them to wear different types of shoes. After all, the bigger the feet, the more they’re set in their ways!

But podiatrists highlight the importance of letting especially tiny feet flex their muscles: no matter how eager we are, parents shouldn’t push babies to walk before they’re ready.

Instead, for the first year or so, parents should only cover their tots’ feet loosely and give them plenty of room to wiggle. Baby feet are “soft and pliable,” so squishing them into too-tight (yet adorable) shoes can cause deformities.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

What to Look for in Healthy Kids’ Shoes

So what do we do when our kids must don shoes for classes, adventuring, or just societal conventions? There are some suggestions from experts on what kinds of shoes are best.

According to the pros, kiddos need:

  • flexible shoes which mimic the movement of their feet
  • thin but grippy soles to feel the ground and grab onto it
  • flat soles (no arch support necessary)*
  • a wide toe box so the little piggies can wiggle
  • easy-on, easy-off (okay, this one’s for parents, too!)

*I know this is super debatable, especially for older kids. But experts say that most children don’t need arch support. In fact, kids under 16 months old all have flat feet, with arches “fully developing” around ages six to eight.

Fortunately, I’ve spent hours looking up (and pricing) what I feel are the best options for active kids. Here are my recommendations!

Best Shoes for Kids’ Healthy Foot Development

kids-healthy-foot-development

KEEN

KEENs are the ultimate outdoorsy shoe! Most of the options are washable and breathable (but there are waterproof selections, too), and we’ve washed ours countless times.

The soles are grippy, and I like the toe protection instead of a soft toe box. My boys have never had a comfort complaint, and the insoles are cushy and stay put.

Both the “big kid” and “little kid” options use elastic lace ties, so no one has to trip over their shoelaces ever again!

My boys have the Chandler style, and my little guy’s size 12s also have a velcro strap across the top. After about a year of wear, one of the velcro straps detached, but it still works (there’s just a fabric flap that’s loose).

What we love:

  • Easy on/off for all ages
  • Rugged soles for adventuring
  • They stand up to multiple machine washes

What could be better:

  • The shoes are still a bit narrow in the toe box for my boys (but still way better than regular shoe store options)
  • Friends have suggested they run a bit small (check the size guide for reference)

Check out KEENs on Amazon or the KEEN website.

PLAE

PLAE shoes are next on my shopping list! We haven’t tried them yet, but I’m really looking forward to ordering my guys each a pair this fall. The name alone is exciting, so I’ll be sure to report back after we give them a spin.

I like that the little togs are interchangeable (no laces here, either) on some versions. Others just have velcro, which I still prefer over scraggly laces.

Summer through winter styles are available, with some waterproof picks. There are also styles with laces (like the Miles).

The color options are super vibrant, but you can also snag all-white or regulation-black tennies, too.

What we love:

  • Some styles are customizable!
  • Most are machine washable
  • They have stylish designs (including high tops)

What could be better:

  • The plastic-y sandal design makes my feet sweat (unlike, say, KEENs) but my kids wear clogs, so they probably wouldn’t mind
  • Winter selections appear limited

Check out PLAE on Amazon or the PLAE website.

Livie & Luca

Livie & Luca were great for my little guy before he really started adventuring. We have another pair in the closet waiting for him (more on that in a minute) and I can’t wait for him to wear them.

Sizes only go up to Youth 3 (insert crying face emoji here), thus the hardly-worn hand-me-downs waiting in the closet, so check the size chart before ordering.

My big kid wore his once around the block and started complaining the tongue was rubbing on the top of his foot. The way they’re stitched, he just couldn’t wear them, and there wasn’t a bigger size to try.

What we love:

  • The styles are adorable, my guy looked so dapper in these
  • A dressier shoe that doesn’t feel “stiff”

What could be better:

  • The way the tongue works (stitched into the upper) makes that part too tight on wide/chubby feet
  • My little guy’s “honeycomb” soles wore off by the time we retired his Livie & Luca shoes

Check out Livie & Luca on Amazon or visit the Livie & Luca website.

Pediped

Pediped shoes were my big guy’s first shoes, and we still have them stowed away with his baby clothes. The range of styles is amazing, the different stages are ideal for growing feet, and the color options are fun.

We’ve tried a couple different styles and sizes over the years, and we’ve liked them all.

Pediped puts a lot of thought into the design of their shoes, so there are lines for every age and developmental stage. Plus, they pay attention to natural foot movement: you can fold their shoes up in your hand!

What we love:

  • Size adjustability with inserts
  • Sizing up to 6 for big kids
  • Both dressy and fun styles

What could be better:

  • Unless they’ve changed it, the “slip resistant” tread on the Originals is still too slippery for new walkers
  • Most (if not all) styles are leather, making for some smelly baby feet!

Check out Pediped on Amazon or the pediped website.

Feet, Feet, and More Feet!

Yes, I am that eager to discuss feet with you. It’s just another part of motherhood that has surprised me, yet learning all about kids’ healthy foot development makes me feel like it’s something else I’m doing right by my kiddos and their little piggies!

What about you? Do you have a favorite shoe that checks all the boxes for healthy foot development? I’d love to hear all about your fave brand in the comments!

Hi I'm Erynn! I love writing about (and obsessing over) homeschool curriculum and stuff for my kids, consuming way too much coffee, and reading everything I can get my hands on. Thanks for joining me!

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