Saturday, 3 October 2015

Going barefoot

In our Foundation Stage we spend a long time developing physical development skills. We run a gross motor development program in Reception (and to a lesser extent in Nursery) and have a plethora of activities which encourage fine motor development throughout.  One of the most important things about physical development is for children to have a good understanding of themselves and the physical space which they occupy. Its that 'centred' in their own space concept. 

When babies are born they have no bones in their feet.  Instead they have flexible cartilage which develops into bone during their first few years. During this time their feet can be hampered by wearing socks and shoes.  Ideally babies shouldn't be wearing shoes until they are ready to walk outdoors (and only then on harsher surfaces).  However as Early Years practitioners, the majority of us won't meet our children until they have passed these first few formative years (but its not too late - strive on!)

Let me take a step back and explain how all this got started... Me and my manager went to a (lets call it a seminar) before the holidays at a local training centre (click here - its fabulous!)  We were invited by Rachel, a consultant who we had started to work with for our outdoor areas. The topic of the talk was going barefoot in Early Years settings and the benefits which it brings. The woman leading the session advocated the benefits of children discarding their socks and shoes immediately in a setting and allowing them to experience the environment around them with toes exposed. She had trialled this approach in a children's centre with success.  
The children's centre had been a more 'leafy lane' centre than our Nursery so whilst I was interested, I was also a little sceptical.  

We discussed as a team to be more 'pro-barefoot' in all areas of the Nursery. I wasn't sure exactly how to quantify what 'results' we would see from the children.   We have some autistic children who already take their own socks and shoes off as a way to self-regulate their distress - but we didn't really have an experience of other children doing this. With some encouragement and modelling, the children began to take them off regularly. 

Towards the end of the year we started to see a couple of really good benefits of being barefoot from some of the cohort: 

Proprioception (awareness of themselves, their body, balance etc)

Increased sensory perception (awareness of external stimuli).  

Our children were able to balance and climb to a much better degree as well as negotiate their space far better than previous cohorts were able to do.  But they were also able to explain their environment such as 'uneven' or 'soft' ground such as grass or stones. They were able to manage their movements (with higher skill) than perviously. 

These results were not seen throughout the cohort. Instead it was limited to perhaps 20% of them. Some children didn't want to remove their footwear, others already had a good degree of proprioception and sensory perception.


One of my personal targets this year is to develop the barefoot experience in my setting and I will be posting new ideas onto this pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/nurserynook/barefoot-activities/  

UPDATE (11th Oct 2015):

I just read this extremely fascinating blog about barefoot running in adults. Here is an extra:

'According to Froncioni, shoes don’t simply disrupt the sensory feedback-control cycle through proprioception or the sense of impact through the legs, but also because wearing shoes changes the way that runners actively pursue sensory information through vision and use their bodies. That is, when we run in heavily cushioned shoes, we look differently and hurl our body against unknown surfaces.
The barefoot runner is constantly alert scanning the ground before him for irregularities and dangers that might cause him injury. The barefoot runner is a cautious runner and actively changes his landing strategy to prevent injury. He treads lightly. The shod runner is bombarded by convincing advertising stating or implying that the shoe he is wearing will protect him well over any terrain and he becomes a careless runner. He is heavy footed. '

See the full post here:  http://neuroanthropology.net/2009/07/26/lose-your-shoes-is-barefoot-better/

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