Bare feet are best

Bare feet are best

Those who come along to Baby ROO, and GymbaROO-KindyROO know how adamant we are about having babies and children remove their socks and shoes for playing and climbing.  Bare feet not only stimulate healthy development of the muscles and tendons in the feet and legs but also provides us with important balance and navigation skills and, as research tells us, improves memory.

GymbaROO Image by Studio Z Photography

Specialists working in the area of foot development and health, attest to the benefits of bare feet for all ages. Walking, running, climbing, jumping and pushing along in bare feet develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot’s arch, improves the awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us (proprioception) and contributes to good posture and balance.

Bare feet play a key role in maximising both static (standing still) and active (moving) balance in people of all ages. Alain Berthoz, a neuro-physician who specialises in the study of the balance mechanisms in the brain1, tells us that a child’s first ability to control balance upright against gravity develops, in conjunction with the vestibular system, through the feet. The toddler’s wide-apart-legged balancing act is guided by ‘eyes in their feet’, so when toddlers wear shoes, it’s like they have eye shades on. The sense of touch is reduced and the messages to the brain are diminished. The sense of feeling gained through bare feet on a surface provides a relatively stable platform from which the brain can determine where the body is in relation to the ground. Once head control is fully stabilised at about 18 to 24 months, then the eyes take over from the feet and again, in combination with the vestibular system, feed the brain information about body position in relation to the horizon. In this way, we are able to maintain a stable head that automatically adjusts its position in response to our posture.

GymbaROO Image by Studio Z Photography

Bare feet in infancy and early childhood also play a very important role in helping our youngsters learn to navigate their bodies through space and to organise patterns of movement that are appropriate to any given situation. Through practice and experience, a child’s brain learns to anticipate a pattern of movement and to automatically ‘steer’ them towards their desired goal. This anticipatory nature of the maturing brain eventually enables coordination of arms and legs to develop over time, so that by the time a child is approximately six years of age, the brain can direct its attention to more complex thoughts and skills.

Interestingly, running in bare feet has also been found to improve more complex thought patterns, particularly working memory. A group of researchers from Florida University have found that barefoot runners had better working memory than those running in shoes2. ‘Working memory’ is our ability to quickly recall and process information, and we use it to learn new things throughout life. By improving it, we may be able to realise gains in key areas, from school, to work, to retirement. The researchers suggest that running in bare feet most likely requires a more intensive use of working memory because of the extra tactile and proprioceptive demands associated with barefoot running, (for example; dodging sharp objects and having to have a more precise foot placement), which may account for the working memory gains. “If we take off our shoes and go for a run, we can finish smarter than when we started.”2

GymbaROO Image by Studio Z Photography

Do bare feet matter for non-walking babies?

Yes! Babies who have lots of barefoot tummy time can dig their toes into the mat and get a tremendous amount of traction that helps them push along the floor. Creepers use their feet and toes to push themselves up to cruising and, just like toddlers, they are learning a lot about the world around them through the sensations they receive from their feet. Also, think about what body parts a baby learns about first – it’s the hands, and then it’s the feet! Knowing that you have hands and feet helps with the development of hand-eye-foot coordination, which is fundamental to the development of intelligence.3

To help your baby find their feet

  • Avoid using leggings with built-in feet covers if you can. Save money by not purchasing socks or shoes for your little one. (Myth buster: this is perfectly safe for health. Babies do not catch a cold through their feet!)
  • Whenever you feed your baby, massage their bare feet. At nappy change time, play games like ‘This little piggy went to market’. This directs the baby’s attention to their feet and toes.
  • While your baby is playing on their backs, encourage them to kick at a hanging toy, scarf or balloon..
  • See loads more ideas and activities that encourage good foot development in our free online ABSK Baby ROO series at

Toddlers and preschoolers

  • Provide as many opportunities as possible to walk, run, jump, climb and hop while barefooted.
  • Take children’s shoes off as soon as they arrive home – in my house, we don’t wear shoes at all inside… and it saves a lot of cleaning! The lineup of shoes at the door is impressive, and visitors get the message as well… ‘Shoes off here please!’ – Find different surfaces for your barefooted child to safely walk on – carpet, tiles, wood, grass, cement, stones, water, sand, gravel, bricks, squishy spaghetti, mud etc.
  • Play stamping, jumping and running games in bare feet.
  • Encourage children to:
    • Pick up marbles with their toes… and, if old enough, drop them in a small container.
    • Fold a scarf with their toes instead of their fingers.
      GymbaROO Image by Studio Z Photography

Being barefooted really is best for babies and children, so get those shoes and socks off for as long as possible every day.

  • Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Research and Education General Manager for GymbaROO and KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development.
  • Bindy Cummings  (B.Ed hons) is a teacher, a GymbaROO early childhood neuro-developmental consultant and the co-creator of GymbaROO’s Active Babies Smart Kids series. She has been writing articles for GymbaROO’s First Steps magazine, digital platforms and media for over fifteen years.


  1. Berthoz, A. (1997). The brains sense of movement. (Trans. Giselle Weiss). Perspectives in Cognitive Neuroscience, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass.
  2. Alloway, RG., Packiam Alloway, T., Magyari, PM. & Floyd, S. 2016. An Exploratory Study Investigating the Effects of Barefoot Running on Working Memory”, Perceptual and Motor Skills.
  3. Getman, GN. 2000. How to develop your child’s intelligence. OEP Foundation, Santa Ana, CA