Once your baby is too old for the wonderful classes of baby yoga, sensory and massage there is still a need to be aware of, and assist them in developing their proprioception, vestibular system and cognitive function. In fact as they become experienced at walking and moving it is also important to focus on healthy foot development as well, which includes buying appropriate ‘foot friendly’ shoes.
What are proprioception and vestibular and cognitive function and why are they important?
Proprioception is the awareness of our body in space (no not on a trip to the moon!) but just knowing which way up we are and where our limbs are in relation to the rest of our body and the ground. Proprioceptors are located in muscles, tendons and joints and so moving, balancing, being barefoot and walking on different terrains all help to develop them.
Vestibular system helps us with our balance.
Cognitive functions encompass reasoning, memory, attention and language.
By allowing your child lots of times to be barefoot, and especially being barefoot on different surfaces (and this includes outside) it will really help with all areas of their development.
The best way to do this is to be aware of the shoes your child is wearing and making sure they get plenty of safe barefoot time and also keep their feet mobile and flexible and strong.
As they learn more about the world around them and how they fit into this world it helps their balance, confidence in moving over different obstacles and cognitive function.
Children don’t keep still much (you don’t need me to tell you that!) and a study has shown that for adults things such as climbing trees and walking over different terrains actually improves their cognitive function whereas sitting still or static exercise such as yoga does not have any effect on cognitive function.
So what this is telling us is that moving that includes balance and moving is helping their brain to develop. Children instinctively know this but it is almost an instant reaction for us to tell them to ‘keep still’, ‘stop wriggling’, ‘’pay attention’. Finding ways for children to get this type of movement will greatly help their cognitive development.
There are 33 joints in each foot, 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot and 100,000-200,000 exteroceptors in the sole of each foot. All these are affected by wearing shoes which tend to stop the foot from functioning how it should. Thick soles stop the soles of the feet being in touch with the ground stop the muscles of the feet becoming strong. A lot of the foot injuries we see are actually a result of weak foot muscles rather than over use of muscles. The best way to strengthen these muscles is to get barefoot and do simple exercises regularly if you need to restore foot health.
Have a look at this wonderful video of my son climbing barefoot and see how much the foot and toes bend and flex during climbing and imagine how little they move whilst wearing shoes.
80% of the population suffer back pain due to a problem starting in the foot and the majority of back, hip. Knee and ankle pain in people in their 20’s can be traced back to poor shoe fitting as children.
Foot health problems are caused by ill fitting shoes, poor gait pattern and poor alignment. And Alignment and gait pattern can be affected by the shoes you wear.
Look at this interesting video of a toddler and how his gait pattern changes when wearing soft soled shoes and typical hard soled toddler shoes. The whole way of walking changes and the difference in his stability is quite eye opening.
So what makes a foot friendly shoe? The general term for these is ‘barefoot shoe’. They are ones with a soft, flexible sole, wide toe box, no heel and attach to the foot securely (rather than say a flip flop)
The surfaces we tend to walk on our hard and flat and so deprive our feet and bodies of ‘movement nutrition’ being able to feel different textures, different terrains that help keep our bodies working to their optimum and boosting circulation.
It’s not always safe to be barefoot everywhere – especially on hard cement surfaces. So creating sensory paths at home are a great way to get this variety of terrains and textures in a safe environment. And great for the whole family to do as well.
There are several Barefoot Parks cropping up that are an outdoor sensory path trail taking you u through and over and along a wide variety of obstacles and terrains (I particularly love the idea of the muddy crossing!)
Having suffered from back and knee pain from an early age , which I am gradually seeing as relating not only to the shoes I wore (even though they were mostly Clarkes – supportive thick soled, ankle supporting shoes!), and many of the activities I did as a child (so lots of curled up reading books and also riding ponies , and a lot of running on a poorly aligned body) I am really keen to help parents support healthy foot development in their children and in the words of Katy Bowman “ Changing the paradigm from ‘the-stiffer-and-stronger-a-shoe, -the-more-it-supports-your-foot’ to ‘the-stronger-the-muscles-in-your-foot, the-better-it-supports-your-body”
As well as running 4 week courses aimed at adults, Whole Body Foot, helping them to restore the strength and flexibility in their feet through stretches and ideas to take bring more movement into their daily lives; I also have found a way to impart this information to children and their parents in a workshop called Foot Sense, where we play lots of games with our feet rather than your hands, learn Fun Foot Facts and walk the ever popular Sensory Path.