While Katie Holmes was vilified by the press and public alike for stepping out with her four-year-old daughter in high heels last year, many of us wouldn't think twice about putting our kids in a dinky pair of mini-me trainers. But there's a growing belief among experts that when it comes to children's footwear, the best shoe may be no shoe at all.
Tracy Byrne, a podiatrist specialising in podopaediatrics, believes that wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child's walking and cerebral development. "Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot," she says. "The feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and causes them to fall down." Walking barefoot, she continues, develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot's arch, improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.
"We've come to regard the way we dwell permanently in shoes as normal and natural," says John Woodward, an Alexander Technique teacher who has been barefoot for 25 years. "It's anything but. True, we are no longer hunter-gatherers. True, our urban environments are full of 'unnatural' dangers. But we can still learn from our origins - footwear was designed to protect the soles of the feet where necessary, and it was temporary."