Kids footwear plays an important role in their safety, confidence, and development.
While it can often be a struggle to get them on your kids’ feet, shoes play an integral role in a child’s development, daily comfort, and even confidence, so it’s worth putting in the work upfront to find the best shoes for kids in all stages of their childhoods.
The Footwear Fundamentals
When thinking about the best shoes for kids, it’s important to consider their growth and development stages. Before kids start walking, baby shoes are mostly used for aesthetic and temperature control purposes, but from the moment they start toddling around, the right kind of kids footwear can make all the difference. From arch development support to how happy the shoes make your kiddo, every aspect is crucial.
Let’s take a look at some of the stages of childhood foot development by breaking them down into three basic stages:
- Stage 1: From infancy to age three, children’s feet are flat and their bones aren’t fully developed.
- Stage 2: From ages three to seven, the most drastic changes occur — the feet lengthen, navicular height increases (this refers to a wedge-shaped bone on the top inner side of the foot), and the arches form. It’s also important to note that boys’ feet tend to develop more quickly than girls’ at this stage.
- Stage 3: Around ages 11 to 12, adolescent foot development starts to level off.
The Best Shoes For Kids At Different Stages
Now, let’s demystify footwear choices by looking at the best shoes for kids during different stages of their development:
- Stage 1: During this stage, comfortable yet sturdy shoes are the best choice for supporting your child’s journey into walking and running. Avoid heavy and rigid shoes because the footwear needs to move with their nimble feet and cumbersome shoes can impede that natural movement. Remember: their bones are still forming, so it’s important not to allow a shoe to get in the way of their development. Shoes during this stage should be closed toe and well-secured to the feet.
- Stage 2: The basics of kids footwear for this stage are relatively similar to the first stage, though the main difference is that a thicker outsole is recommended from ages three to six. As they turn five, six, and seven, start taking arch support into consideration as this is when more drastic changes happen and kids can be extremely active.
- Stage 3: From age seven onward, arch support is the biggest consideration. On top of that, considering your child’s activities, habits, and interests can help you identify the best shoes.
Regardless of stage or age, it may surprise you to know that aesthetics are more important than they might seem. The more your children like and feel comfortable in a pair of shoes, the more confident they will be in their abilities and day to day life, which is never to be discounted. Plus, when kids actually like the shoes you buy them, they’re more likely to put them on and keep them on, which means less of a hassle each day and more motivation for them to wear the shoes that are best for their feet.
When considering brands that emphasize both aesthetics and functionality, our Director of Research, Justin Ter Har, recommends PLAE shoes for kids.
Foot Injury Prevention During Development
Well-fitted shoes that provide toe protection, arch support, and (when necessary, such as on a hiking trip) ankle stabilization are your golden ticket to foot injury prevention. Whether your kids are starting youth soccer, engaging in gym class, joining you on a camping trip, or simply playing in the yard, getting them quality shoes is a life saver in the long run.
While cheaper “throw away” shoes are tempting for fast-growing kids, especially since they can tend to get them dirty and wear them down quickly, investing in shoes that support their development makes a big difference.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the best shoes for kids look different for every family, every child, and every lifestyle. Whether they’re learning to walk and climb or becoming the breakout star of their little league team, kids footwear is integral to their development and well worth the research you’re already doing.