Buying the right school shoes can be one of the most stressful parts of back-to-school time.
Choosing the right style, the right fit, and the right shoe to please your school’s dress code makes it difficult, to say the least.
By the time a child has reached 12 years old, their feet will have reached about 90 per cent of their adult length. These first 12 years are crucial to foot development, and are the reason podiatrists seek to prevent foot problems from early childhood.
Well-fitting shoes are vital to a child’s rapidly growing feet; children who continually wear incorrect shoes can aggravate inherited foot problems, and suffer foot and toe deformities that can last a lifetime.
Selecting the right shoes, however, can prevent problems such as hammertoes, bunions, thickened or ingrown toenails, bruised toenails, blisters, corns, and bursitis from developing.
Here are a few tips to help you choose the right shoes for your child.
1. Check the school dress code
Before you start buying anything, or even looking at shoes, check with your school’s dress code to see what type of shoe is acceptable, what colour they prefer, and if you need more than one pair.
2. Think about what style is most suitable
If you thought that the sturdy, stock-standard, black, leather school shoe was best, you could be wrong. These chunky, heavy shoes may be hindering your child’s feet from developing the balance and strength needed for later life – they can also be a tripping hazard. If your child’s school dictates that they need black, leather, dress shoes, opt for a more light-weight, flexible shoe, without the big heel normally seen in these sturdy school shoes. The heel should not be over 2cm high. If possible, buy athletic style shoes that are lighter and more natural to walk in.
You can buy either lace-up shoes, buckled shoes, or Velcro shoes. For younger children who may not have the fine motor skills to tie up laces, Velcro or buckles can work fine (and it saves the teachers from having to constantly tie up 25 pairs of shoes). However, having lace-up shoes does prompt you to teach your child to tie their shoelaces when they’re ready.
3. Choose the right size
It is most important that the shoes you buy fit properly. It is useless buying expensive, supportive shoes if they are not supporting the right parts of your child’s foot. School shoes need to be snug enough to avoid slipping off your child’s foot, but loose enough to ensure unrestricted movement while walking. Ensure the shoes are flexible at the ball of the foot but don’t bend or twist across the arch area. Also look for shoes with a good, shock-absorbing midsole.
You can go to a professional fitter in a shoe store to have your child’s feet measured and the right shoes selected. If you’re tempted to buy shoes a little too big so your child can grow into them, don’t. If the shoes are too big, it can cause clumsiness and lead to injury if the child ends up falling over or rolling their ankle.
When trying on the shoes, here are some things to look for to decide which are the right school shoes.
- There is space of about half an inch between the tip of the shoe and the tip of your child’s longest toe. This ensures that your child’s toes won’t get squished wearing the shoes every day, and allows some room for the inevitable growth during the year.
- Your child should be able to wriggle their toes quite freely, but not the rest of their foot.
- Their heel should be comfortably held in place, so it doesn’t slip in and out while walking.
- The shoe is held together by stitching, rather than glue, as the stitching will last longer before coming apart.
- The shoe should not dig or rub the ankle in any way.
- Try a few pairs to see which ones feel best for your child, then make the decision.
- Most importantly, watch to see if your child walks naturally in the shoes, and listen to how they feel in the shoes. Their natural gait should never be affected by the shoes, or this may cause problems later. If they complain of pain or are stumbling when walking, then this isn’t the shoe for them.
Have a look at our Shoe Size Comparison Chart if you’re buying online to make sure you get the right one.
4. Don’t buy too early, or too late!
The best time to go out and buy shoes is early January. Waiting till the last minute may seem like a good idea so your children don’t grow out of the shoes by the time school starts, but everyone else is thinking that too. The shops will be so congested with parents buying school shoes that it could take hours to be seen by a fitter, or even have someone get you the right size if you already know.
On top of this, the sizes or styles that you are looking for may be completely sold out by this time. Going in the first week or two of January will pre-empt this mad, last-minute dash, and two or three weeks to get used to the shoes can be beneficial for your kids too. If you’re unsure of the stock available at any store at any time, give them a call and confirm that they have what you’re after before heading out.
5. Take note of these general tips and hints
- Avoid shoes with a high synthetic quantity as this can produce a hot, moist environment, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus that can lead to tinea, infected nails and foot odour.
- If your child’s shoe looks or feels tight or has lost some of its arch support, it’s time for a new pair of shoes. If your child has a growth spurt, you may find yourself buying shoes more frequently.
- Since older children’s feet are not growing as rapidly, the shoe needs to be good enough to last for as long as the child can fit into it. You also must take into account the activity level of your child, for example if they walk to school or use their shoes for after-school activities, you may have to buy new shoes at every six months.
Choosing the right school shoes is an essential part of the back-to-school routine. It’s important to make sure you’re making the right choices in shoes, as it’s your child’s foot that will pay the price if they aren’t just right.
Find out more info and back to school tips in our Back to School Hub.
– this article was written with information from podiatrist Oliver Fawcett