Shoe shopping for young children

Before I was married, I had a summer job for a few summers at a children’s shoe store in my city. This was a small boutique-like store in a mall. The owners of the store were a mom and dad who were very much into selling good-quality children’s shoes. These shoes were usually expensive, and as a young university student working there I was surprised at some of the prices that people would pay for good shoes. But as I continued to work there, I learned a lot about footwear and actually started choosing better shoes for myself from this influence. While working at the store I was trained in properly measuring and fitting children’s feet as well as the different kinds of shoes that are made for children, the pros and cons of arch support and what to look for in a good pair of shoes. I felt like I learned a lot about children’s shoes while working there and thought that this knowledge would be good for me when the time would come that I would look for shoes for my own children.

Now that I am a parent, I enjoy going shoe-shopping with Mr. Monkey and picking out the best pair of shoes for him in my price range. It is our special shopping outing a couple times a year. Now, since we are a single-income home, we don’t buy very expensive shoes. However, shoes is one of the few things for my children that I want to buy better-quality even if it means paying a bit more. I don’t mind shopping for Mr.Monkey’s shirts and pants at garage sales or thrift stores or accepting free hand-me-downs from friends. Most of his clothes are either second-hand or gifts. Shoes is the exception, and I think it’s from the influence of working at that store and what I learned there.

Your feet affect much of your health and having proper footwear is healthier for your feet which influences your spine and back. Wearing ill-fitting shoes can actually cause problems with posture and back health down the road.

While working at the children’s shoe store, we served many customers looking for shoes for babies, for toddlers, and especially for children who were just starting to walk.

When it comes to babies’ footwear, you don’t really need any. The bones in a babies’ foot are so soft and maleable that it is best to not put on any structured shoes on your baby. Although little sneaks and boots may look cute on baby’s feet, they can actually be harmful. It’s best not to put shoes on your baby before baby starts walking. If however, you want baby to wear shoes, a good pair for baby are soft-soled leather shoes such as the brand Robeez. We sold these at the store I worked at, and there are many knock-offs available of this brand on the market as well. You can even find some second-hand in good condition. These baby shoes are really great because they are easy to put on baby’s feet, but aren’t easy for baby to pull off, so they stay on. They are also all made of leather and have no structure so they do not interfere with baby’s bones and are just like being barefoot. They also come in many cute designs.

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Another thing to note is that babies are born with flat feet. Their arch doesn’t develop until they start walking.

When baby starts walking, it is a good time to look for a first pair of walking shoes. In the old days, they were usually little white leather boots, but now you can get walking shoes in all kinds of colours and designs.

Some shoes have an “arch support” in the insole. This is a soft little lump in the insole corresponding to the part of the foot where the arch is found. European shoes are more likely to have an arch support because of evidence that the arch support helps promote healthy arch development. American shoes are less likely to have an arch support because the American philosophy for children’s shoes is that “barefoot is best”, and your foot is made with everything it needs to develop in a healthy way just by walking naturally. Both European and American scientists have evidence for their side of the debate. Of course, it isn’t always safe to walk everywhere barefoot so shoes are needed. It is good to look for shoes that are supportive but flexible; not-stiff, so your children’s feet can bend and flex with the shoe almost like if they were barefoot. This is what I was told while working at the shoe store.

Here are some things to look for in a good pair of walking shoes for a toddler.

This past spring I took Mr. Monkey shoe shopping. We went to the new Marshalls that opened in town. I like  this store for little footwear because they have a variety of good shoe brands but since it is a discount-type of store they are less expensive than buying the same shoe by the same brand in a brand-type of store. (Since I’ve gone to my home-province for visits, I found out that my old shoe store that I worked at has closed down).

At Marshalls, they had come cute shoes. I really like leather shoes because they allow the foot to breath. Leather stretches and conforms with the foot to make a comfortable fit.

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I thought these two shoes were so cute.  the one on the right is convenient that it is a sandal, so your child could wear it on a hot day in bare feet, or on a cooler spring day they could wear it with socks and totally get away with it too. They were more pricey, however.

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This was a nice practical pair. They had good support around the ankle, which is important. However, the sole was very stiff. When looking for a toddler’s walking shoes, you want to see that it has support around the ankle so it’s not wobbly. You also want a flexible sole.

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This was a really shoe. It was cushioned and supportive and also had a flexible sole. It came in black or blue suede. It was also a good price, at $30. Considering that at a generic department store you can get childrens’ shoes for about $20, this wasn’t really that much more expensive. We ended up going with this pair.

Now, for the sizing. This shoe had insoles that come out which is very convenient. I wish all children’s shoes did that, it’s easier to see the size visually than trying to feel the toes with your fingers. What you’re looking for is about a finger’s width of room for growth; from the biggest toe until the end of the shoe. For a one year old, a shoe with a finger’s width of growth should last 4-6 months. For a 2-4 year old, a shoe with that much room should last 6-8 months. And for children ages 5 and up, it should last about a year.

Sometimes it’s a popular idea to buy cheap shoes for children because they outgrow them so fast. But if you fit them correctly, then they should last you a good season at least.

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The insole on the left was a size 8, and the insole on the right was a size 9. The size 8 fit him just right at the time. The size 9 had a finger width of room to grow, so we went with the size 9. The nice thing about these insoles is that they even have markings on them to show you the right fit.

Notice how Mr. Monkey is standing upright on the insoles. Whenever you’re trying shoes on your child, make sure they are standing straight, not sitting, not leaning on something. Their foot actually can change by a whole size from a sitting position to a standing position. Make sure they stand upright while putting their whole weight on their feet. I’ve seen lots of parents put shoes on their kids at stores while they’re sitting and try to feel for their toes. This is a common mistake.

It is also important to know that different brands may very in their shoe sizing. So it’s important to actually try on the shoes you’re considering buying, and not just assume that if your child is, say, a size 9, then any size 9 shoe would fit him or her.

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 Next, I had Mr. Monkey walk around in them. Here I watched to make sure the part around the ankle wasn’t moving up and down. You want the shoes to stay in place on their feet when they walk.

We went with this pair, and I decided that our shoe shopping outing was a success. Mr. Monkey was an excellent shoe shopper. And he was happy trying on the shoes, too.

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P.S. As I’m writing this post, it is now September. These shoes are still in good shape. Mr. Monkey has had a growth spurt this summer, and now when he stands on the insoles, he has just a little tiny bit of room left to grow. I’m hoping that it will last him until November, which is when we usually get snow. Then it will be time to look for winter boots.

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