The Science of Being Barefoot Despite Fall Nipping at My Toes


You can’t deny the fading of the summer sun. Whether it’s Starbucks pumpkin spice tickling your nostrils or perhaps Target’s dollar spot fall décor calling your name, it’s no secret that autumn is catching at our heels.

Fall is undeniably in the air, and I for one, am here for it. Bye shorts and t-shirts, hello oversized sweaters.  I find myself harboring a growing reluctance toward all things summer, specifically setting up the baby pool. What was once an adorable photo op in June now just feels monotonous and, frankly, a lot of work. I find myself cajoling my toddler into indoor movies and imaginative play while my vigor for sprinklers and picnics falls to the wayside.

Here’s the truth of the matter—I have caught myself wishing away the summer. And I feel increasingly sure that I shouldn’t wish away any season—life, weather, (cough 2020) or otherwise.

One particular late August day, I had just put my daughter down for a nap and I was feeling worn out. I was poised in my hoodie to take an Instagram deep dive–you know, have some “me time.” However, I stopped short. I took stock of my feelings, and I hoisted myself off the couch to go water some flowers outdoors. What’s more, I did it barefoot. I took myself out of my air-conditioned incubator and instead grounded myself in what is real and solid–the sun, the dirt. It got me thinking, shouldn’t my kid have this same grounding feeling? Cue the mom guilt and immediate delve into the interwebs. Is there a psychological benefit to being barefoot outdoors? Are there any other benefits? Should I encourage those ten teeny tiny toes to parade through the grass as long as weather allows, despite my growing fatigue for nightly baths? Google tells me a resounding yes, and so with zero podiatric experience myself, I pass my top five findings on to you.

1. Apparently, the soles of your feet are home to over 200,000 nerve endings. When you put a shoe around those nerves, you are significantly silencing the information that is being sent to your brain and spinal cord. When you go barefoot, whether indoors or outdoors, it provides tactile stimulus and promotes brain development.

2. Not only is your foot the home to hundreds of thousands of nerve-endings, it’s also home to 26 bones, 33 joints, and 32 muscles. Walking barefoot promotes better development and use of these bones and ligaments. A child walking barefoot will develop a more neutral stride, rather than putting more weight on their heels or toes.

3. Walking barefoot outdoors provides a grounding experience in nature. This stimulus experience promotes a child being fully in-tune with their senses.

4. In the most obvious sense, walking barefoot promotes tactile learning through the nerve endings on the feet. But additionally, walking barefoot also connects the child with their environment and promote greater spatial awareness.

5. A child is potentially safer in some environments without shoes. Feet and toes are made to flex and grip surfaces. While many commercially produced shoes have treads and attempt a flexible sole, it just isn’t quite the same when you’re talking about climbing a tree or dancing or jumping.

Now, I’m not suggesting you cue up Annie Lennox on your Spotify and have your child parade through broken glass barefoot. However, in situations where fungus, tetanus, and burning asphalt aren’t on my rotating list of top 100 ways my child will get hurt, I for one will promote her carefree summer toes as long as the season allows.