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3 min read

There's so much focus on development of the hand in Montessori.

You can read why that is here: Why Does Montessori Focus SO Much on Developing the Hands?

But today we're talking about feet and their importance in infant and toddler development.

The Importance of Being Barefoot...

The soles of the feet are rich in nerve endings, which send sensory information to the brain.

For children, being barefoot is an opportunity for sensorial exploration.

It's also a great way to strengthen the muscles of the feet and ankles, as well as improve balance, gross motor skills, flexibility, and posture.
In The Barefoot Book, Dr. Daniel Howell explains that even good quality shoes eliminate most sensory feedback from the sole to the brain.

In turn, the consequence of always wearing shoes:

  • diminishes the flexibility of the foot and toes
  • alters the positions of the joints in the foot, ankle, knee, hip and spine
  • reduces the gripping/push off function of the toes
  • dramatically reduces the spring action/shock absorption functions of the arch of the foot

3 Ways To Promote Sensory Exploration Through the Feet

1. Ensure Children Have Freedom of Movement

Freedom of Movement is so important for children.

Clothing and shoes should not restrict them from any type of movement. This is how they learn about their bodies.

Keep them barefoot as often as safely possible.

For infants and toddlers learning to walk, bare feet provides better traction so they can learn to move themselves around.

2. Give Them Time To Explore

When you observe your infant playing with their feet, step back and observe. They’re learning so much about themselves by doing this and it helps to develop their core muscles. These moments of focus are key to building independent play and concentration.

For older children, give them time to explore the outdoors barefoot.

The natural outdoor environments provide children with an array of surfaces and textures to explore - bark, grass, sand, tree stumps, water, and rocks.

These different gradients and surfaces are so effective at helping children develop balance and strength.

3. For Infants - Bring Toys to Their Feet

For infants, you can promote sensory exploration of the feet by bringing toys to their feet.

If you observe your child kicking naturally throughout the day, you can add materials like the Puzzle Ball or Bell on a Ribbon to a Baby Gym and hang them right near the soles of their feet. It won't take long before your child notices there's something touching their feet and they will begin to engage with it.

If you don't have a baby gym, you can place a toy that will easily roll (ideally a ball) near their feet. Even if they kick it accidentally, they learn they can use their feet to move an object.

You can also roll balls or objects of different textures along the bottoms of their feet.

What To Do in The Winter

When it's too cold to be outdoors barefoot, it's still beneficial to be indoors barefoot, if your child feels warm enough to do so.

You can also offer sensory play in the bath (add foam or shaving cream to the bath or shower, without water, and let them explore their hands and feet) or paint with feet on a large piece of cardboard.

But I'd only recommend the last two activities if you're ok with a little mess :)