Minimalist Footwear for Kids: What Is It and Why They Need It

Barefoot shoe

How do you feel about shoe shopping for kids?

On the one hand, there are some insanely adorable shoes for little kids. It’s hard to choose just one pair.

On the other hand, children’s feet seem to grow three feet overnight every time you buy new shoes, and they can destroy them in one day.

But cuteness and growth spurts aside, do you put a lot of thought into your child’s shoes? Do you simply go for what will fit their feet and your budget (without them throwing a fit)?

If you’ve never given shoes much thought, listen up! This post is for you.

RELATED: Organizing with Shoe Boxes.

Why Kids’ Shoes Are Important

Footwear for kids is actually really significant. Shoes can help or hinder growth, stability, and strength.

Using rigid soles on toddlers can inhibit reflex integration, leading to developmental delays and sensory issues.

Allowing young girls to wear high heels can lead to back pain, misalignment, growth impediment, and even injuries!

Weak ankles, low muscle tone, poor posture – improper footwear can really do damage.

Putting your kids in proper footwear is one of those things you don’t even think about until someone tells you there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do it. Sort of like how you don’t think about your child’s mouth breathing until you’re told it can cause all sorts of problems…and then you make sure to do something about it!

Thankfully there is a simple solution to the footwear issue: minimalist shoes!

Minimalist Shoes for Kids, best barefoot shoes

RELATED: Growing Pain in Legs.

What Are Minimalist Shoes? (aka Barefoot Shoes)

Minimalist shoes are just that – minimal. They are also called barefoot shoes. Some key features include:

  • very little to no rise in the heel
  • flexible soles
  • a large toe box for your feet to properly expand
  • held on securely so you do not have to grip the shoes (like you do with flip-flops)

This does not mean they offer no protection. Minimalist shoes simply do not restrict normal movement or posture in any way. Your feet are free to move just like they would if you had no shoes on.

Girl in barefoot shoes for kids, barefoot kid shoes

In case you’re wondering, there are a wide variety of styles and brands of barefoot shoes for kids and adults that we’ll get into later.

Why It’s Important for Kids to Go Barefoot

I don’t know about you, but I grew up running around barefoot. I try to encourage my kids to do the same. There are numerous benefits to walking barefoot, including:

  • increased strength in the feet and legs
  • enhanced proprioception – the awareness of the position of your body parts, leading to more self-awareness
  • brain and nervous system development through sensing surroundings and movement
  • improved gait – the way one walks
  • contact with dirt, bacteria, and microbes

The benefits of letting kids go barefoot are pretty important. You don’t want to hinder development and gait by strapping on thick, rigid shoes. Minimalist shoes still allow your child to experience proper movement, even when they have to wear shoes.

My oldest is my child that hates wearing socks or shoes. Even when it’s freezing she’ll go barefoot in the house. It makes me cold just to look at her (while I wear my fleece socks and slippers)! She is also my child with Sensory Processing Disorder. So going barefoot provides great stimulation to the feet.

Boy wearing minimalist shoes for kids, kid barefoot shoes

But when she put on her minimalist shoes (Prios from Xero Shoes) for the first time, she said, “They make me feel like I could fly!” She absolutely loves wearing barefoot shoes!

Are Minimalist Shoes Worth the Price?

When I was having problems with my pelvic floor and diastasis recti, one of my steps towards healing was to get myself some minimalist shoes. I chose Prios from Xero Shoes. I’ll be honest – after wearing them for about two days I wanted to throw all of my other shoes in the trash. I’m not even joking. Where had these been all my life?!

The following Sunday I got dressed and went to put on my black boots that I’ve worn for probably almost ten years now (yes, I do shop for myself that infrequently). They have a pretty chunky heal. I stepped into them and almost fell flat on my face! I could not believe how far forward they shifted my pelvis, putting my whole body out of balance. Nor could I believe how much I noticed it after only a few days of wearing my barefoot Xero Shoes.

Needless to say, I have not worn those boots since then, and they are now in the trash.

I basically have three pairs of shoes that I wear regularly (one minimalist, two that are relatively flat and flexible already) until I replace my other ones. I’ve been eyeing the Mikas from Xero Shoe for a long time to replace my black boots. I had them on my Christmas list…but no luck. So I may just have to buy them!

RELATED: The Best Minimalist Snow Boots

Of course, I’m a grown woman. My feet aren’t changing size (much – they’ve grown a little with each pregnancy). So it’s 110% worth the investment to me. Plus they really are no more expensive than many other popular shoe brands. When I did some shoe shopping before deciding on my Prios, I was surprised by the prices of shoes these days. It was hard to find any under $100, but the Prios were.

vivobarefoot kids shoes, dress shoes minimalist

But what about kids?

How to Choose Minimalist Shoes for Kids

I’ll admit – I was a little more hesitant to spend a lot of money on barefoot shoes for my kids. I usually shop at Meijer or Target for their shoes. So they are in the $30 – $45 range. And let’s be real here – kids’ feet seem to grow two sizes overnight sometimes!

But after I got my minimalist shoes and saw the quality and the impact they made, I knew it was worth the investment for my kids. It is also possible to find minimalist shoes without breaking the bank! Here are some tips for outfitting your kids with safe shoes:

  1. Buy good quality shoes in neutral colors for your first child that you can pass down to siblings (ignore this if you’re like me and didn’t find out about minimalist shoes until having your fourth and last baby).
  2. There are cheap options for kids under age two – any type of soft-soled shoe like Robeez. I got my toddler some Carter’s soft-soled shoes for $12. They go up to size 6. Bonus: they are easy to put on!
  3. For warm weather, water shoes work well and are generally pretty cheap.
  4. You don’t have to buy shoes that are called minimalist. Simply look for shoes with the minimalist criteria – soft/flexible sole, wide toe box, stays on the foot, no heel.
  5. Buy one pair of minimalist shoes for their everyday shoes. Don’t stress over the church shoes or special occasion shoes. Focus on what they wear day in and day out.
  6. For outdoor play in wet or cold weather, many muck/rain boots are pretty close to minimalist.
  7. Purchase DIY kits for making low-cost minimalist sandals.
minimalist baby shoes

Can Minimalist Shoes Cause Problems?

When I first started researching minimalist shoes, I was so excited about the idea that it really caught me off guard to hear negative views on them.

I even went to a major sporting goods store to look for shoes and was told they no longer carry any minimalist styles because too many people were getting injured.

So I had to do a bit more research.

The real issue is not that minimalist shoes inherently cause problems. Instead, it’s that people jump right from a rigid, high arch, very restricted shoe to running in a minimalist shoe. Since they have not built up the necessary muscles, range of motion, and balance required for this, they get injured.

So if you are switching to minimalist shoes be sure that you go slow. Start by walking around the house in them. Maybe walk on the treadmill in them. Gradually work your way up to running.

kid climbing in xero shoes, best barefoot shoes

If you are not a serious athlete and simply want them for everyday use and walking around, there shouldn’t be much of an issue. But still, give it a week or two as you adjust.

How to Transition Kids to Minimalist Shoes

Thankfully it’s a bit easier to get kids in minimalist shoes. Unless they are very sedentary, a healthy, active kid will have pretty strong ankles and feet so there shouldn’t be much, if any, of a transition phase. My kids jumped right into running around in their minimalist shoes.

The best way to support your child’s spinal health and foot development is to start with minimalist or barefoot shoes from day one. As your toddler starts taking steps, only put shoes on when necessary making sure they are soft-soled. Around the house, socks are sufficient. Barefoot is even better if it’s warm enough. Definitely try to stick with the really soft soles like Robeez for children age two and under.

As your child gets a little older and has to wear shoes when leaving home, invest in one high-quality pair of minimalist shoes for the year. Use them at school, when running errands, etc. while going barefoot at home as much as possible. This will help their development and extend the life of the shoes.

When transitioning older kids, talk about movement. Tell them it will feel different and that they will have to be aware of how they walk and ankle stability at first. Once they get a bit stronger they won’t have to give it any thought.

For older girls, reassure them that wearing a cute heel once in a while is OK, but save it for special occasions, and be aware of pelvis placement when they walk. Also, note that there are some really stylish minimalist shoes! Flats can be so dressy! After wearing flat shoes for a long time she may not even want to wear heels.

Minimalist Shoe Brands for Kids

When it comes time to shop for minimalist shoes for your kids, there is quite an assortment to choose from.

Kids climbing in barefoot shoes, cheap shoe for kids

We have had the privilege of trying both Xero Shoes or Vivobarefoot Shoes.

Xero Shoes for Kids Review

I have fallen in love with Xero Shoes. They start at size 12 and go through adults. We were sent a pair for each of my older kids (ages 8 and 11) as a review sample. They love them too!

One of the things I like best about Xero Shoes is the flexible sole. There is no restriction of movement. The toe box has so much space for your toes to spread.

These are great for everyday shoes, playing outside or inside. They sort of remind me of indoor soccer shoes with a bit more flexibility. My kids use them every week when we go to a gymnasium and play soccer, hockey, football, and more. Lots of running without restriction!

I think the only drawback to these shoes is that there is just one style for kids – the Prio. They come in a few different colors, so there is something for everyone’s taste. But there are no other styles like boots or dress shoes for kids. They do make other styles for adults and run a bit small. My eleven-year-old wears a size 6.5 in Xero Shoes, so she can actually choose from the adult selection.

RELATED: Xero Hiking Boots Review & Xero Shoes Review

Boy in minimal boots, minimalist boot

Vivobarefoot Shoes for Kids Review

If you’re looking for more selection or for younger kids, check out Vivobarefoot Kids. They range in size from toddler 5’s on up through older kids. You can choose from dress shoes, boots, sneakers, and sandals. Lots of adorable options!

Vivobarefoot sent us shoes to review for my one-year-old and five-year-old.

My daughter (5) has the Wyn shoe – a mary jane style shoe. She wears them to church every Sunday! They are very comfortable and easy to get on. I love them. My daughter does have relatively narrow feet. So they are sort of wide, but she has not had any problem with them staying on. Hopefully over time as she adjusts to minimalist shoes her feet will spread a bit.

My son (19 months) has the Fulham toddler – a small boot. These are great for life on our farm and for cold weather. They are very cute and stylish. He also wears them to church.

I was surprised by how rigid the sole feels on these shoes – not nearly as flexible as the cheap shoes I bought at Meijer. They need a bit of “breaking in,” so I’ve been bending them myself to get them more flexible. I also have a hard time getting them on his feet. I had to go up a size and still have to really pull to get them on. Which he is not a fan of, so he only lets me put them on some of the time. Once they are on they fit just fine.

I should clarify that my son has this problem with most shoes. He must have really fat feet! It has been a challenge to find any shoes that I can actually get on his feet without them being the wrong size.

These do run a little high in terms of price, with some over $100. So it is an investment, but, again, worth it to me if they are going to wear them every day.

Kids wearing vivobarefoot shoes, barefoot shoes kids

The Primus looks like the perfect everyday shoe for kids, and my girls are in love with the coral color!

Are Minimalist Shoes for Kids Worth It?

Bottom line – footwear is an important part of your child’s health. I’ve gone into the details of just how much of an impact it can have, including how shoes affect digestion and eating habits.

The next time you need to buy shoes for your kids, consider minimalist shoes. Look for flexible soles, no heels, wide toes, and a proper fit to stay on your child’s feet. Minimalist shoes for kids are a great investment.

Here are some of the most popular brands:

Pedterra is an online storefront that carries a variety of barefoot/minimalist shoe brands for kids and adults. You can visit Pedterra here, and use the coupon code “KITCHENSTEW” to get 10% off your first order. 

Do your kids wear minimalist shoes or go barefoot often? What are your favorite minimalist shoes?

More resources on the benefits of barefoot:

I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…

reviewed and recommended
 

…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.

When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.

Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!

15 thoughts on “Minimalist Footwear for Kids: What Is It and Why They Need It”

  1. Thank you for this blog post ! I was looking for information on kids shoes and you helped ….a lot !!
    I already love my Xero Prio shoes and wanted something for my 10 year old son.
    I am going to try Plae for him first.
    The rest of my family is not sold on minimal yet…. oh well…
    I am also sharing the information you referenced at https://www.nutritiousmovement.com . Thank you for that !

  2. Jerrold Harris

    Thank you for such great recommendations! I came in to learn about kids’ footwear initially but discovered a bunch of shoe brands for myself as well! Very grateful for that. I’ve heard about Xero Shoes from a coworker a while ago. Note that I work in a financial consulting company with a very strict dress code so we’re not seeing anyone going around casually. And one of my coworkers came in in those Black Mika boots once in the winter, I was shocked! He started to tell me how great those boots are and all that but I kinda let it slide past me but Now that I see it here as well – I have to try for myself. I’m only worried about the size! 11 Should be just right but I’m not sure because their website says it runs small.

    1. I really do LOVE my Xero Shoes. I have them on right now 🙂 They used to run a 1/2 size small, I think. But they have resized them so they are more true to size now. I can wear 9.5 or 10’s in most shoes. I got a 9.5 for my Prios. They fit just right.

  3. A kid explains minimal shoes
    https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/a-kid-explains-minimal-shoes/

    Another list of minimal shoes of various types
    https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/shoes-the-list/

  4. Love this article! I’m always on the lookout for more decent kids shoe options! My family loves barefoot shoes. Luckily we live in Arizona where we can wear sandals year round if we want (sometimes I throw on toe socks too). We did the diy kits from xero shoes which work, but definitely worth getting the conversion kit for easier on and off. The kids enjoyed picking out their own lace color. I also have the Xero Cloud and the Vienna for myself and love them. We’ve done SoftStar shoes as well, but the moccasins went to the child with a balance bike that loved to drag his feet so they didn’t last as long as I hoped (but he loved them while they did). I really love all the options and custom options at SoftStar. We’ve done adult Vivobarefoot shoes, but I like the Xeros better personally. We have a few MyMayu boots as well and love those, and Robeez for the baby.
    We recently found another minimalist kids shoe brand. Splay Shoes! We got some last year and they’ve been great so far and the company was really good to work with and the prices are competitive which is a huge plus! They only make kids shoes so far, and since they are a fairly young company the selection is limited, but still sufficient for our needs. That’s what we are using for church shoes (it is less casual than sandals).

  5. Suzie Homemaker

    I stopped wearing heals when I hurt my planters phasers. I said I’m only wearing hippy shoes now. I dont by the pricey type listed here. I buy as flat as I can but with an arch and wide toe. My kid 7 has wanted, as she calls them, step shoes sence 4. Girls at church wearing heals at 3! Realy dont parents have a clue what their doi g to there kids. I wont let her wear anything that will curl her toes. Toes are suppose to lay flat people. Like a babies. Like those pictures of paper feet.my rule is heals at 13 for special things if you still want them. By then she will be old enough to understand what I mean it will do to her body.

  6. One of my children has flat feet and weakness ankles. He was told by the PT that he needs foot supports to lift his arch into a more natural position so there will be less stress in his ankles. Would minimalist shoes Ben good for him? The concept seems to go against what the PT feels he needs… TIA!

    1. From Bio-mechanist Katy Bowman
      “It’s important to know that the arch in your foot and the curve of your spine are not fixed structures but SHAPES created by muscular activity. This means that what you do with your body is a factor when it comes to issues like an S curve (type of scoliosis) in your spine.”
      (rest of the article here https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/diseases-of-captivity/ )

      From this article: https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/the-foot-doctor-is-in/
      “I think that professionals address the symptom (foot shape or position) but don’t always offer the mechanism. Foot issues very often tend to be the result of leg weakness, especially in the thigh and butt muscles, so the solution should often include stretches and exercises for north of the ankle. ”

      2 points from this article: https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/feet-the-sixth-sense/
      -“Our current biomechanical, medical, anatomical, and podiatric texts identify three motions. That’s how stiff our feet have become. Just to be clear, you have the potential for billions and billions of unique foot motions, but we typically talk about three. Wow. That’s a low bar.” (So your PT may be looking too narrowly)

      – “Understand that the position of the foot is maintained by the muscles of the hips” (so again look higher than the ankles)

      1. Thanks for all the info, Rachel! Katy Bowman is my go-to person as well. Love the idea of nutritious movement!

        I think minimalist shoes will be good in the long run, Heather. But it might take some transition time and strengthening his hips/legs/ankles/feet. Does he run around outside a lot (on uneven surfaces)? How active is he? That can make a difference.

  7. We have been a barefoot family since my kids were born (11 years). We live in coastal Florida, so shoes are mostly just for while in public.
    My husband and I had no problem transitioning to barefoot shoes for normal wear, but had a little difficulty with transitioning for running. We found some shoes that had no correction and a 3mm drop that gave us just the amount of lift to ease the strain on our Achilles tendons and knees for transitioning to zero drop. Now we run in Vivobarefoot shoes.
    You put together a good list of shoes for kids. Another one that we like for the kids is Plae (However, I cannot recommend the adult shoes because the toe box is too narrow in the adult styles. They don’t allow the toes to splay properly.). They even have some styles that have a bit of tread. They are intended for hiking, but my son likes them for playing flag-football. They basically work like turf shoes. We have yet to find any actual cleats that are anywhere near minimalist/barefoot/natural foot shape. I would love to hear if anyone else has found some!

    1. That’s awesome, Angela! Good to know about Plae. I have not found cleats either. That’s a tricky one because cleats are meant to be tight-fitting (I’m a former collegiate soccer player 😉 ). It helps with ball control/kicking. I try not to stress over the cleats, as long as my kids are comfortable.

      1. Here is a ‘hack’ for cleats 🙂

        https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/guest-post-diy-heel-height-hack/

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