Baby’s first steps marks a moment that parents wait for with bated breath and then record on every type of media they possibly can. Even those wobbly, unsteady, not-quite steps that rely almost entirely on forward momentum to get them from one place to the other are considered incredible feats by enthusiastic parents. The first steps are so important that many people automatically ask parents of babies around a certain age if they are walking yet. I admit I have been one of those people, automatically asking a neighbor I don’t often see if her little one had started walking yet. To be completely honest, I wasn’t even completely certain how old the child was, but just assumed that she was of the right age to be toddling.

As soon as I asked, the mother smiled at me and said, “not quite, but she wears her shoes every day, so she will be able to soon!” As her daughter lifted one tiny foot, which was wearing a pair of lace-up white high top shoes, I smiled in that way I often do when I’m not sure why someone has said something to me, nodded and continued on my way. When I got home, I called my mother and asked her if we learned to walk in shoes. “Of course!” she said, “babies have to wear shoes or their feet will be deformed and they won’t learn to walk correctly.” Could this possibly be true? Did babies need to start wearing shoes so they would be able to walk and have normally developed feet?

Locomotion, that is, the ability to move yourself from one place to another, is definitely one of the most sophisticated skills a baby will need to master. This skill requires use of muscles throughout the entire body, as well as critical thinking skills. While it can be shown that wearing shoes protects a baby’s feet from harm in that they keep a baby from stepping directly on sharp or hot surfaces, they do not actually make it any easier or safer for the baby to learn to walk. In fact, wearing shoes that are improperly fit can cause a baby’s feet not to develop properly.

Some studies have demonstrated babies have an impressive ability to adapt to changing influences on their locomotive skill. Imagine trying to walk across a gravel driveway in your six-inch stilettos. Your locomotion is going to be completely thrown off. While adults tend to struggle with such changes, babies are more adaptable and will continue developing their muscles and gait even when encountering changeable terrains and situations. What they learn when they are adjusting their movements, however, do not stay with them. This explains the high-heel flail later in life.

Source: Adolph, Karen. Learning to Move. Current Directions in Psychological Science, June 2008, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 213-218.

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