Foot School

This is an updated version of a post from 2012. I created a “foot movement” lesson plan for my niece and nephew six years ago. When asked to teach some natural movement classes for our local school co-op this week, I couldn’t resist dragging it out and expanding it!

For those of you out there wanting to increase the movement opportunities for your home or family, or for those looking for movement or movement science homeschool lessons, this post is for you. This foot unit gets kids out of their shoes and into their feet.

Start the unit by having them trace their foot (or, having their foot traced).

I used to start with foot writing, but found out that “everyone, take off your shoes” became an unnecessary instruction (aka less work for me) when I started with “everyone, trace your foot.” I’m lazy, it’s true.

Then, have them compare their shoes to see how their shoes measure up to their foot tracing.

Some discussion questions:
1. How does your foot-shape compare to your shoe shape?
2. How do you think this affects your feet?

One issue kids have with their shoes is outgrowing them before a parent realizes it. Many adults have reported developing the habit of scrunching their toes, just a little, to keep them from touching the end of their shoes. When we get used to scrunching our toes in our shoes, when we start buying shoes as adults that give us this same scrunchy (too technical?) feeling. This exercise is a nice way to see how our shoe and feet shape compare. Shopping tip: Pick shoes that have enough space for your (and their) toes to spread out and away from each other. For more information on how to shoe shop for kids, read Back To School Minimal Shoe Shopping.

Have everyone write their name using their hand and then their foot

For older kids, have them fold their piece of paper to mark the top half (for handwriting) from the bottom half (for foot-writing). And for tons of fun, try it with the OTHER foot. And in cursive. And then writing backwards. And in reverse. Maybe not that last one. Have them compare their hand to foot writing and see if they get better with practice!

Barefoot Playground

For this class, I didn’t insist on bare feet. I had kids wanting to stay in their shoes and wanting to stay in their socks, and that’s just fine. I know sometimes I have my reasons and I assume that kids have their reasons too. What I did do was set out some items  to stand onblocks, half foam rollers, a BOSU, and a rockand started standing on them with one foot, counting loudly to ten. Once everyone wanted to try, I had them count how long they could hold it on one foot, then the other, with their arms out, with them down, and with their eyes closed. They tried all the shapes to see how each shape moved them.

After that, I laid out a few 2X4s. Did I have them walk on it? No. I started walking on it, which pretty had everyone push me off so they could do it themselves. I suspect that something like “Children, please come here and do this walking down the balance beam lesson” would only make me seem uncool, so I went with their natural biological tendency to mimic those older than them.

For some walking the beam was easy and for some it was challenging. I could quickly keep everyone challenged by adding things like “close your eyes”, “hold this rock”, or blindfold them.

Then I had them walk sideways, which is like getting a brand new body that’s never balanced before.

Then, I mixed the items I had them balance at the beginning with the 2x4s fashioning a simple obstacle course.

THIS IS WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENED, FRIENDS.

Balance is tricky and it really does utilize the “ground ears” we stuff into our shoes each day. Once we introduced complex movement (things round and wobbly beneath their feet), the kids not navigating the course successfully were getting frustrated. “You know, I’ve found that I balance better when I can use all the muscles in my feet,” I said slyly. THE SHOES AND SOCKS WERE WHIPPED OFF and everyone’s balance improved. Then I had them crawl it (showing them how to tuck their toes and have 10 extra tiny hands to help them hold on), and then crawl it blindfolded if they wanted even more movement.

There were smiles, and laughs of accomplishment, and THEN MORE MAGIC HAPPENED, which is just what Barefoot and Balanced author Angela Hanscom and I talked about on my podcast in the episode about kids and more movement: they built their own obstacle course, more complex than the one I had set up, and started leading their own movement. We started by sitting down and tracing our feet and ended up getting to whole-body, self-led play in an hour. They also ended up making a catapult that launched yoga blocks across the the yard when you jumped onto one end, so really, we went from feet to whole-body physics. Fewer things have thrilled me more.

For older kids who want to add on some more anatomy/smaller movements: introduce the idea of nerves in the feet.

There are two types of nerves in the feet: motor (those that tell the toes and feet to move) and sensory (those that the toes and feet feel the environment with). Test the motor nerves: Starting in standing position, have them see if they can:

  • Lift their big toe by itself.
  • Lift each other toe by itself.
  • Spread the toes away from each other.
  • Spread the toes away from each other without lifting them off the ground at the same time.

Test the sensory nerves: Sensory nerves measure environmental factors like temperature and surface textures. Collect items from around the house with various texture, like a washcloth, sandpaper, a toothbrush (of some unlucky person), some pebbles of various sizes, a set of silverware (to be washed before putting back, especially if you have me over for dinner), an ice cube and something warm. You’ll also need a blindfold.

See how many items you can all can identify by touching items with only their feet! This simple game opens our mind to the idea that our feet are constantly taking in data in the same way our eyes take in information. Can they tell temperature with their feet? Can they tell the difference between a patch of dirt, or grass, or bricksjust with their feet? YES, they can!

To discuss: To keep the nerves healthy and alert, we can expose our feet to various surfaces and items like rocks, dirt, grass, and soft pine cones (vs. forks, knives, and shards of glass). Many people expose their feet ONLY to the sensation of socks, the same pair of shoes, and the flat surfaces inside their home. How can we remedy this? Create an indoor texture box or a clean space in your yard for texture walking. Too much work? Too cold and snowy where you live? A cobblestone mat works too!

Ok class, you’re dismissed!

Or, if you want more foot stuff, check out my books Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief and Whole Body Barefoot. P.S. I head rumor I have a kids’ book coming out next fall. I mean, I’m spreading the rumor right now. I heard that’s happening, so. There you go.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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34 thoughts on “Foot School

  1. This is great. My daughter is homeschooling this coming year and I’ve been asked to participate. I’ll teach Katy’s Body Alignment 101! You’ve started with the feet…keep ’em coming!

  2. I am forwarding this on to my daughter’s school: It’s montessori and small enough to get into this, I think. If not, I’ll be doing it here! Slightly freaked at how little I can move my toes…

  3. Yes!!! I just signed up for the Healthy Foot Certification this morning. While I am interested on so many levels, I’ve definitely been wanting to build resources and expertise to help my 4 yo daughter who has some serious alignment exploring to do already (very marked bilateral in-toeing…reverberating all the way up through her body). I’ve been trying to build her barefoot world, including barefoot dance class (as opposed to wearing those tap shoes…). Last week, a classmate wore high heels to preschool. I consoled my girl with the following, “Baby, you are so lucky that I love you too much to let you wear high heels! You are so lucky that I love every piece of you all the way down to each little toe.” She’s buying it for now, but I’m waiting for this will get back to the other girl’s mother as, “My mommy says your mommy doesn’t love you because she let’s you where those shoes!” I can’t wait to start this work this weekend!

  4. though my husband laughs, i am always stopping at random times whenever i walk over the textured parts of our home (nubbly bathmat, fibrous woven rug, etc) to dig in and wiggle my feet on them — need that stimulation! a pebble mat sounds like a fabulous idea as well…

    also, about feet (and hands)…they just look weird. i am constantly counting fingers and toes — my own, friends’, strangers’ — just to make sure that everybody has five of each, because sometimes at first glance there is something really crazy going on there.

  5. Is is just me, or does stimulating those sensory nerves on your feet make you happier? Like, endorphin happy or serotonin happy.

  6. Katy, do you have an opinion on whether hand-me-down shoes are bad for kids’ feet/gait? The footwear “experts” say you shouldn’t wear used shoes because the original owner’s wear pattern develops on the shoe. Of course the “experts” never said anything about how you shouldn’t wear shoes with heels…so I’m not sure how far to trust their advice!

    1. I think that that advice sounds right, but it’s based on wearing thick-soled shoes that compress in response to the child’s load. I wouldn’t recommend footwear like that in the first place — a minimal sole is one of the essential component to footwear that would interfere less in natural development. So, if you’re talking about finding a second-hand pair of soft-star-shoes or a pair of all-leather shoes or any minimal footwear, then that wouldn’t be an issue.

  7. A. I love that pic of you and it puts a big smile on my face every time I see it

    2. I loved this blog and all the info geared towards engaging the kiddos. And……

    C. I love that you are a down to earth brainiac who makes learning fun.

    That is all! 🙂

  8. Love the homeschool lesson–we’ll use it!

    Although I have a question: Yes, you want lots of room at front for growing feet, but if the shoe is too large doesn’t it cause the wearer to adjust the gait? I tend to be barefoot at home and notice that if I wear a conventional sneaker I sometimes stub the sneaker’s toe on the ground, as if I’m not used to lifting my foot that high off the ground. I notice my children, when wearing a larger shoe, will seem to walk in a kind of floppy-footed way and exaggerate their step to create extra clearance.

    1. Absolutely — which is why the recommendation is 1/2″ and not “buy a shoe 1-2″ longer — we don’t want parents, in anticipation of growth to purchase a too-large shoe. The 1/2” allows for the foot to move through it’s natural length changes through gait — it’s not “room to grow into” or anything like that! Also, the phenomenon you are speaking of probably has more to do with the difference between your shod and unshod gait, as opposed to wearing a too-big sneaker. If you read more of the blog posts, you’ll find that foot clearance is created by the strength of the hip. Search (and work on) Pelvic List…

      Thanks for reading and doing the class with your kiddos!

  9. Great Post,

    You have COMPLETELY changed the way my children wear shoes! Before I found you, I was always worried about them having “support” YIKES and gave my daughter stiff, supported shoes! Now I have a 4 year old and an 18 month old and the litte guy is rarely in shoes! It is awesome, he just runs outside with nothing on and it is SO much easier than trying to get shoes in a toddler! My daughter knows aobut “flexible” shoes now and when I order 10 different pairs of shoes of Zappons, she knows we are trying to find the ones that are the most”flexible”. We also play a game called ,”find the heels” where we look for people outside/in malls wearing heals and then laugh at how silly they are walking. I already told her that she will be wearing vibrams to prom and will actully be the cool kid when she does;) Keep up the good work Kathy, I have loved learning from you!

  10. This is a great post for grown-ups too! But here is my problem- I keep trying to create strength and movement in my toes, but the two in the middle- If big toe is one and pinky is 5, these would be toes 2 and 3- WON’T move. It is really like they are paralyzed. I have Morton’s neuromas in both feet- which haven’t bothered me since I have been increasing my foot strength and wearing minimal shoes- could the neuromas (neuromae?) inhibit the motion of my toes?
    If I just keep trying to lift my toes, will they eventually lift up? So far only the big toes go up, the other ones will spread side to side- except toes 2 and 3, of course.

    1. The neuroma is likely there BECAUSE of the way you’ve used the toes, but it can become a limiting factor. Just keep working on it. The neuroma won’t Paralyze your toes or anything, but small, steady changes might be hard for you to see! There’s also dragging out the ductape and taping one down to the floor while you lift the other one. Sounds harsh, but it would give them the experience of moving independently!

  11. I Have 2 teenage boys that prefer to wear the tennis shoes with hardly an arch support. They do have a bit of flat feet & they play sports. My concern of course is the long term effect on their knees & hips. I have purchased inserts in the past & have them stretch etc. Would appreciate your input as to helping them change habits & correct thier alignment before they get any older.
    Thank you

    1. Shoes don’t support the arches in the foot — the muscles in the foot do! If your boys love their shoes, doubt you’ll do much about it at this point, but the corrective program — that is, how to teach (help? expose?) them to the material — is in the book! All my thoughts are listed in friendly user-fashion there. For anyone, including teenage boys!

  12. Tried this with my 6 year old. He loved the idea of drawing with his feet! But it was hard & he got frustrated with it. Darn. However, he created a mini-book about it-so cute! Also, he was unable to spread his toes. Is this cause for concern or is it a developmental thing that will happen on it’s own?

    I am working on us going barefoot more often now that I’ve read this!

  13. I don’t homeschool (don’t have my own kiddos yet, but totally plan to and support those that do), but I teach in a one room school and these will be great for my students to do. Thanks for all you do, Katy. I appreciate you.

  14. So doing this with the family! And btw Waldorf education includes this and other types of foot “work”. But maybe you already knew that. 😉

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