Thursday, July 5, 2012

Minimal for Kids

Have you ever watched a kid run barefoot? I mean, have you really watched? It's a thing of beauty. It's so unadulterated. I took this photo of my son Charlie (left) on Sanibel Island, Florida a couple of summers ago. He is running with a boy that he just met. Don't you love their ability to connect that quickly at that age? Look at the enjoyment on his face! The sun was setting and they chased each other across the sand barefoot. Great stuff. Form is not really a concern here obviously but if I was paying attention, I'm sure I would have observed them running mid and fore-foot depending on their speed. Running like this is the most natural thing there is. In fact, they are not even conscious of running. Just loving life!


Then, think about how kids run in traditional sneakers. It's a totally different experience. Charlie has a pair of New Balance sneakers similar to the ones in this picture. It's not an issue with New Balance. All kids sneakers that have a large stack height and too much support are problematic. Sadly, like adult shoe market, they are by far the majority of shoes you will find out there. When Charlie wears traditional shoes like this, he runs like he has bricks on his feet. It's a most unnatural movement.


When I started to get into more minimal footwear, I took a look at Charlie's sneakers and it all made sense. It's basic physics. If you have an adult shoe that is overly supportive, it isn't going to be that flexible. If you then shrink that same shoe to kid size, it's going to be even less flexible. Some kids shoes look like the stack height may be as high as the adult shoes. They look like platforms! Here's a little diagram I made. It's not rocket science and I don't need research on my side. All you have to do is grab a pair of supportive kid's sneakers and see how flexible they are to know that I speak the truth. I think you'll find that they are not very flexible. In fact, some refuse to bend at all, especially mid-foot.


Those of you who are not into minimal shoes are probably thinking that I am making a bigger deal out of this than I need to. All I can do is share my point of view and you can make your own decisions. I feel really good about giving Charlie a more anatomical shoe that allows ground feel and natural foot movement. As a family, we tend to be barefoot as much as possible. When Charlie and all our other kids were babies, we were advised to put soft shoes on them to avoid inhibiting development of their feet. When our kids started in City Garden Waldorf Early Childhood School (kids 2-6 years old), they made them wear soft slippers to help their feet develop and strengthen. Now that Charlie is going into first grade, would I really want him to wear massively supportive and inflexible house bricks on his feet? It makes no sense at all. Since we purchased Charlie a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves over a year ago, he runs with very natural form. In fact, we just got back from New Hampshire and he was trail running with me with that same spirit he is showing in the photo above. This last year, Charlie has come on a number of 3 mile runs with me and looked great. He discovered that running could be fun. Without any prompting, the Trail Gloves became his go-to shoes for everything. He even used them for hiking in Starved Rock State Park. When his sister borrowed them for gym class, she wanted her own and now claims that she can run much faster in them than she did in her old sneakers. Am I worried about the lack of padding? Not really. Kids aren't heavy like adults and they are super light on their feet. Neither one of them has ever complained about feeling the ground or having any discomfort. I would highly recommend the Trail Gloves. Charlie's have taken a real beating and stood up pretty well.


Since my personal minimal experiences and reading articles like this on RunBlogger, I have now become pretty firm in my view about having all three of our kids wearing minimal shoes as often as possible. I'm starting with running shoes but I'm trying to influence my wife to think about casual shoes too. So, what's out there for options?

Apart from the Trail Gloves, Merrell also has a couple of other minimal models. The Pure Glove (top) seems similar to the Trail Glove but it has a simpler double strap fastening. The Flux Glove (center) is a lace-up but seems to have a bit more padding and support. The Reach Glove (bottom) seems to be intended more as a fashion version of the Trail Glove.




New Balance recently came out with a line of the Minimus for kids. It seems like it is connected with the look of the MT10's and 20's. I don't have a personal recommendation to make here because we haven't tried them but if they are as well designed as my MT10's, they will be a great shoe. I'd love to see New Balance release some kids shoes that play off the design of the adult MT00's and the MR00's. That's a really hot looking line of shoes.

Apart from the colors above, I also got a sneak peek photo sent to me of some new colorways coming out very soon. I also see some velcro straps there. Not sure if that is a completely new model or just for the younger sizes.


Vivobarefoot has really embraced kids shoes. They have a lot of options that you can check-out here. They are pioneers in minimalist running but have plenty of every day shoe options for kids. The Ultra Juniors (A) can be used for sports and running but are great for water because there is no material to soak-up water. The Ultra Kids (B) are a similar shoe but look more like a sandal because they have a simpler velcro strap. The Zigzag Sandal (C) is a super comfortable looking sport summer sandal. The Pal (D) is an every day Mary Jane style shoe for girls. The Neo Junior/Kids (E) is much the same as the comfortable adult running shoe. The Neo Kids velcro (not shown) is the same shoe with a thick velcro strap. The Rooty (F) is a cool everyday shoe with two thick velcro straps. The Ra Kids and Juniors (G) is a fun summer shoe that comes in canvas and leather. Did I mention boots? I'm not even showing the Eskimo high boots for girls, the super cute Chelsea Boots for girls and the Off Road Hi Juniors and Kids that look like they are mostly for boys. Bravo Vivo! I admire the commitment. Vivo's are not cheap but I own a pair and I can tell you that they are exceptionally well made and they are kind to the planet too. To put it in their words "Vivobarefoot footwear is produced sustainably using recycled, locally sourced materials, with efficient and eco-friendly production techniques, in independently monitored ethical factories."

Vibram (yes, I'm talking Five Fingers) also has some kids models. The Sprint (left) is the most minimal with a velcro strap. The Speed has a traditional lacing system. The KSO is similar to the Sprint but is a little more shoe because it covers more of the foot. I haven't enjoyed wearing my Five Fingers. I have the Bikila's. I don't think the sole is comfortable. I feel all the lugs under my foot. I don't like the way putting my toes inside the toes of the shoe forces a slight splay. I've even been getting a little numbness on the side of my little toe wearing them to the gym although they are great for balance exercises. Ironically, I feel like my toes move more freely in a fingerless shoe that is an anatomical shape and has an ample toe box. It's a shame. I really wanted to like the Five Fingers. My kids have seen them on other kids and desperately want to try them.



Saucony make the Kinvara for kids and Nike make the Nike Free Run + for kids too. Both these shoes may be more flexible and therefore better than many kids shoes out there but I think the higher stack heights make them even less of a minimalist option for kids. Kids don't need as much padding. Let them feel the ground as much as possible I say!

The only draw-back with minimal shoes is money. Kids grow out of shoes so quickly that it's cost prohibitive to replace them all the time. I think it comes down to how important an investment you think it is. You know where I stand on the matter.



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