It’s back to school time. Which means, among other things, kids everywhere are finding that they outgrew their sneakers during the sandal-wearing summertime.  Following is a quick timeline about things you should consider when you take your kids shoe shopping.

  • Newborn – first steps:

Babies really don’t need to wear shoes at all (except for warmth or the occasional fashion statement). Infants experience so much of the world based on their sense of touch, and they often use their feet to explore objects just as much they use their hands. They are strengthening their muscles and fine-tuning their motor skills, no shoes required.



  • First steps – first year:

Infants are born with thick, almost square feet that often appear to have little or no arch. This is because of the large deposits of “baby fat” in their feet and ankles. Don’t worry – it goes away! About the stage when a child begins to consistently take 10-12 steps at a time, their feet begin to lengthen and slim down to what we think of as a “normal” foot shape. This is also the time when you should begin introducing your child to soft soled, low structure shoes.  Try to find shoes that are as close to nothing as possible, just with a little padding and protection for the bottoms of their feet.


  • 2-4yrs

These are very active years, and they contain some of the most important windows of opportunity for motor development. Toddlers are not heavy enough to need a lot of support in their footwear, but they do need comfort and a good shoe fit so that they can navigate around any obstacle, sprint around the back yard, jump in puddles and learn to play catch. The best choice for 2-4 year olds is sneaker with easy lace-up or Velcro closure.  Avoid shoes that are heavy or have aggressively lugged outsoles because these can lead to tripping or falls and increase your toddler’s risk of injury.

  • 5-7 yrs

Right around early elementary age is the stage when you will be able to tell if your child is going to be a Pronator or a Supinator.  It is time to go stealth and watch your children without letting them know that they are being observed.  Watch them run and walk, especially looking at their feet and ankles from both the back and the front.  Do you notice that they point their toes out or in while they run? What about when they stand still, are they bowlegged or knock-kneed?   If you drew an imaginary line straight down from the back of their knee to the ground does it go exactly through the center of their heel? (If you need help figuring these things out, this is where I come in…)

Kids at this age are beginning to need a bit of arch support in their footwear. You should be looking for shoes with a firm heel counter and good torsional stability.

  • 8-10 yrs

Don’t let your kid’s shoes get too small! Check the fit often; kids this age don’t need a lot of pairs of shoes, but they do need comfortable shoes.  Orthopedics and biologists generally agree that by about the age of 8-9 human feet usually have taken on the shape that they will retain through adulthood. In other words, this is prime time for ensuring that your child’s feet won’t have hammer toes and bunions as a result of cramming them into tight shoes.  Concentrate on buying one or two pairs at a time so that you can replace them more frequently as they wear out/ become outgrown.

  • 11-13 yrs

These are the crazy years.  As your children turn into teenagers they begin growing like weeds. Usually feet are the first thing to sprout. It is not unusual for a teenager to change shoe sizes every few months. You can hedge your bets by buying teen shoes a little on the roomy side, but please don’t buy them way too big – they already feel goofy enough as it is! A good teenage shoe fit is about ½” longer than their longest toe. Check this by having them stand up in the shoes and sliding their feet forward until their toes just touch the end of the shoe. You should have enough room to stick your thumb all the way down between their heel and the back of the shoe.  If you can wiggle your thumb around, the shoe is too big. If you can only fit your pinky in, the shoe is too small.  Good quality shoes stores and Pedorthist will be able to precisely measure their feet so that you can track their growth.

14-16 yrs

After your teenager’s foot growth slows down, the rest of their body has to grow into proportion. This means a time of rapid height gain, but even more importantly for the feet – it is a time of weight gain. These are the years when a lot of athletes and active teens begin to notice knee, leg and foot pain. This is due, in part, to the fact they have suddenly become so much heavier than they ever were. Another reason for this symptom outbreak is because of the beginning of participation in competitive high school sports.  As teens gain muscle and bone mass while increasing their activity level, they are suddenly putting their feet through a lot more stress than ever before. Now is the time to start investing in better quality footwear. Unfortunately for our wallets, shoes are one of those items where name brands matter.  You really can’t expect to find your highschooler sneakers for less than $20-30. There is no need to buy things with the fancy bells and whistles and springs and air pockets. But a basic, well-constructed sneaker is a must.  One of my favorite all around, easy to find and affordable sneakers is the Saucony Cohesion:

  • 17 + yrs

At this point it is a pretty safe bet that their feet have mostly stopped growing. It is time to begin accumulating their adult shoe repertoire.  It is wise to invest a little more money in shoes that are going to be around for a few years. This is also the time to begin considering custom orthotics if necessary.  Keep in mind that it takes a few months to fine tune and adjust orthotics after first getting them and it is a whole lot easier to do this during the last year of high school than it is to get your adult children to come back from college or work to make an appointment to visit the Pedorthist.  A few suggestions of brands that would be great high school – college shoe choices: (forgive me if they are all a little outdoorsy, I speak of what I know…if you were looking for stiletto heel recommendations, you are in the wrong place)

Solomon – awesome trail running/ light hiking shoes

Birkenstock – Yup, those famous hippie sandals…they have great support and they last forever

Chaco sandals/ shoes – some of the best stability you find in a casual shoe or sandal

New Balance – Sneakers and casual shoes in all shapes and sizes. Their real strength is the variety of widths and fit option that they offer. Not incredibly stylish as a rule, but generally high quality shoes.

Happy shopping, I hope this helps!  Walk well.

Pictures from: