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Understand children's feet as they grow

Children feel a massive sense of achievement when they learn to walk like adults. So how do their feet develop to get them ready for this stage?

When a baby is in the womb, the bones of the feet start to develop from the big toe backwards through the foot. However, Martin Haines, Biomechanics Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist from Brytespark explains: “These ‘bones’ are still just very soft tissue.”

Martin’s organisation Brytespark has been working with Start-Rite to conduct pioneering research into how children move. He says: “The bones don’t actually form until the child is about 10 years old – and then they don’t stop growing until between 16 and 21 years old.”

In our video The Fantastic Foot, Martin shows you how the foot develops.

The fantastic foot

Developing through milestones

Children develop reflexively through different milestones, explains Martin, including head control, rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, cruising around furniture and walking.

“Crawling, for instance, helps strengthen their hips, shoulders and trunk muscles (the core) – and the pressure through the kneecaps helps the kneecaps form,” Martin says.

“I can see why people want to encourage children to walk as soon as they can, but it’s important not to do that. Children will do whatever they do when they are ready – and while one child may walk sooner than the other, the later walker will probably cycle sooner than the other.”

How foot shape affects the way children walk

How foot shape affects the way children walk

Babies are born with flat feet, which is accentuated by a fat pad under the bottom of each foot so, when they first start to toddle, they are very flat-footed, explains Martin: “Typically, it’s a stomping gait, led by the hips and the trunk muscles.”.

This ‘flat-footedness’ is nothing to worry about, says Martin: “Between the ages of four and six years, the fat pads start to disappear and the arch starts to form so the foot can start to function in a proper manner, which is helped by children becoming be more coordinated.”

However, he says: “The arches don’t fully form until between the ages of about five and seven, and it’s not usually until secondary-school age that children start to walk more like adults.”

Learning movement skills to last a lifetime

Learning movement skills to last a lifetime

The foot is a fantastic piece of mechanical engineering, says Martin: “It needs to be strong and mobile, as well as strong and stiff. That allows it to compensate and adapt to different surfaces and different terrains, to different activities we do and the different speeds we perform them at”.

Learning new movement skills is all part of the healthy development of children’s feet and bodies, he explains: “Once children can walk, it’s important that they start to run, skip, hop, scoot and cycle to develop as many different movement patterns as possible. Running The Daily Mile, for example, is a great activity, but if they only run while they are young and then in later life decide to play golf, it will potentially be more challenging for them than if they’d done some kind of rotational sport when they were younger.

“The more movement opportunities you give them, the more skills they will learn – and that lasts with them into adulthood.”

All the facts you need to know about children’s feet

Other articles and videos in our First steps forward section, tell you more about the amazing way children and their feet develop, how you can help look after them and how you know when they are ready for shoes.