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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 51
10 How does it work in Practice? Staff share two of their investigations: Going barefoot -- a shoe story Every day in room 9, staff would set about scooping up all the sad, grotty little abandoned socks that worked their way under cushions and on top of lockers. We were forever finding sparkly sneakers wedged underneath blocks and sensible sandals slipped under bookshelves -- a clear testament to the covert determination of several members of our preschool group to have their feet remain footloose and fancy-free. After a while, as educators, we considered our reasons for reflexively requesting that shoes remain on feet. It was a liberating and provocative question -- are shoes really always necessary? Having observed that many children preferred not to wear shoes much of the time, we set about discovering if our current practices ("Pop your shoes back on, please!") were supported by evidence. We discussed the reasons shoes may be considered necessary, including protection for the feet against injury and the dreaded 'Lego foot', hygiene, cultural considerations, preventing shoes from getting lost by keeping them on feet, and temperature regulation. We also set about investigating what the merits of being shoeless might be, drawing upon information from a range of fields outside early childhood, including sport and neuroscience. If you are a runner you will, no doubt, have noted with interest the barefoot trend that has emerged over the past few years. Proponents of barefoot (or minimally clad) running note that over-cushioning and protecting the feet leads to different patterns of movement - a greater tendency to heel-strike, for example - with possible implications for development of the muscles and structures of the feet and legs. There is some evidence that children who usually wear shoes have an increased incidence of flat-footedness compared to children who routinely go barefoot. The feet also receive much less sensory stimulation when in shoes than when barefoot. This limitation of sensory feedback between the feet and the brain may potentially, over time, have implications for things like balance, sensitivity and responsiveness to terrain. What might be the effects, if any, of having young children in protective shoes for the majority of the time? Would it be a fair analogy to question how children's fine motor and sensory abilities might be affected if they spent their whole lives in mittens? While not qualified to answer these questions, it was interesting food for thought. We also consulted the children and asked them for their ideas. Why didn't they want to wear shoes? Why might they need to? What could we do instead? We sought guidance from our centre's policy book, which specified that children should wear shoes unless there was an activity where being barefoot was appropriate. We consulted our centre's managerial staff to discuss if we could interpret this policy in a more lenient way. We also considered what we would do if we needed to quickly evacuate a group of shoeless children. We asked parents about their attitude to shoes, and we considered the specific risks of our environment (bearing in mind that the children drink from glasses and use ceramic crockery as part of our philosophy of respect for materials and for children's capabilities). With the information gathered, we formed an opinion that it was reasonable for the children to remove their shoes while inside (where it is warm and there are not too many risks to feet) provided they continued to wear their socks (for hygiene and protection). They would be responsible for putting their shoes on a dedicated shoe shelf so that if there was an evacuation, we could collect all the shoes rapidly. Our evacuation bag also contained spare shoes. We then continued to reflect upon and fine-tune this system, and dedicated several group times to educating the children on responsibilities that come with being barefoot. There were teething issues and a few misplaced shoes, but the feedback from families was largely positive. Stepping on Lego can be a valuable lesson! Bolte the puppet As a beginning teacher several years ago, I realised that an aspect of my practice that I wanted to improve was how to discuss serious or abstract and frankly, sometimes rather boring issues with the children, without sounding like I was giving them a lecture. How was I to engage a group of young children on issues such as messy toileting, respecting others, natural disasters in the news, and keeping track of their own hats? The answer, of course, lay largely in not telling them, but asking them. A question is a far more powerful learning tool than a fact! Thus, Monty the Monster was born. Monty is a friendly monster puppet who lives in a cave in the storeroom and speaks in a squeaky voice (the only "character" voice my vocal register can accommodate!), and has a habit of falling asleep if the humans around him get too noisy. He is a bit forgetful and, being a nocturnal monster, doesn't know a whole lot about how the human world works. The children, naturally, are keen to fill him in on why we wear hats, ways of responding when someone makes
Reflections Magazine Issue 52