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Buying school shoes: The do's and don'ts

The start of the school year means kitting your child out in their uniform, complete with shoes that will support their feet, last the year through, and (hopefully!) be affordable as well. Here, Tracey Johnson from Soul to Sole Podiatry in St Ives takes you through what’s most important in a school shoe.

A common question on the North Shore Mums Facebook group is about what brand of school shoes to buy that will last the entire year, as well as where to buy them. To assist you, here are some guidelines on purchasing school shoes.

One important tip: don’t buy or use hand-me-down shoes. Shoes adapt and mould to an individual’s foot and walking style. Placing your child’s foot into a previously worn pair can have negative effects. The wrong shoe can weaken muscles and ligaments and result in poor posture and balance. Worn-out shoes increase the risk of heel pain, Achilles’ tendinitis, stress fractures, and ankle sprains. Vinnies or Salvo store bought may look barely used, but examine them closely before taking them home. Having to consult with a podiatrist for your child’s toe pain, stress fractures, athlete’s foot, or worse, is likely to cost more in the long run.

Preparing to buy
  • Where you are going to purchase? It is essential that shoes are fitted correctly. While it’ tempting to grab the size that you think your child currently is now, don’t. There is such a variation in sizes between shoe styles and manufacturers. Visit stores that have suitably trained fitters who are well versed in the variety of brands available. Speciality shoe shops are even better. The more variety to choose and fit is better. We are fortunate in Australia to have a variety of shoe fitters who know how to measure children’s feet and fit the correct size of shoe. This is especially important because there is not always a guarantee that the measured size matches the size system of all shoes. It gets even more perplexing when one is faced with a variety of numbers be it UK, USA, EUR etc.

  • What you need to take – shoes should be fitted with socks that your child will be wearing for school. In addition to taking along a pair of these socks, don’t forget any orthotics, if your child has been prescribed some.

  • The time of day you are going to go – the general consensus is to purchase shoes towards the end of a day. Feet swell and expand during the course of the day.

  • When in the school year to buy – Just like school stationery, the general trend is to purchase school shoes at the beginning of a school year. This is understandable and logistically feasible, however, children’s growth spurts do not start and end during this period. Be mindful of growth spurts that happen throughout the school year. A good shoe store should stock school shoes throughout the year.

The actual fitting
  • Get both feet measured – one foot can be bigger than another. The bigger foot must always be accommodated. Adjustments to the shoe/fitting can be made for the smaller foot if necessary. Feet should also be measured on a proper shoe fitting device that measures both length and width of a foot.

  • Consider the actual fit – the shoes should not be too big, nor small. Be cautious of shoes needing to be “worn in”. They should fit properly and be comfortable from the start. Furthermore, never buy shoes too big so kids “can grow into them” or in the hope the shoes will last a school year.

  • Consider the shoe features – there are many factors to consider when purchasing a shoe including the weight of the shoe and where the shoe flexes. A shoe should be stable (especially around the heel area) and protective for soft vulnerable feet. A shoe should be firm with a flexible leather upper. Synthetic materials should be avoided they make feet sweat. The sole should be rubber. Look for double stitching at the toe area.

After the purchase
  • Wear the new shoes prior to starting school – this doesn’t sound exciting and especially whilst in school holidays but it’s a great idea. Especially after the long summer holiday, children are used to being barefooted or wearing sandals/thongs. A couple of minutes a day will get your child used to wearing the shoes – especially if they are starting kindergarten.

  • Look after the shoes – keep them clean and polished to improve longevity. Observe how your child puts them on and off. Keeping laces permanently tied and slipping a foot in and out with them laced will wear down the shoe’s heel counter. Laces must be redone every time a pair of shoes is worn.

  • Continue to check the fit – try to look at your child’s shoes as soon as possible after the start of the term. They have probably complained about having to wear them anyway – having not worn them for a month. Get them to stand up in their school socks and you press gently on the end of each shoe to find the ends of the toes. If there isn’t a finger space at the end, they are too small. Don’t rely on your child to inform you that the shoes are too small – they can get used to the squeezed toe feeling and/or dread the thought of shoe shopping yet again! A simple method of checking fit is to pour some powder into the shoes, put them on and have the child walk round the kitchen. Carefully take off the shoes and look inside for a centimetre of powder beyond the end of the toes. If you don’t see it then the shoes are probably too small. Check also for uneven wear on either side of the shoe. If the shoes are deforming you should consult a podiatrist.

  • Don’t always expect the shoe to last the entire school year – besides the growth factor to consider, some children can and do wear out a pair of school shoes after a couple of months no matter the brand or style. It’s not always a fault of the shoes’ manufacture, or a poorer quality pair, sometimes it’s just the way a child walks. Over a number of years, I have monitored two brothers who are close in age, at the same school and who take part in the same activities. Both wear the same brand and style of school shoes. The one consistently wears through his shoes after several months, whereas the other can see the year out. If you are noting excessive quick wear it’s probably a good idea to consult with a podiatrist.

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