It may seem like there are an overwhelming number of options, and buying shoes for toddlers and preschoolers may seem like a daunting task. Consider this a comprehensive guide to buying shoes for kids. By the end of this article, you’ll know the best shoes for preschoolers and the best toddler shoes for gross motor development.
Your Guide to Buying Kids Shoes
Not all shoes are created equal.
Bonus! This article has a FREE printable at the end of the post!
I’m sure you’ve done this before.
You’re out shopping, by yourself for once.
You decide to treat yourself to a beautiful pair of red, patent leather (at least they are designed to look like leather) pumps with a heel that’s not too high and not too low, but just right. They are classy and timeless, and unfortunately cheaply made. You try them on, and they squeeze your toes a little and rub strangely on your ankle. That’s ok because you’re sure you can break them in by wearing them around the house with some socks on.
They are beautiful, and on sale, and you can’t resist such a deal. So you buy them for $24.99 (marked down by $15!). And the next Friday you wear them out on a date with your partner, who comments on how beautiful you look.
And you do feel beautiful.
But before you even get to dessert your feet are killing you. Those red heels go back in the closest, only to be pulled out for church on Christmas which is when you remember why you never wear them.
You bought poor quality shoes, and you shouldn’t have.
They were not worth it, despite the killer deal.
So Imagine What Your Toddler Must Feel
Those red heels were cheaply made and poorly designed, which is why they hurt your feet. The black Mary Jane heels, on the other hand, are higher quality. This is why you wear them so much more frequently.
The same is true for children. Not all children’s shoes are created equal. It’s especially important to make sure we are choosing the right shoes for preschoolers because their feet are still growing and their gait is still developing.
Putting them in the wrong shoes can have some regrettable consequences.
Since your little one is making big developments in gross motor and fine motor skills, it’s important to take the time to find shoes that will promote healthy foot and walking development.
Tips for Buying Shoes for Toddlers and Preschoolers
When buying shoes for toddlers and preschoolers, fit, shoe size, and flexibility are important. So are ease of putting on and comfort. Read all the how-to’s for picking out the best pair of shoes for your little one.
The first criteria, right off the bat, is the shoe material. The child’s age can definitely play a factor in this. Toddlers need shoes to be lightweight and flexible; more comfortable walkers can have shoes with grip. Preschoolers need shoes that are sturdy, but still flexible. You should easily be able to “fold” the shoe in half or twist the toe.
What to Avoid When Buying Shoes for Kids
Shoes modeled after popular adult shoes (like Converse, Crocs, flip flops or cowboy boots) aren’t really designed with children or child’s play in mind. Avoid backless or slip-on shoes. Laces, Velcro straps or hook and loop closures, or other fasteners are best for keeping shoes secure.
This way your child can focus on learning or becoming comfortable with walking instead of keeping the shoes on their feet.
Buying too stiff of a toddler sneaker with a rubber sole won’t allow the toddler’s feet muscles to do their work. They should still be protective but have a flexible sole.
What to Actually Look for
The shoes should be flexible and fully attached and shouldn’t go over the ankle or elevate the heel. The sole needs to bend with the foot (so your preschooler’s feet can do their job) and overall, they should be comfortable.
Children’s feet perspire heavily, and the upper part of their shoes should be made of breathable materials. Leather, canvas, or newer mesh materials allow the feet to breathe. Also, make sure the insole is made of absorbent material.
Plus, many of the shoes recommended in this post are machine washable, too.
Temptations in Buying Shoes for Preschoolers
There are some basic temptations we all fall privy to when it comes to buying kid shoes.
I know, it can be tempting.
“They seem to grow so fast, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to buy their shoes a little big? They’ll grow into them right?”
There’s nothing wrong with not overspending on shoes for your preschooler, but too big of shoes makes learning how to walk and walking safely that much harder. Don’t give in! Your child deserves it.
Additionally, purchasing shoes will too much growing room will only cause the shoes to wear out faster.
If the Shoe Fits
Knowing that you’ve found the best fitting shoes for your preschooler comes down to them not being too tight. There should also be about half an inch from the edge your child’s toes to the edge of the shoe.
You may consider downloading Pediped’s size chart or phone app to help you measure correctly.
Some specific tips for measuring
- Feet swell over the course of the day, so the best time to size your child’s feet is later in the afternoon or in the evening.
- Always measure when standing.
- Measure both feet!
- One is usually bigger than the other so you need to make sure to accommodate the difference in size.
- Width is a factor to consider too.
- Some children have wide feet. If the length fits but the width does not, then you have the wrong shoe, and visa versa. Sometimes you might need to try several brands and styles. Both length and width should fit properly.
- Make sure the toe box is wide enough.
Making the Decision
If you feel your child is old enough, you can always ask which shoes your child prefers out of ones you have found that meet all of this criteria. It’ll make the shoe shopping experience more fun for them and they’ll be happy to wear and play in the shoes they thought were comfortable and had a color or design they liked.
But don’t be fooled by brands that advertise things like memory foam footbeds or foam footbeds. Terms like run shoes and slip on sneakers can be misleading as well. Follow the criteria above.
Our favorite brands we can always rely on for toddler shoes that promote healthy foot development are:
When to Buy New Shoes for Your Preschooler
It’s going to happen. After you’ve found the perfect pair, eventually your child will grow out of them. Here’s how to know when it’s that time.
FootCare MD shared that under 16 months of age, infants’ feet can grow more than half a foot size in two months. Between 16 and 24 months they grow an average of half a foot size every three months. Toddlers 2 to 3 years old grow half a foot size every four months, and children 3 and older usually between four and six.
It’s recommended to check for growth about every 2 months to be safe.
Signs Your Child Has Out Grown Their Shoes
Your preschooler may not complain if their shoes get too small or too tight, so check for any of these signs that will show you it may be time for new ones.
- overly worn areas
- stressed seams
- bulging sides
- toes that bend upward
- toes rubbing the end of the shoe
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I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.