Spring brings warmer weather, open windows and fewer layers of clothing. At Compass ELC Discovery Space, spring also brought a focus on bare feet. It was perfect timing; we were looking for ways to offer more sensory experiences to support engagement and self-regulation in our Preschool room.
We pay close attention to the aesthetics of our room and the feelings it evokes when people enter it. We design the room to help children find calm and engaging areas in which to play. We have come to know that sensory experiences are more than what is offered in a bin and more than the staples of paint, water, goop and sand. This spring we observed a trend of children removing their shoes and socks when they entered the room. We took that as a compliment of our goal of creating warm and comfortable places, where, just like at home, our shoes and socks come off.
We hold a high image of children and we believe they know what their bodies need. Children learn with their whole bodies. There can be an instinct for some educators to ask children in programs to keep their shoes on. However, we must not forget that being in their bare feet offers children unique sensory experiences.
The children in our program love scooping and moving sand when playing outside, so we decided to offer that experience inside. Interestingly, we found that sand was out of the bin more than it was in the bin. Again, as we observed the children we refrained from saying “keep the sand in the bin”. As we watched the sand fall to the floor, we wondered if children needed a firm surface like the floor for sand to bounce and spread. This was one idea but careful observation led us to see that the children wanted to walk on the sand. We placed the bin on the floor to allow the children to walk on the sand in the bin. We noticed longer engagement and of course this offered valuable sensory input as children walked in the sand and squeezed it with their toes.
The children continued to explore our indoor and outdoor environments with their bare feet. They played in the sandbox, added water to sand to create muddy feet, walked on freshly fallen leaves as well as dried shriveled leaves, and jumped on the trampoline. Their words, giggles and facial expressions helped describe what each provided the children as a sensory experience.
Think of a time when you walked barefoot on a beautiful beach.
Remember that calm feeling…the texture…the temperature of the sand.
When we walk with bare feet we are more connected to the earth and feel grounded. Think back to when you were a child, running bare foot on the beach or in the grass. Think about how sensitive the bottom of your feet are with their rich network of nerve endings and how much information you receive through your feet. No wonder there is so much research surfacing about the benefits of bare feet.
• strengthens and stretches muscles in the feet, ankles and calves
• reduces stress and anxiety
• supports self-regulation and sensory exploration
• allows you to absorb free energy and antioxidants from the earth
• results in a more natural gait, allowing for a more rocking motion
• provides free acupuncture and reflexology
There is also extensive research about the nature-deficit disorder that is facing children and how simple sensory experiences such as these can help prevent that. Author Richard Louv introduced the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in 2005 in his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” Louy explains in his book that there is extensive scientific evidence that suggests nature-deficit disorder contributes to a “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses”. He also believes research indicates that nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. Fortunately, he is confident that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed by reconnecting and exposing children to the healing powers of nature.
When we feel connected to the earth, balanced and bare foot, taking in all it has to offer, we are more apt to conserve and advocate for the earth. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, helps us to think about the value of walking bare foot in nature. He says, “When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”
Submitted by Dianne Traynor RECE, Pedagogical Team Leader and Beth Hartin RECE
Compass ELC Discovery Space
To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE