What to look for when buying kids’ school shoes

Kids wearing school shoes

If your child is about to start school for the first time, the price of a new pair of quality school shoes can come as a shock.

And if you already have a tribe of kids at school, then the cost of school shoes – and the need to buy well – is something you’re all too familiar with at the start of each school year.

Well-fitting school shoes that support growing feet are one of the most important items to organise before school starts, irrespective if your kids are new starters or nearing the end of their schooling.

So, what should you look for when buying kids school shoes? And are the best shoes always the most expensive?

Alicia James, a podiatrist at Kingston Foot Clinic in Victoria and spokesperson for the Australian Podiatry Association, provides this advice for families.

Why are good school shoes important?

Children spend a lot of time in their school shoes. In fact, most of their growing time during childhood and adolescence will be spent wearing school shoes.

That’s why it’s so important that kids get shoes that fit well and support them during their busy school days of standing, walking, running, skipping and jumping.

“When they fit well, shoes assist with motor skills like jumping, hopping and running. Well-fitting footwear enables kids to participate in school sport and play at lunch. When shoes are too big, kids are more likely to trip and struggle to keep up with their peers.” says James.

What to look for when buying school shoes

When shopping for school shoes, look for certain features rather than a particular brand. Children’s shoes should be built for physical activity, James believes.

“Before school, recess, physical education, lunchtime and after school – most kids spend more time playing than sitting,” she says.

When buying shoes, look for shoes that have:

  • A fit that is appropriate in both length and width
  • A firm heel counter (that’s the elevated cushion at the back of the shoe)
  • Good fastening capabilities (such as laces or velcro staps)
  • A midsole that bends at the toes, not in the middle of the shoe
  • A dark colour such as black (so you don’t worry about the dirt). Most school uniforms require black shoes.

A black runner may be perfect for kindergarten or primary school if it’s in line with your school uniform policy, as kids run around so much at that age, says James.

Runners can wear out more quickly if they have a mesh upper, so look for brands that have a leather upper, which lasts longer.

How to get the best fit

Always have your shoes fitted in-store. Buying your shoes “off the shelf” or online, without being fitted, isn’t recommended.

The shop assistant should measure the length and width of both feet to make sure the shoes fit the size and shape of each foot.

  • Your child’s toes should be able to move freely inside the shoe and shouldn’t be squashed from the top or sides.
  • There should be about 1cm of growing room between the end of their longest toe and the top end of the shoe.
  • The shoes should fit comfortably around the heel, and not be too loose or too tight.

How often to buy new school shoes

How often your child will need new school shoes depends on their age. Younger children will grow so quickly that they might need new shoes several times a year, while teenagers will wear shoes out rather than outgrow them.

“Kids are growing all the time. Some kindergarten kids – who are growing quickly - may go through three pairs of shoes in a school year. In the primary school years, you may have to replace them at least twice. In the teenage years, you might just sneak in a single pair a year,” says James.

“Remember, it’s all about growth in the younger years, and wear and tear in the older years.”

Children need new shoes if:

  • Their toes touch the end of the shoes
  • The heels are worn down
  • There are holes in the toes
  • The tread is worn, making them slippery
  • The shoes are worn on the sides

What to buy for teenagers

As kids move into the teenage years, footwear that’s “fit for purpose” becomes more important.

“Sporting activities often require specific footwear such as football boots, runners for athletics, hockey shoes, etc - the list goes on,” James says.

As kids become teenagers, they don’t wear school shoes as much while playing sport at school.

“If your child plays a sport – such as basketball, football or soccer at lunch or after school - encourage them to change into their sports shoes. Not only will it provide the necessary support and performance that’s needed from a custom sports shoe, but it will also save on the wear and tear of their school shoes too,” James says.

How to find the best shoes that don’t cost the earth

A great school shoe should have the features that make it fit well – not the highest price tag, James believes.

“However, you may find that the more expensive brands last longer and are more durable.

“Less expensive shoes will be suitable if they have the appropriate width and height, firm heel counter, bend at the toes, and have laces or Velcro fasteners,” says James.

She recommends keeping an eye out for shoes that have the features you’re looking for and buying when they’re on sale.

“This becomes even more important if you have a number of children in the family,” she says.

When to take your child to a podiatrist

Sometimes, uneven wear on your child’s shoes might be the first sign that your child might benefit from a visit to a podiatrist. Pain in their feet or legs can be another sign.

A podiatrist can help your child with:

  • Foot and lower leg pain (heel pain, foot pain, leg pain)
  • Sporting injuries
  • Skin concerns (warts, callous and corns)
  • Nail conditions (ingrown toenails, toenail infections, odd-shaped toenails)
  • Concerns with balance or motor skills due to feet or legs
  • Foot appearance (very high or very low arch, turning in or turning out)
  • Gait differences (toe walking, limping, in-toe or out-toe walking)
  • Footwear advice

Alicia James is a podiatrist at Kingston Foot Clinic in Melbourne and spokesperson for the Australian Podiatry Association. She has a Masters of Health Science (Podiatry) and a PhD.

Australian Podiatry Association also has resources available on buying kids’ school shoes.

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