Returning to school: Tips for buying your child's school shoes

In this article, Rachel Clinkard — from family-run footwear retailer Charles Clinkard — tells us how to find properly fitted children’s shoes and the best ways to care for them.

Child having their foot measured


The importance of well-fitting shoes

When children are still growing, their feet are vulnerable to deformity until they fully develop at 18 years old (Oxford Health). However, this development is particularly pivotal from ages 0-5, when children have learnt to walk and are building the muscles, coordination, and balance they’ll need to keep you running around after them!

So, while it may be tempting for parents to buy shoes in slightly larger sizes for their children to grow into, it’s important that kids wear the correct size to support and protect their growing feet. The best way to ensure this is by booking your child into a professional shoe fitting to get their feet accurately measured. This not only gives you their exact shoe size (including half sizes), but it also tells you whether they need a wide, narrow, or regular shoe for an even more supportive fit.

Children's foot being measured


Buying the right pair

Good quality shoes are an important and necessary investment for your child, so you want to be sure you’re spending money on the right pair. Firstly, it’s best to opt for shoes with laces or straps, as unlike slip-on shoes these will give your child’s feet much better support. This can also discourage them from slipping their shoes on and off, which can weaken the heel and make their shoes show signs of wear and tear sooner.

When taking your children shoe shopping, it’s best to go in the afternoon so you can measure their feet when they have expanded and got warmer throughout the day. This can give you a better gauge of their size and help you avoid buying shoes that will rub or cramp their toes by the end of the school day. You should always get your child to walk in any pair they try on in the shop, to see if they walk naturally and comfortably in them and help you spot any problems before you buy.

When your child is trying on a new pair of shoes, there are a few key things to check to assess their fit and comfort. While the specialist at your fitting appointment is likely to do this for you, below are a few things to look for in your child’s new shoes:

  • The right amount of room in between the end of the shoe and their longest toe — enough for a little growing room, but not so much that their feet slip around inside the sole
  • No excessive gaping at the sides, ankles, or heels when they walk
  • Good heel grip — when your child is sitting down, hold their ankle and pull the shoe from the heel to test this
  • The right amount of depth in the upper sole, especially for low-cut styles like Mary Janes — run a finger under the top of the shoe to test this, it should be snug but not too tight

Caring for your child’s shoes

Once you’ve found a suitable pair of shoes for your child in the right size, width, and style, you’ll want to take good care of them to make sure that they last as long as possible. In fact, one of the best things you can do to care for a pair of shoes is making sure they fit properly, as ill-fitting ones will not only be uncomfortable but will also show signs of wear and tear sooner.

Prevention is always better than cure, so for leather or suede shoes it’s always wise to use a water-resistant protectant spray to help shield them from the elements. However, when leather shoes inevitably start to show some scuffs from everyday wear, be sure to keep the uppers supple and buff away any marks with shoe polish and a soft cloth. To keep up with this good shoe maintenance, you may want to collect the whole family’s work and school shoes on a spare afternoon and give them all some TLC in one big cleaning session.

If your children’s shoes do get wet, avoid drying them on a radiator or putting them in a tumble dryer as a quick fix, because this will dry out the leather and eventually cause cracks. Instead, dry them naturally by filling each shoe with a generous amount of balled-up newspaper. This will absorb the water without adding any heat. To resolve any unpleasant smells, a great DIY hack is sprinkling a layer of bicarbonate of soda over the sole and leaving this overnight to soak up and neutralise the odour.

Finally, a good way to protect their shoes is by encouraging your child to take them on and off properly. Slipping or forcing shoes on can crush and bend the shoe, especially at the heel, which can cause previously well-fitting shoes to become loose or start rubbing. For young children who can’t tie their laces yet, showing them how to undo riptape straps or buckles properly can keep their shoes in tip-top condition for longer.

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