Don’t you just love all of those studies that claim to have discovered something new and exciting? One that I saw recently somehow found that children who run around in their bare feet tend to have higher IQs. Of course the article that described the announcement gave very few details about why that is so and there was no mention of how the experiments or interviews or whatever they used were actually done. Still it is an intriguing idea to think that just tossing shoes aside has the power to transform the brain. Yet another study claims that children who are encouraged to freely explore the environment without shoes will ultimately become more independent. The idea is that they have to be inventive and observant if they are left to rely on their own instincts rather than being hemmed in by adult supervision.
I have to laugh when I hear of such research. Based on these ideas the people with whom I grew up and I should be geniuses. I mean we only wore our shoes to school and church. The rest of the time we let our toes hang out and get dirty from contact with all sorts of things. We were like children raised by wolves as we ran through the woods near our neighborhood finding all sorts of fun that was only limited by our imaginations. There was never a parent around, just us kids, and it was glorious.
We were always doing something wonderful on our street. Sometimes we played for hours on someone’s lawn in very competitive games of Red Rover. I don’t believe that anyone ever broke a bone or had an injury and yet we were so committed to winning that we were rather rough. There were also games of football which did once result in a terrible injury to my brother when he stepped on a broken bottle that had been thrown in the the high grass of a neighbor’s yard. His Achille’s tendon was severed and he might have bled out had our mom not been very well read on how to apply pressure to a wound. After a few stitches he was fine, but he was never able to run as fast again.
One time we got a bit of help from one of the fathers when we created a dugout clubhouse. It was cool place to be on hot summer days and only certain kids were allowed inside. Sadly my mom became worried that it might cave in and bury us alive so we were restricted from entering it ever again. My brothers and I felt a great sense of sadness every time we saw other kids entering the cavelike domain. Eventually more and more moms sided with our parent and the father who had helped to created the place filled the big hole with dirt. Still we had great memories from the short time that we had enjoyed living like pioneers.
My very science oriented brother discovered that if we aimed a magnifying glass toward the hot sun it would burn wood. After that we became world class wood burners, creating intricate designs and using up tons of time as we sat on the hot concrete of the driveway holding the glass just right so that it would make a mark and decorate however we wished it to. We were the hit of neighborhood with our invention and we burned away until the repetitions suddenly became boring.
There was never a tree that we didn’t attempt to climb. It was glorious sitting high above the landscape sheltered by the branches. A really good tree would have growth that allowed us to lean back and read a book away from the the hubbub down below. My very favorite oak seemed to have been made just for our climbing pleasure and I often went there just to meditate and feel the cool breeze blowing over me and the rustling leaves.
All the while that we did these things we were shoeless. Our soles became hard and tough, able to withstand the pokes of gravel and the heat of asphalt. The tops of our feet turned brown from the sun and carried all of the colors from the places we had been. The grocer who had a tiny store down the street never seemed to mind when we entered his premises with our grungy feet flapping down the aisles. As long as we were polite and didn’t bother anything he was even okay if we just browsed or perused the new issues of comic books. I suspect that he knew that sometimes we just used his store to cool down a bit after a race or when the temperature was threatening to reach the one hundred mark.
At the end of each day Mama sometimes hosed down our feet before we entered the house even though we would quickly be shooed to the bathroom to take a cooling bath before going to bed. I must admit that I miss those days when there were seemingly no restrictions on what we might do as long as it was legal and didn’t harm anyone. Since retiring I wear shoes less and less. Now my feet rebel a bit when I stuff them inside the leather of my pumps. They much prefer the freedom of sandals or flip flops.
I tend to believe that the studies that I encountered have some merit. I know in my own case that running a bit wild was adventurous and taught me how to create and get along with my peers. I literally communed with nature by way of my feet so that I am proficient in avoiding getting stung by ants and I can vividly describe what it feels like to step in warm tar. With my brothers and my friends I filled my childhood hours with games and ideas of our own making. I suppose that somehow we were all the better for the independence that our parents allowed us to have.
The world is so different these days. I suspect that moms might be reported to CPS for permitting their kids to roam as freely as we did back then. I’m not quite sure how possible it now is for children to be left to their own resources, but one thing I know for sure is that they don’t really need those shoes. Take them off, and see if those brains get smarter. What can it hurt?