Like the rest of our bodies, our feet will be stronger, fitter and healthier with regular exercise. I'm not talking about just taking them for a walk or a run, but more intentional, targeted exercises to improve the strength and mobility of the muscles in our feet. Developing a strong, stable foundation for our bodies has the potential to improve our posture and overall physical health.
If we establish these habits early with our children, we can help them understand how good our feet can feel, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of pain-free, fit and healthy feet.
Here are a few ideas for you and your little one to get those feet active and have fun!
Sit your little one on a chair and place a small object on the floor in front of them, can they pick it up using their toes? Try with different objects, are some harder to pick up than others?
Once they've mastered the crane, start standing and scatter marbles or small balls on the floor, then challenge your little one, and yourself, to pick them up and place them in a container, using just your toes. It’s harder than it sounds and can be made more difficult by using a smaller container or narrow bottleneck!
Place large letter cards on the floor and encourage your little one to trace the letters with their toes. Learning their alphabet and exercising their feet all at once!
Walk the line
Children love to balance and attempting to walk the tightrope. Lay a ribbon along the floor, can they tiptoe along the line, without stepping off? Can they balance on one foot on the line? Can you? If they fall off, get them to start again, they’ll be doing it with ease in no time!
Once they’ve mastered this, can they do the same on a 3D object, such as a length of wood?
An oldie but a goodie! I remember playing this for hours when I was little. Best done barefoot, if possible, and no need for equipment, simply mark out a board with chalk and use a small stone as the marker.
Lay a towel flat on the floor and stand with your toes on one edge, using just your toes, without moving the rest of your feet, claw the towel towards you, so it ends up in a heap at your feet. For bonus points, use your feet to spread it flat again. Who can scrunch it up quickest?
While in the bath, can your little one pick up the flannel with their feet? Or other objects they have in the bath?
Blow bubbles for your little one to pop, but only with their feet. This requires balance, coordination and dexterity. I mean, who doesn’t love popping bubbles!
It may be best to reserve this one for warmer days, when you can head outside!
Spread out a large piece of paper or an old roll of wallpaper, alongside a few plates with small amounts of different colour water-based paint. Encourage them to create footprints across the paper. What pictures can they create with their footprints? Can they draw with their toes? What can you draw with your feet? And what can you create together?
Top tip, have a bowl of water and an old towel on hand, ready for the clean up!
Feel with your feet
There are more nerve endings per square centimetre on the soles of our feet, than anywhere else on our bodies. They are constantly sending sensory data to our brain, informing us about our environment. Walking barefoot across different surfaces and textures will stimulate the different muscles of the feet and help develop these vital neural connections.
Set up a small obstacle course for little bare feet to explore, with different textures, heights and directions. Ask them questions as they go round, what are their feet feeling? How do they know what's under their feet? Hold their hand and walk them round with their eyes closed, how does it feel now?
Encourage your little one to walk barefoot whenever it’s safe and practicable, talk to them about what's around them and ask them what they can feel with their feet.
Tennis ball massage
This one’s for you, particularly if your feet are feeling tired and a bit sore. Simply place a tennis ball (or similar relatively firm ball) under your foot and roll it around, concentrating on the areas where your muscles feel stiff and tight. If there’s a particularly sore spot, don’t press too hard as you may aggravate an injury. The idea is to gently release and relax your muscles. Believe me, it feels unexpectedly good!
Let me know how you get on and please share pictures of your little ones having fun with these activities. Have you any suggestions for fun ways to exercise feet and keep them fit and healthy?