Let’s learn the “anatomy” of a sneaker!
We all know that the sole refers to the part of a shoe that runs from heel to toe. But did you know that the sole has three different parts?
First, we have the insole. As you may have guessed, it’s the area inside the shoe that runs the length from heel to toe. The insole is important because it is the part of the shoe that provides cushioning for your foot. High quality insoles are made of a compressible foam that slowly molds itself to the shape of your child’s foot. Some shoes have removable soles that can be cleaned, aired out, or replaced with special inserts. Sometimes the insole is also called the “footbed”.
Next, we have the outsole, the bottom part of the shoe that is in direct contact with the ground. Because kids do a lot of running and climbing when they are wearing sneakers, a good outsole will provide non-slip traction with plenty of grooves in the tread. It will also be made of materials that won’t leave marks if your child is playing indoors.
Don’t forget the ever-important midsole! This is the layer between the insole and outsole that provides the support and cushioning that developing feet need. Think of the midsole as the “shock absorber” of the shoe. Most shoes use EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam or PU (polyurethane) in the midsole, although some companies have created their own cushioning systems that contain air, foam, or gel.
The next part of the shoe is the toebox, which is the front part of the shoe where the balls of the feet and the toes are. The most important thing about the toebox is its size; it should be big enough to provide wiggling room, and wide enough not to squish toes together.
On the other end of the shoe is the heel counter, a term you can remember by saying to yourself, “heels count”. The heel counter is a stiff material that wraps around the back of the heel to help stabilize your child’s foot, aid in motion control, as well as help retain the shape of the shoe. It should be snug and comfortable (too loose a fit could result in blisters on your child’s heels). If you need extra stability, look for a stiffer heel counter or for an external one that wraps around the heel of the shoe.
The upper is the material that holds all the other parts together – the part that encloses the foot in the shoe. The sides of the shoe are called “quarters” and the top of the shoe is called the “vamp”. People refer to the upper when they are talking about a shoe’s appearance, such as color, fabric, and any embellishments like flashing lights. A good upper is made of materials that allow ventilation and help stabilize the foot.
The vamp is part of a shoe’s upper that is located on top of the foot where you find the laces or velcro straps. After you’ve found the correct shoe size and width for your child, the vamp is the third thing that determines how well the shoe will fit. After securing her foot in the shoe, can she move around comfortably? If her feet start to feel numb, the laces may be too tight or the vamp may not provide enough room for her arch. And if her feet slide around, the laces may be poorly placed.
The tongue is a strip of material sewn into the vamp that rests between the foot and the shoelaces or straps. Its purpose is to protect the foot from pressure of the shoelaces.
Now let’s try them on!
Even when buying online, you should make sure the shoes fit properly before deciding to keep them:
- Use the same type of socks to try on the shoes that will be worn with the shoes.
- Make sure there is enough wiggle room in the toebox. There should be ¼” between the longest toe (not necessarily the “big” toe) and the end of the shoe. A quarter of an inch is about the width of your finger. Check this while your child is standing, when the foot is at its longest.
- While standing, also check the heel counter to make sure your child’s heel isn’t sliding around. The heel counter itself should be rigid enough to provide stability.
- Have your child try on the shoes in the afternoon or evening when they are their largest (feet swell up to one size larger throughout the day).
- Finally, have your child walk, run, and jump in the shoes. They should be comfortable right away and not need to be "broken in." Here’s a little known secret: shoes that need to be broken in are actually making the opposite happen – it’s the foot that gets broken in, by getting blisters that eventually turn into calluses.
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