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Finding the Perfect Fit: Toddler Shoes Recommended by a PT

Apr 16th, 2024 | by Camden M. Selby, PT, DPT

Camden M. Selby, PT, DPT

April 16th, 2024

A Pediatric PT’s Guide to Toddler Shoes

Picking out shoes for toddlers can be overwhelming. There are countless brands and styles to choose from. How do you find a toddler shoe that will meet your child’s needs as they explore the world around them? As a pediatric physical therapist, I’m here to share a few key features that make shoes good options for babies learning to walk, toddlers, or new walkers at any age. As a bonus, I’ve also included some therapist-approved toddler shoe recommendations. Let’s jump right in!

What Are the Most Important Features to Look for in Toddler Shoes?

1. Wide Toe Box

One of the most important things to look for is a wide toe box to allow for small feet to expand when bearing weight through the forefoot.

2. Stable Heel Cup

Another feature to look for is a stable heel cup to prevent slipping and promote optimal fit.

3. Flexible Forefront

Finally, a flexible forefoot promotes natural gait mechanics and muscle activation.

Choosing the Best Toddler Tennis Shoes and Walking Shoes for Babies

As children grow, their gait matures, and the needs of footwear change. The brain receives a lot of information from the foot: sensory, proprioceptive, and tactile information is all passed from the foot up to the brain to interpret what we are feeling and where our feet are in space. The foot contains a lot of small muscles that need to “work-out”, just like our abs and other large muscle groups. A shoe that is too rigid or stiff may restrict muscle activation or flexibility in the joints of the foot. Ligaments and muscles in the foot respond to loading and challenge, so it’s important to find a balance of support and flexibility.

A shoe that is too rigid or stiff may restrict muscle activation or flexibility in the joints of the foot.

An ideal shoe will be flexible enough to load the soft tissue in the foot, allowing it to strengthen, but supportive enough to promote optimal alignment. If a child’s foot does not sit securely in the heel cup, the length of the muscles of their legs and feet may be affected. We want the ankle and small joints of the foot to be as neutral as possible when learning to walk so that the muscles of the calf are at their most powerful.

Things to Consider When Deciding Between Sandals vs. Tennis Shoes

There are special factors to consider with some kiddos. For example, if socks are a sensory challenge for your child, a sandal may be preferable to a sneaker style. Sandal styles allow for increased sensory feedback to your child’s foot and allow opportunities to observe or correct toe curling. Some kiddos with lower muscle tone may benefit from a shoe with a higher ankle with additional support to promote alignment.

Best Shoes for Toddlers and Babies Learning to Walk

This is a short list of some of the most popular options I see in our clinic and recommend to families when searching for the best shoes for babies learning to walk, toddlers. or new walkers of any age. Let’s face it, appearance is also a consideration when finding the best shoes for toddlers. Thankfully, these toddler shoe recommendations offer a variety of styles to allow for proper footwear that is appropriate for different occasions.

5 Pediatric Physical Therapist-Approved Shoes

1. See Kai Run®

  • The First-Walker’s style is a popular option for toddlers
  • Available in sizes 3-6
  • Solid option for those just starting to walk on their own.
  • Adaptive styles accommodate orthotics with features such as customisable straps, a wide opening, removable insoles, and sensory-friendly materials.

2. Stride Rite®

  • Stride Rite has a variety of styles, including: sneakers, sandals, adaptive, and classics
  • Adaptive styles have an extra wide toe box, removable insoles, and customisable straps
  • Soles are flexible and rounded
  • Sizes 2-10, vary by style

3. Nike® Revolutions

  • Cushioned for comfort
  • Elastic laces
  • Lightweight for on-the-go kiddos
  • Sizes 2-7

4. Nike® High Tops

  • Variety of styles
  • High top leather uppers are more supportive at the ankle joint
  • Sizes 2 and up

5. New Balance® NewB and 574-B

These two New Balance models offer specific features for toddlers and early walking

  • Wide toe box and instep support
  • Sizes 2-10

Bonus: Specialised Toddler Shoes for Orthopedic Concerns

If there are specific orthopedic concerns for your toddler, I would recommend looking into specialty shoes for pediatrics.

6. Memo Shoes®

One shoe I use daily in the clinic is the Memo. It is an orthopedic shoe that is available in toddler sizes. They use their own sizing system, so I recommend talking to your physiotherapist about sizing options. One reason I reach for Memo’s with a lot of my kids is that they are intended for children taking their first steps. They offer ankle support with flexible adjustable straps. Most of the memo’s in our clinic are the sandal style, which allows for increased tactile information through the sole of the foot. Memo’s are also compatible with inserts to help correct or prevent certain orthopedic concerns, which are collectively called the Memo system. Memo’s also have specific zones on the soles that allow for more information about your child’s gait based on wear/abrasion on specific parts of the sole.


Another option in the orthopedic realm is the PIEDRO. These shoes are going to be a little more uniform in style options. However, they offer a range of different support types so you can choose the most appropriate choice for your toddler. They also offer styles that are compatible with orthoses. They are available as small as EU size 24. Their styles can be categorised based on the goal of the shoe, whether that be promoting stability, or accommodating orthotic braces. Their stability styles contain extra support of the ankle joint to promote what is called “anatomical position” or neutral alignment.

In Conclusion

I hope these options serve as a springboard for ideas when you are trying to select new shoes for your toddler or new walker. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the options. If you have any questions when you are selecting new shoes, ask your friendly local NAPA therapist! We will gladly help guide your decision-making and provide opinions on what shoes will be the best option for you and your kiddo!

About the Author

Camden is a pediatric physical thearpist at NAPA Center LA. Camden was born and raised in a small town in Pennsylvania and moved to Los Angeles to be a part of the NAPA family. Camden has a 1-year-old mini-golden doodle named Koda and enjoys hiking, reading, and theme parks.

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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