Let us start with a clear disclaimer: nobody knows why this works, although there are many hypothesies. On the other hand it does work astonishingly well: better learning, better behaviour and more (see below). So what do we know about shoeless learning today?
It probably started on mass in Scandinavia where many children learn with their shoes off. The weather - snow, ice, slush - led them to need outdoor shoes and boots for walking to and from home and these got left at the school door on arrival; hence their initial foray into shoelessness. Today, in very many schools worldwide, across all age ranges, shoeless learning has taken off, despite what is usually initial scepticism ("you asked them to do what?"!). Let us explore why...
So many schools are trying it - they confirm a complex mix of significant gains:
So this adds up to better learning, better bahaviour, less stress for everyone, cheaper maintenance, better engagement... what's not to like?
WHY DOES IT WORK?
curiusly, every culture has their own explanation of why this works. The truth may be a little of everyone's theories...
in China they speak of the reflexology of the foot directly onto the floor;
in India they speak of the "respect" - you take shoes of when entering a sacred space;
in England we think it is "more like home" (although in Spain people often wear shoes in the house and yet shoeless learning works there too);
the children always just say "oh thank goodness" when they hear their learning is becoming shoeless - smart schools use it as a way to catalyse a conversation about better learning - and that meta cognition may well be a key propellant of success;
my own theory (offered more than slightly tongue in cheek!) - is one that remains untested: perhaps somehow boys testosterone is stored in their shoes - so when they take them off, they seem to be all round nicer, gently, quieter (!!);
teachers must be shoes-off too - I was in a school recently where the children would simply not acknlowledge an adult who entered 'their" space in shoes (and quite right too);
please note also that children's shoeless feet do not smell - it is the shoes that make them smelly!
HOW IS IT IMPLEMENTED?
for such a simple idea there are some very specific details to apply before implementation:
shoeless applies to everyone - teachers, headteachers, guests, caretakers, everyone - the cleaner floors that children like so much won't happen otherwise;
don't do it to the kids, do it with them; the gains are in engagement, meta-cognition, reflective learner practice, etc etc
you need to give notice - children need to know their wholly socks will not be exposed to mockery from their peers. Shoeless will start on <date> and clean the floors on the weekend before;
you need a "place" for the shoes - a strip of floor, an old rack from the library, some way that shoes do not heap on top of each other
you will need to give guests notice that you operate a shoes-off policy - nothing more embarssing that a VIP visitor with a hole in their socks...
a few schools go to a half way" position of black plimsols but really this is just an uneccesary expense and complication - they get muddled and they are not needed
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS?
short teachers who have been a bit "stacked" by their heels come back down to earth.
in heavy machinery workshop areas there may be a safety issue - but not in the usual school workshops - children do not normally wear steel toecap shoes anyway
theft is not reported by anyone so far as a problem
if you have shoeless learning then toilets, especially with boys, can need a little ingenuity. Jesmond Gardens primary school simply parks a pair of Crocs outside each cubicle that children are quite happy to slip on, if needed by a damp floor.
if you are in outdoor buildings you need to put shoes on to move between buildings - noone seems to report this as a problem, it is just worth mentioning becuase you need multiple places to park shoes.
lots of images of shoelessness...
secondary boys at Lampton School, Hounslow, London
shoeless children of all ages on the TK park learning centre in Bangkok
children in Hartlepool's Jesmond Gardens Primary School - wear and tear on furnishings, especially soft furnishings, is a lot less and children are happy to use the floor as a learning space
children of secondary age using the tiered seating (from the Isis furniture calalogue) in their classroom in London
Also in Tk Park - the shoes are exchanged for simple floor cushions in these racks that have been copied by many
In Denmark the children also very much like their shoeless school - this one is an all-through school
In Tasmania old library racks and sheleves are reused outside (but under cover) as the shoe storage solution
Secondary age again in this image - depending on uniform socks may be varied or standard - this school student is in Scandinavia.
just a strip of plastic floor to sore a huge number of shoes and boots - this in Norway's Tromso - but note the lack of carpets and children are still delighted to sit shoeless on the floor
Professor Stephen Heppell 2011
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