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Parents have expressed anger at a 'condescending' and ‘cheeky’ letter written by a nursery which says children can only wear Start Rite or Clarks shoes to nursery.
Sparkly shoes ‘don’t support a child’s growing feet’
The letter sent to parents, by an unnamed nursery, has sparked outrage amongst families and early years practitioners, after one shocked mother posted details of the shoe rule on the parenting website Mumsnet.
Posting under the name ‘MiaowTheCat’ on 11 January, the mum told other parents: ‘Have had a letter from DC's nursery telling parents we shouldn't be buying any shoes for our children unless they are Start Rite or Clarks.’
She said: ‘The tone of the message is very condescending’ and added the letter stated: ‘Sparkly shoes may look pretty but they don't support a child's growing feet properly’ and ‘if you don't have your children's feet properly measured at a shoe shop you will cause them issues later in life’.
The mother was not alone in calling the shoe rule a needless expense and highlighted that shoes at the two retailers can cost more than those bought at other suppliers.
She added: ‘I've just checked the Start Rite website and shoes in my four-year-old's size are £50+. That's probably £150 a year in shoes at the rate they grow.
‘Last time they were measured in John Lewis and I bought Nike trainers in the appropriate size for about £25. £30 less than Start Rite ones.’
In response to her post, one parent said: ‘My children have never had Clarks or Start Rite shoes, as long as you check they fit well it's fine. I think that is really wrong of the nursery!’
Another parent said: ‘Unless they are subsidising then it’s very cheeky! My kids were always measured at Clark, John Lewis and we bought the Clarks/ Start Rite shoes etc. But we also bought cheaper shoes and supermarket trainers for nursery and scruffing about in!’.
Referring to the nursery’s obligations, another parent said it was: ‘None of their business. My friend’s daughter had such wide feet those brands wouldn’t fit. They can ask for weather/activity appropriate shoes, but it’s your call.’
However, others stood up for the nursery. One posted in defence of the letter: ‘I suppose the nursery had some kids coming in wearing shoes that hurt/cut their feet or that they were slipping around in.’
Nursery boss: ‘Insensitive’ to ask parents to buy particular brands
June O’Sullivan, chief executive at The London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which runs 38 nurseries across London, told daynurseries.co.uk: “Why add another layer of guilt on parents about their children’s shoes?
“In the core of every parent is a rod of guilt. They feel they are not doing enough, not feeding them right, not spending enough time with them and shouldn’t leave them at nursery in the first place.
“Parents are bombarded with brand marketing. We have parents from too many mixed social backgrounds and cannot say to them they must buy a particular brand like Clarks. They just wouldn’t be able to afford it. I think it’s insensitive to ask them to.”
Shoes fit for a Princess
When it comes to footwear, on 8 January all eyes were on Princess Charlotte on her first day at nursery, as she stepped out in shoes sold by Spanish brand Dona Carmen. Her shoes were priced at just under £30.
Ms O’Sullivan recommends nursery staff have a casual conversation with parents about what makes a good shoe for children whose feet are developing. But she warns: "To narrow it down to a brand ‘closes down’ what could be an interesting conversation about helping children develop walking with good support, because parents then feel under attack.”
She says if there's a dominant two-year-old who wants to wear pink party shoes and Mum is in a rush, then “let them wear it” because it is staff who can subtly try to coax the child into trying something else.
“A parent might say to staff ‘she won’t wear anything except her party shoes’. A member of staff could ask the parent why they are concerned. They might suggest: ‘Do you mind if we give her some bare feet time?’ to get her feet to develop with balance.”
Jo Baranek, lead early years adviser for National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) also says: “We would not recommend that nurseries dictate what parents should spend on footwear or where they buy them.
“However, nurseries may consider advising parents on the benefits of different makes of shoes (for examples the more expensive ones may last longer than cheaper ones) if parents ask for their support. We do appreciate that shoes are expensive, so it is important to take a balanced approach and use sensitivity when broaching this subject.”
Top shoe tips that let children run and jump
But when it comes the question of what kind of shoes are best, LEYF's chief executive says any shoe that offers good ventilation, can be securely fastened and have room around the toes is a good choice. In particular, she is a fan of any shoes that let the child run, jump and climb in comfort.
She says children shouldn’t wear shoes that are too narrow for their feet, have big heels, slippery soles or are hard to put on and get off. While shoes with a velcro fastening can be discussed, she says staff members can suggest laces for four-year-olds who are getting ready to start school.
The NDNA recommends parents get their child’s feet regularly measured and never to guess their size, as this can change very quickly. Parents should always make sure their children have shoes which fit properly, ideally by a trained fitter.
Wellies are also suggested for outdoor, muddy play but should fit with both a warm, thick sock and not be too big when worn with thin socks.
Many early years practitioners and parents also agree that sometimes the best thing for growing children to walk in is their own bare feet.
Ms Baranek adds: “It is important that children, especially toddlers, spend some time bare foot during the day because this supports their balance and muscle development and helps them feel the floor under their feet better when learning to walk.”