ea07a0f 1717509961681 darons nz

For hundreds of thousands of years, mankind walked barefoot. For the last few centuries, we have been wearing shoes, which have the advantage of protecting us from rough floors, but also considerably complicate the task of parenting. “Put on your shoes,” is without a doubt one of the most repeated phrases by parents all over the world, often in vain, especially when late for school. All over the world? Not exactly. One nation of die-hard Kiwis still resists the mandatory wearing of shoes.

“In New Zealand, from an early age, children are encouraged to walk barefoot in parks, at the beach, in yards as well as indoors,” said Julie Llorca, mother of a 5-year-old and vice principal at Tawatawa-Ridgway Primary School in Wellington, the capital. “At school, children arrive with shoes on, but it’s not uncommon to see some come in without, with their sneakers in their bags. Students can take them off in the classroom, to go to recess, to play football and rugby or even for sports lessons.” It should be pointed out that this is not a private school with alternative methods, but a classic public school.

According to a 2018 study by the UK’s Leeds Beckett University in Auckland, 45% of secondary school students spend “most of their time barefoot.” In this country with a high standard of living, the absence of shoes is not considered a marker of poverty, but a local specificity.

‘Barefoot for six months of the year’

“Walking barefoot comes from the relaxed culture of New Zealand. It’s also a way of connecting with Maori culture, for whom the direct link between the body and nature is important,” said Llorca. “We encourage children to play outdoors as much as possible,” said Dushka More, project manager in Lower Hutt (a small town north of Wellington) and mother of two daughters aged 11 and 12. “We’re confident because New Zealand is a safe country. If they jump in puddles, come back wet and muddy, it’s not a problem for most parents. And here, there are no deadly snakes like in Australia. Barefoot children are happy children.”

For Maoris and Pakehas (New Zealanders of European descent) alike, being barefoot is practiced in nice weather, but also when temperatures drop. “Some children are barefoot for six months of the year,” said Richard Clarke, an executive and father of two teenagers. We witnessed this no-shoes attitude in town, on a rainy 10°C weather. British stoicism in the face of the weather meets Maori recklessness to produce a population turned toward the great outdoors, where hiking is the national hobby and the spirit of adventure is not an empty word – Everest was conquered by Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who, admittedly, was wearing shoes that day.

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