Education researchers say there’s a simple way to improve classroom behavior, student performance, and save money to boot – encourage kids to remove their shoes.
In a 10-year study of children from 25 countries, researchers at the University of Bournemouth in England concluded that kids in “shoeless classrooms” arrived at school earlier, left later, and read more while there.
Researchers also found these classrooms tended to be calmer and quieter, and student behavior generally improved. As study author Stephen Heppell notes on his blog, “nobody knows why this works, although there are many hypotheses. On the other hand, it does work astonishingly well.”
Shoeless classrooms have started to take off in the United Kingdom and other European countries, but the idea appears to be uncommon in Arizona.
Soma Mandal, a teacher at Cave Creek Montessori, was unaware of the new research but said she has been encouraging her students to remove their shoes for the last 15 years.
“Coming from Indian culture, we have the culture of taking our shoes outside,” she said. “And then taking the Montessori training, the sensorial part of the training is so important.”
Private schools that teach the Montessori Method stress the importance of sensory-motor activities for a child’s development, and school administrator Kathy Catalo said the findings reinforce her long-held beliefs.
“It's very soothing to feel that ground – to feel it's cold, it's warm. You feel comfortable. You don't feel constricted the way you would with your shoes. It makes you feel like you're at home and really that's the bottom line,” she said.
That “at home” feeling is one of the main reasons the English researchers believe shoeless learning works. Heppell writes that in a shoeless classroom, students are more willing to sit on floors and soft furnishings – environments that are more similar to the way they typically read at home.
Heppell also points to a 2013 study that found ditching shoes cut classroom cleaning costs by an average of 27.5 percent.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education said he was not aware of any statewide restrictions or regulations that might preclude public schools from experimenting with shoeless classrooms. Stefan Swiat said the decision to go shoeless would rest with individual school districts and school boards.
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