The Best Back-to-School Shoes for Kids This Year

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A graphic of a kid wearing barefoot shoes and the text "Anya's Reviews The best back to school shoes for kids"
Find here the best back to school shoes for kids.

With summer coming to a close and back-to-school shopping in full swing, here are my top recommendations for kids and teens of all ages. These are the best back-to-school shoes for kids in 2023!

Ditch The Supportive Shoes This Year

a row of kids barefoot shoes on the floor next to a pair of a child's bare feet

Your kids’ feet are likely already more than capable of supporting them in all of their activities, so this year you may want to rethink the supportive footwear.

Choosing shoes that are flexible, unrestrictive, and lets their feet spread will naturally foster a strong, functional foundation for lifelong foot health. 

Of course this does not apply to all children at all times, but if your child is overall healthy and developing normally barefoot shoes are likely a better option for them! Here are our top picks for all different types of school shoes.

Want to dig deeper? We have written extensively about shoes for kids. Check out why we care so much here.

Best Budget Shoes

a close up of a child wearing splay athletics barefoot shoes for kids in blue

If you’re on a budget, my favorite low-cost barefoot shoes (that come in the full range of sizes from little kid to adult) are:

  • Splay Shoes – Lots of color options and there’s laced, velcro, and slip-on styles. Code ANYASREVIEWS for 10% off
  • Saguaro – Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 15% off. Also available on Amazon for quick shipping.

Most Durable Shoes

A close up of a child wearing the Be Lenka Xplorer kids barefoot shoes on grass which are great for back to school

For the wild child that is really tough on shoes, here’s what has held up for our active kiddos:

  • Be Lenka Xplorer – Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 5% off. These are great for outdoorsy kids and nature school, but also function as an everyday shoe.
  • Zuna Shoes (US only) – these are a sleeper hit. Not as well known but have worked really great for all the kids on our team.

For Sports

  • Vivobarefoot Primus Sport & Trail – Use code VBANYA10 for 10% off. My son uses the Trail for everything, including indoor & outdoor sports. The Sport is better for indoor sports. This is one shoe we re-purchase every year.
  • Xero Prio – Great for court sports!

While these shoes have been the most durable for us, they can get stinky if your kids don’t like socks (and even if they do). I have gotten comfortable with cleaning them regularly

Extra Soft Shoes

two pairs of feet wearing Wilding Nebula soft flexible barefoot shoes for kids who are sensitive

If your kid is sensitive to scratchy materials, seams, or anything too rigid – these pass the sensory test:

  • Wildling Shoes – Mostly everything from Wildling is soft, flexible and unrestrictive but the Nebula especially is a favorite. (I would avoid the Tanuki or models made of Washi paper with texture sensitive kids)
  • Mukishoes – Code ANYAMUKI for 10% off. Another great option for picky kiddos. They prefer the low tops, which have been great.
  • Reima Astelu – these $60 knitted sneakers run on the big side, but they are soft, stretchy, & breathable. The lace can easily be knotted where it fits best, and we just really love them.

I also love these brands for kids who won’t wear socks, because they are extra breathable! Another great trick is to use wool insoles (see below)

Uniform Shoes

Two children shown from the neck down wearing school unforms and black barefoot shoes.

For children with uniform requirements, our top picks are:

Indoor Shoes

If your kids changes into indoor slippers at school or daycare, here are our favorites:

Socks & Insoles

A young kid standing on a textured floor mat wearing Plus 12 striped anatomical socks that don't squish developing feet

I don’t require my kids to wear socks, but sometimes when it’s very cold or their shoes keep getting smelly I encourage them to. Plus12 socks have been our favorites, but my older son is now wearing Creepers Socks and loves them (they absorb sweat like a dream).

Another alternative to socks is wool insoles – they help prevent odor and feel comfy on the skin.

Find more kids sock options here. Use the menu to get to the kids’ section!

Toddler Shoes

A close up of a toddler wearing Softstar Roo moccasins barefoot shoes for indoor daycare

If you’ve got a small child heading to daycare soon, we love the Softstar Roo for this age group – they are completely unstructured, soft, and wide enough for chubby feet while still being protective. You can find more of our recs for this age group here (including winter/rain options)

For Teens & College Students

A pair of legs standing in Bohempia sneakers with 2 pairs of unworn Bohempia sneakers one each side. They all feature a wide toe box and converse and vans look.

The needs of this group will vary greatly depending on the lifestyle and preferences of the individual. But I recommend starting with this list of cool barefoot sneakers! You just might be able to find something appealing to the young fashion-conscious student!

We are passionate about ensuring the future health of our kids’ feet. Thank goodness for shoe options that are practical for school and sports but don’t squish their feet! If you have any lingering questions about how to outfit your kids this year, had to our dedicated Kids Barefoot Shoe database! You’ll find even more options around the world, in different price ranges, and for different seasons.

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11 thoughts on “The Best Back-to-School Shoes for Kids This Year”

  1. This is such a great list! Does the Vivo Primus hold up in fall and spring cooler temperatures? Or would the Be Lenka Xplorer work better for those cooler temps?

    1. The Xplorer is a thicker material that seems like it would be better suited for fall/winter (the Primus has some mesh/holey material). But my son has worn his Primus through fall and winter for several years. Of course in our climate we change into boots for recess and walking home, because it’s so cold and snowy. So that makes it more feasible to wear sneakers year round indoors.

      1. I’m always a bit disappointed in your “budget” lists for kids. My son LOVES the Jan & Jul slip on knit shoes & I love the price. We found them from a review on this site, and I’ve seen 1-off reviews of kid shoes at a similar price point. So I’m confused on why more actually affordable shoes are continuously left off compilation lists, when this site knows they exist…

        1. I’m always putting as my TOP recommendations the shoes that meet all healthy feet criteria. So when it comes to budget options that IMO are unequivocally good for feet the options are more limited. Jan & Jul has some caveats and for me aren’t the best you can get for the price. But if you found Jan & Jul from my site and love them I am so glad! That’s why I review all the options.

  2. Just wondering… do any of your kids get comments from their peers, negative or positive? Especially from older/ middle school aged, since thats when these types of things start to matter with young folks. How do you handle it?
    This is great! This is when their feet are developing. This should keep feets nice and strong. And, hopefully, help others see the light.

    1. Hi Mark! We haven’t had any of that yet but I would expect that if they were wearing the more subtle mainstream looking barefoot shoe options other kids wouldn’t even notice. But I guess we’ll just have to see! My oldest is 10 and he is one of those kids who just doesn’t care and is therefore hard to pick on, haha. But I fully expect my younger son, who does care, to not want to wear barefoot shoes at some point. we’ve already had some trouble finding ones he likes. I think as parents there is only so much you can do and it’s better in the long run to give them some autonomy than to force them into a lifestyle they don’t want. There are so many ways to meet in the middle. Maybe they can have some healthier pairs of shoes for certain activities and then others that are their choice for when they need to fit in (don’t we all need to fit in to some extent?).

  3. Hi, thank you for your recommendations. Am looking for a pair of all-white barefoot shoes for my 7-year old for school, as that’s the requirement in this part of the world. Would you know which brands carry that?

  4. This is an amazing resource, Anya! I’ve brainwashed my kids to be shoe-conscious ALMOST to a fault, and this will help me explore new options as their preferences evolve.

  5. My 4 yr old daughter has very narrow feet. Vivo Gaia tends to be the best. It leaves the least amount of gap around her heel and ankle. She also wears Groundies Universe, but there’s a big bigger gap with those. Are there other shoes you recommend for children with very narrow feet?

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Picture of Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

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