Everyday Adventures Hiking Nature & Wildlife

Can flip flops cure nature deficit disorder?

Written by Kirstie Pelling

Can flip flops cure nature deficit disorder?

As the Easter holidays begin the newspapers are full of stories about nature deficit disorder, yet rather then getting out, active and back to nature I’m traipsing an argumentative trio  around a shoe shop! Yet in this soleful scene we’re pleased to find hope and inspiration..

Will you just STOP arguing?

“Look mum, look at my butterfly wings,” says Hannah, flapping her cardigan.

“You’re not a butterfly, you’re a slug.” says Cameron.

It’s the first day of the school holidays and we are in Kendal, looking for shoes. I’d forgotten it takes two days of holiday time for the kids to settle down and stop snapping and griping at each other. I’d also forgotten I hate shoe shopping.

“Can I put these shoes in the bin?” asks Matthew, pulling flapping sole from frayed shoe.

“Not until we find you a new pair.”

“Sluggy sister!” shouts Cameron.

“But they’re mashed.”

I ask him if he plans to wander around the shopping centre in bare feet? But then, I know they would if I gave them the chance. These are kids who like to feel the earth under their feet and the grass between their toes. Matthew used to chuck his shoes out of the buggy when he was a toddler, and eight years ago when cycling New Zealand, Cameron left his only shoes on a playground before we cycled off into the distance.

Our kids have never particularly ‘liked’ shoes…

Are you a shoes on or a shoes off person?

We mentioned this in passing at the time to Ruth Shaw who ran an ecology holiday company on South Island. She reckoned the world was divided into two camps –‘shoes on’ and ‘shoes off’ people.

“The families we’ve had on board, the type that take their children around the world, they just have a totally different attitude to life.” she explained. “My own daughter in law, there is no way she’d have done that with my grandchildren, much as I’d have liked her to, there is no way. She lives in Wellington and they wear shoes all the time.”

Ruth told us helping ‘shoes on’ families get their shoes off was a challenging business, “The parents haven’t walked in the grass with bare feet so why would their children? We need to encourage these parents to get their children and themselves back to nature.”

The UK’s National Trust is thinking along the same lines. A few days ago they raised alarm bells others have been pealing for a while, warning that our children are losing contact with nature at a dramatic rate. They’ve published their concerns in a new report that blames traffic, the lure of screens and parental anxiety (yes it’s that cotton wool parenting raising its ugly head again) for conspiring to keep children indoors.

The trust is launching a consultation on tackling “nature deficit disorder,” arguing that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world hinders their ability to learn through experience. It also has evidence that children themselves believe their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors than owning technology.

“Can I have that?” Hannah points to a Peppa Pig DS Game.


“That then?”


“What about these? asks Matt.

These are for real…. check out Kusashoes.com Image: Shane Talbot

I’m about to say no, but then I catch sight of what he’s pointing it. In the shop window of Kendal’s Chic Boutique shop sits a pair of grass covered flip flops.

Look at those beauties! We all stop and worship.

“Can I have them?” we all say in unison.

Could flip flops be part of the ‘cure’?

Now, with these nature themed accessories, even the ‘shoes on’ people amongst us can try being ‘shoes off.’ They shall feel the grass under their feet, even in the city. They shall be cooler. They shall perhaps feel tempted to try the real thing. They shall stamp out nature deficit disorder with one grassy foot. They shall be happier and healthier and definitely greener. What if every adult and child was given a pair on the National Health system? Or perhaps this should be the all new National Trust system. For goodness sake, they don’t even need mowing!

I’m starting a campaign. FREE Flip flops for all. Anyone want to sponsor it?

I just know it’ll be a global success.

Flip flops cure nature deficit disorder

Kusashoes.com Image: Shane Talbot


Do you believe in nature deficit disorder? What ideas do you have for a ‘cure’?


About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Well said and a very valid point – we need to take our shoes off more often. My youngest would live his entire life without shoes. We are not sure how he will do when we return to the states in a few weeks – we have to actually go and buy some (mostly because it will still be chilly). My oldest and myself are right behind him. An idea I read about was giving kids an area of free reign outside – a space that we know is safe but they are free to explore. Kids use to run wild all the time and that is not so anymore – they need to the freedom to explore. Thank you for the great posts.

  • Another enjoyable blog post, thank you. Our daughters (12&13) have always run around outside in bare feet, plus riding bikes, climbing trees and so on. They enjoy the carefree approach to life and I’m sure they’d love those grassy flip flops!

    This reminded my of a book I recently read called ‘Earthing’ as a review for a fellow blogger. The book comments on us wearing rubber soled shoes and living in houses which are insulated from the Earth which in turn is like a gigantic battery which we should be in touch with. The authors advocate walking around without shoes and sleeping in beds that are grounded in some way. Apparently, it improves healing and various medical conditions.

    I’ve not tried it myself (I don’t have any reason to) but I can see the logic and sheer joy of going bare foot. But then, you’d miss all those comical shopping trips!

  • On Easter Sunday morning, I stood in the grass outside my parents’ house, shoes off, at 5°C. It was a treat, the first time of the year to feel the grass between my toes – I admit, just for a couple of minutes, before I retreated to the warmth of the living room.

    When I was a kid, I was not allowed to walk barefoot in the streets, I was told in the city, there could be broken glass everywhere, and I admit it is true and I admit I tell my kids the same thing. But when summer holidays started, and we went out sailing, staying in small seaports, the first thing that went were my shoes. I remember walking, or rather jumping parking lots in sizzling asphalt – hothothot! – or gravel roads no less pointy than the threatening glass, the shells on the beach. I remember how my feet were sore the first days of holiday, and how firmly I walked a couple weeks later, soles covered in horny skin. A childhood memory lost.

    Thankfully, today there are Teva sandals, we all wear them almost two third of the year, and get back at least part of the real thing.

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