Monday, November 5, 2012

Take Off Your Shoes!

General observations after 8 years of being in the atrium (at all levels), 15 years of being in Montessori classrooms (infant, toddler, primary, elementary, adolescence), and having spent many, many hours in typical public and private school classrooms....

and contemplating Fly Lady's strong recommendation to wear shoes at all times, especially at home.

and contemplating the lives of those families who wear their shoes through their houses, all the time.

Ok, what is really going on? It is actually late Saturday night and I am hearing the seeming STOMPING around of so many people in the next door apartment. Slamming of hard heels against the tile floors in the kitchen and bathroom; then people in the common area of the hall and staircase....


Seriously, folks. It is midnight as I type this. I can't sleep anyway; I'm banking on that extra hour to throw me off enough to wake me up in time in the morning; and I heard stomp-stomp-stomp on the stairs, clack-clack-clack from the tile floor.....

And then images come into my mind of the atrium. I just wrote about the walking on the line posts with one just posted and the second scheduled for Sunday. This post will schedule for Monday.

Here are some observations, in no particular order, regarding shoes in the atrium or not:
  • One atrium assistant I had wore funky socks to make "taking off your shoes fun!" She meant so well, I love her heart! "fun" wasn't the point. And the focus isn't on our socks - it is on our souls. She also brought in some buckets from IKEA for the children to keep their muddy shoes in, so they wouldn't get mud all over the floor. Great idea!  
  • The first Montessori environment I was ever in, I just loved that the kids felt truly "at home" - they were comfortable, relaxed, joyful, learning, and just so.... BALANCED. 
  • When we walk on the line, we even want bare feet. To feel the difference of texture between the tape of the line and the flooring. It is a sensorial experience. Knowledge comes to us through our senses, so every opportunity we have to finetune those senses, the better!
  • Children walking barefoot on the line, will sometimes close their eyes, or wear a blindfold. "I feel it!" the proclaim. "I feel it!" They are SO joyful!
  • This is a special place. Our homes are special places. I do not feel like doing household chores with my shoes on (sorry, Flylady! ain't happening in this household!) - I feel like going for a walk, or leaving. I could probably handle some sort of indoor shoe like in Montessori classrooms - but even then - no - I prefer to FEEL the tile beneath my feet. Then the carpet. If my floor is truly clean, I should WANT to walk on it ;) 
  • Over the years of having daycare in my home, I can tell you that small babies crawling around on the floor do NOT need to be sucking up the leaves that you've tracked in on your shoes. My son's godmother once didn't want to take off her shoes since she would only be there for a minute. Well, in that minute, she tracked mud through the living room and kichen into the bathroom - it's those first few minutes when everything is coming OFF your shoes! Take Off Your Shoes In My House! 
  • God told Moses to remove his shoes because he was on Holy Ground. It was a bush. On a rock in the middle of the desert. Sharp pointy things to hurt his feet, yet he took off his shoes. If we believe that God is with each one of us, and especially so in those who receive communion and are baptized, then should we not take off our shoes in one another's presence. 
  • In the atrium much of our work is on the floor. Dirty floors and heavy shoes and fingers - don't mix very well. 
  • Atriums and classrooms without shoes are more comfortable. They are quieter. They are peaceful - even when abuzz with activity, conversation and good work. It is a productive buzz. The bang-bang-bang of shoes kicking, tapping, walking, stomping..... sigh. It's just not healthy to one's internal peace. 
  • The youngest children NEED that transition time. Remove your coats and hang them up; remove your shoes and place them neatly under the hook with your coat. Pull up your socks, or remove them too. 
  • Stinky feet? Let's go into the bathroom and wash them. Another preparation for coming into the atrium or Montessori classroom. 
  • Some Montessori classrooms (especially in colder climates) will have indoor shoes - slippers of a sort but with a back piece to hold them on properly. These should stay on the feet when wanted, but can be easily slipped in and out for comfort when working or when walking on the line. 
  • Mr. Rogers switched to indoor shoes - but they were slip-ons - appearing to be a natural material to let those feet breathe!
  • Our feet were not meant to be cooped up all day - let those little toes free! 
  • Atriums I have been in that have kept on shoes are atriums with a lot more adult control. I don't think the one thing directly influences the other - but I think they are somehow related. Control. Hm. See below. I've just added a section on adults specifically. 
  • When we take off our shoes, we are more apt to pay attention to what we are walking on or around - we feel the differences in the flooring; we avoid walking on another child's work. Our other senses seem more attuned to our surroundings. We are really in this place, right now. Somehow, keeping our shoes on disconnects us from reality. And it's not just the children! 

For myself, when I take my shoes off, I am saying, "I am here with you, right now. You have my attention and my focus. This is our place, together." 

When I leave on my shoes, or my coat (I have a friend who won't take his coat off in the winter time - I turn my heat way up when I know he's coming ;) ), I am sending the message, "I am ready to run out of here without a second's notice. You do not have my full attention and I refuse to be fully present to the current situation."

How does that build healthy relationships in a world that is already full of some many disconnections? 

(spending time together outside on a cold day, requires coats - I'm not speaking of those times!)

Some interesting notes on the adults:
  • Those adults who cannot or do not remove their shoes for whatever reason what-so-ever (could be health, could be a physical problem, could be frankly that they just don't want to) - these adults seem to have no problem what-so-ever talking ACROSS the room (a large room!?) to another adult, to a child; assistants with their shoes on are less likely to subdue an antsy or talkative child during a full-group presentation (how many times I have had to stop my presentation to a group of 15-20 children to speak to ONE child when the assistant was right there and not picking up on my cues for assistance). 
  • Some adults won't take their shoes off because of a control issue. I used to be one those people - I had little control over my own life for SO long and SO intensely that I would find some excuse to keep my snow-pants on in 3rd grade; to not participate in this group activity in any grade. Not because I wanted to be different - because I had an inner need for control over SOME aspect of my life - I would grasp at straws for it. I TRY so HARD to respect this need in others and to provide another (healthier) outlet for them. But honestly, when it comes to adults, I need to put my foot down. Take off the shoes or learn to control yourself in the atrium, or just stay out. 
  • An adult so uncomfortable in the atrium, finally took her shoes off one day. Suddenly she was on the floor with the children and participating WITH them, praying WITH them - not over them, not to them - she was WITH THEM. The children didn't seem to know at the time what had happened, they only knew that she was a different person. The next week, she came in nervously; and one child said, "Well, get your shoes off so you can come work with us." Did the child know that was the cause or did the child just know this was the tradition in that atrium? 


  1. I am so glad to see this post on removing your shoes for the atrium - that is the way I was trained in both Wisconsin and Iowa. Unfortunately our local parish atrium (of which I am not a part of) does not honor this respectful practice and I find it so lacking in the essence of the "Holy Ground."

  2. Suzanne - I feel your pain!

    I mean, let's just look at the very-very practical:

    the shoes could be tracking ANYTHING in - requiring more cleaning

    and what about working on the floor? Not everything can be adjusted to work on tables, though I have seen atriums do as much as possible on tables - they just don't DO those large works! Which is a terrible result!

    And then you have the littlest ones sitting there playing with laces and velcro and all those gizmos kids have on their shoes.

    Of course, I had to mention to a level THREE child this past Wednesday evening (a child who'd been in the atrium for four years now! This is her fifth year!) to stop pulling on her socks! ;)

    Socked feet are just easier to tuck under one's knees.

    Oh yes - and now winter is coming on - and the kids bring in boots. There is simply no practical place for boots stomping around the atrium!

    Can you tell I feel strongly ;)