Cheap Kids' Shoes

Price Range

$9 - $40


$40 - $60


$60 and up

High End

Toward the end of summer, parents take heart. The small feet trampling the lawn and tracking dirt across the floors will soon be racing down hallways and sprinting across playgrounds. It's back-to-school shopping season, and cheap kids' shoes are probably high on the list. Podiatrists warn that expensive, brand-name shoes aren't necessarily the best kids' shoes, although the cheapest shoes aren't always worthwhile, either. Good Housekeeping reports that the quality of construction in low-end sneakers doesn't measure up. Still, there are options.

Cheap Kids' Shoes Buying Guide

Bear in mind that sometimes cheap kids' shoes are too cheap. Experts caution that shoddy shoes can cost you more in the long run in the form of high medical expenses. A durable, stable shoe will keep kids safer and promote healthy foot development. At WebMD a podiatrist recommends sneakers or oxford-style shoes that offer flexibility in the toe and provide support in the heel region. Cheap children's shoes made of leather or other natural materials are preferable to synthetics. Going natural, so to speak, lets feet breathe and helps eliminate the risk of bacterial infections.

Ill-fitting footwear can lead to problems like ingrown toenails. Cheap children's shoes that are too narrow or too wide in the toe box are often the culprit. Experts caution that kids with incorrectly-sized shoes are at higher risk for foot and ankle injuries and may be less likely to participate in sports and physical activity.

Cheap kids' shoes that fit well should have a space of approximately half a centimeter, or a thumb's tip, between the front of the shoe and the toe. Toes should have enough room to wiggle, and the toe box should be wide enough that the toes aren't pushed together. To ensure correct sizing, doctors say to buy for the child's larger foot and have the child try on the shoes with the type of socks or tights he or she usually wears.

When you find a pair of cheap kids' shoes that fit well and also satisfy the child's fashion sense, take two (in different colors or with slightly different markings) or pick an additional style that meets these criteria. Doctors recommend having two pairs of everyday shoes per child so each can be worn on alternate days. This tactic extends the life of cheap children's shoes by minimizing wear and tear and also reduces foot odor by allowing shoes to dry out completely.

Because shoes, over time, mold to the wearer's foot, the American Podiatric Medical Association strongly advises that you steer clear of second-hand footwear. Another potential peril to buying (or accepting gifts of) used children's shoes is the transfer of bacteria the previous wearer may have bred. If you do take pre-owned shoes, use common sense. Opt for footwear that's been lightly used and retains its original support structure. Another good rule of thumb -- accept hand-me-downs only from friends and family you know well because you're more likely to know if foot fungi might be lurking inside.

Kids' Shoes Reviews

We pored over kids' shoe reviews to find several pairs that are school-worthy and easy on your wallet.

Short-Term Solutions.

Given growth spurts and family budget constraints, sometimes a child just needs a pair of shoes that will get him or her through the month. If you're looking for best kids' shoes for the short-term, kids' shoe reviews at Walmart point out the virtues, and a few flaws, of the Danskin Now Lara Sneaker for girls (starting at $9). Kids' shoe reviews say the shoe is cute and comfortable, boasts good fit accuracy, and is well worth its price. This shoe also earns a demerit for durability, with some posts grumbling about rubber that quickly detaches from the toe area and plastic components that don't allow for air circulation.

For boys, immediate needs can be met with the Starter Felix Sneaker (starting at $9). Kids' shoe reviews at Walmart are big on this model, deeming it a good value that fits well and boasts styling that seems to make kids happy. On the down side, some posts about this shoe question the durability and say the laces are way too long.

Best Overall Shoes.

Stepping up the price ladder gets us to kids' shoes that should have a life beyond one short season. Experts and users alike praise New Balance footwear for comfortable fit and attractive styling. One shoe worth checking out, according to kids' shoe reviews at Zappos and Kohl's, is the New Balance 633 (starting at $33), an updated version of Good Housekeeping's top-rated back-to-school shoe from 2009 that wowed the expert testers with its performance and support, while kids gave it above-average marks for appearance. Parents say the current 633 model, which comes in toddler and youth sizes for girls and boys, also looks stylish, suits even hard-to-fit feet (try on before buying, one reviewer suggests), suffices for walking and playtime, and is well made.

Another shoe from New Balance, the 553 (starting at $25), is available in a variety of colors and styles for boys and girls and in medium and wide widths. This shoe sparkles in kids' shoe reviews. At Sears, for example, one parent reports that it holds up to the demands of two boys who run track and another lauds the shoe's roominess and light weight. Indeed, numerous kids' shoe reviews comment appreciatively on the width of the New Balance 553, with posts at Famous Footwear extolling the fit for wide feet, which nips in the bud any grousing that the shoes are too tight. Parents and kids also like the aesthetic (trendy but goes with everything), the mesh uppers that let the shoe breathe, and the support and flexibility.

The retro (some say classic) styling, durability, and comfortable fit of the Adidas Superstar 2 (starting at $35) vault it into best kids' shoes territory. Reviews at Buzzillions assert that it easily stands up to kid-style abuse, and at Zappos, kids' shoe reviews say the Superstar 2 nicely accommodates youngsters with slightly wide feet. Parents also say the shoe is suitable for many occasions and the leather uppers are easy to clean. The Adidas Superstar 2 comes in boys' and girls' styles and a variety of colors, including uniform-appropriate black and white.

Best Uniform Shoes.

Speaking of uniforms, we found two affordable styles that should have no difficulty meeting dress code guidelines. Keds School Days II Girls' Leather Saddle Shoes (starting at $30) fit the bill as an affordable and practical uniform shoe. Kids' shoe reviews at Buzzillions and JC Penney say this shoe stands out for its solid construction, generous cushioning, and ease of cleaning. It's a modern take on a traditional look with a stretched leather upper that attracts compliments for the styling.

Boys in need of a uniform shoe might go for the Timberland Carlsbad Oxford Shoe (starting at $30), which comes in black and brown and is offered in slip-on and lace-up styles. The former is praised in kids' shoe reviews at Amazon for its comfort, rugged durability, and looks, which can be dressed up or down as the occasion demands. The lace-up version is lauded as one of the best kids' shoes at Zappos for being true to size (length and width). Many posts also say it provides decent arch support.

All-Time Favorites.

We like the low-rise Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Core Ox (starting at $32) as a time-tested favorite that appeals to image-conscious boys and girls and their thrifty parents. The shoe comes in a wide array of colors and patterns; kids' shoe reviews at Zappos and Shoe Buy indicate that some youngsters own multiple pairs for mixing and matching with various outfits. Parents write that kids love these sneakers for their trendiness but also say they're relatively comfortable, durable (rubber tip at the front is a big help), and allow feet to breathe. Detractors note that the canvas stains easily and there's only minimal arch support, making the Core Ox better for scuffing around -- or even dress-up occasions -- than for gym class. While true to width, it runs big and kids' shoe reviews advise ordering at least one half size down from normal shoe size.

Schoolyard Misstep.

And finally we get to Crocs. There's no denying that the Crocs craze has yet to flame out. These cute, foam resin slip-ons, in their rainbow of color options, have lots going for them. Podiatrists like them as summer-wear for their support and protection compared to flip flops and sandals. And they're well ventilated and boast antimicrobial properties that help prevent infections.

So with prices starting at less than $15 a pair, they may seem the perfect kids' shoe. But experts caution that Crocs are inappropriate as school shoes. First, the easy-on design means they slip off just as easily, making them potentially hazardous on the playground. Crocs don't provide enough support for schoolyard sports and activities and they also don't offer adequate warmth and protection from cold or wet weather. Some schools ban Crocs due to the possible safety issues they present.

The best kids' shoes generally cost more than Crocs, but a practical sneaker or oxford-style shoe with some stylistic flair is far more functional for a typical kid's life.

Gina Briles

Gina K. Briles writes family, household, and shopping-related product reviews. She is a displaced Jayhawk and a coffee addict living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two small children, and Vizsla dog.

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