Winter has arrived, and the lake has finally frozen over and safe to skate on. Is it time to head out and teach your little one how to skate? Absolutely, assuming your child is ready and willing to try skating.
My boys started at different ages, with my oldest starting at 6. He learned to skate quickly and started to play hockey at 7. My youngest on the other hand just gravitated to it. We put him on skates at 2, he started walking on his skates the first day, was pushing with one foot at 3 years of age, and by 4 is skating well and stopping on his own.
I am no professional skating coach by any stretch of the imagination but being around rinks and ponds over the last 15 years has taught me a few good things that I would like to share with you.
To successfully teach your children you need 2 things: 1) the right equipment, and 2) a child that is willing to learn and is confident enough to fall down a few times.
Getting the right equipment:
- CSA approved helmet: I would state that a helmet is absolutely mandatory. Do not use a bicycle helmet, a hockey helmet is a must when it comes to a child’s safety. You can attach a face shield to it but this is not a must. Ensure you get the helmet fitted properly as a loose fitted helmet will not deliver the protection your child needs.
- Skates: Figure skates do have some advantages when first learning how to skate, however I find it easier to learn in hockey skates. The main reason for this is because the skater doesn’t have to worry about the toe picks. However, if the skater knows right away that he or she wants to learn to figure skate, it is highly recommended for them to learn in figure skates and get used to the toe pick as soon as possible.
- Attire: No need to focus on fashion here, the key is simply warmth. If your child is uncomfortable and cold your chances of success in teaching them will be slim to none. Make sure your child is dressed with a warm jacket, snow pants, and gloves. I am also a proponent of using elbow pads early on that will give them a layer of protection when they fall.
- Sharp blades: Skates should be checked and sharpened regularly, without a nice sharp blade your child will struggle both when pushing off and stopping.
Don’t waste your time with “bob” skates, just put them straight into a pair of comfortable skates. I’m also not a fan of chairs or other supportive devices because they encourage kids to lean forward. To find the balance point, the child should be standing up straight so their weight is evenly distributed over the blade. Simply provide some support under their arms or by holding their hand can accomplish this.
Somewhere between the ages of 2 and 6, most kids are ready to start on skates. Each child is different and it can take quite a while for children to start to feel confident. That confidence comes from learning how to fall down and get back up, and knowing that they won’t be hurting themselves.
There is a natural progression that children go through when learning to skate, below is what I have typically encountered:
- Children should start off seated on the ice, at first simply crawling and playing around.
- The next step would be to show them how to get on their knees. Teach them by putting one foot up, push up off the knee, and then standing up.
- Once your child is comfortable getting up on their feet, they should be encouraged to march on the spot.
- Once marching on the spot is mastered they can start to move slowly across the ice. Mix things up by having them walk forwards, backwards and sidestepping to help them improve their balance and confidence.
- As their confidence continues to improve get them to start pushing off. Teach them how to do this by going in circle gliding with one foot and pushing with the other, then switching over to the other foot.
Most importantly of all the things mentioned above is to remember to keep things fun! Don’t push your kids too hard. You want skating to be an activity your child will enjoy for many years to come.