Growing up, the rink was my second home. The cold, small-town arena was a meeting place for the community and where lifetime friendships were made. (If those dressing room walls could talk…)
I spent almost every day skating or coaching – starting at 6 a.m. for my own private lessons and after school sessions out of town teaching kids to skate in frigid natural ice rinks. I blame my always cold feet on the hundreds of painful freeze-thaw cycles.
I don’t teach anymore, but I’ve been asked a lot by parents how best to get their kids started and excited about putting on skates and giving it a whirl on Toronto rinks and trails.
Here are some tips for getting little skaters started:
- There is no perfect age to start. You know your kid best and while some need next to no convincing at 3, others are more ready to start at 6 or 7. Don’t force it. The last thing you want is have the whole family feeling frustrated and totally resentful towards this new activity. As first steps, check out the rink first on foot, let them try on the skates at home or in the lobby, and start by a few minutes and slowly work your way up to longer stretches on the ice.
- Second-hand gear is just fine. You don’t break the bank with a whole bunch of new gear, especially with the outdoor season so short in T.O. and the speed in which little feet grow. But if you do go pre-loved, ensure that there is lots of support in the ankle area and remember to sharpen the blades. Tip: when trying on skates and fastening them, get your child to stand up. This positions the feet for a better and more comfortable fit.
- Falling down is the best way to learn. The first thing to teach kids is how to safely fall down and get up. (One knee up and pressing yourself to standing.) You might even want to practice first off the ice. Then start with simple movements like marching and walking forwards, sideways and backwards. Pushing and gliding will come naturally after they begin to feel comfortable with the new environment. Tip: snow pants and waterproof mittens will make this more enjoyable.
- Ditch those green things. While it’s fine to give them a try at first, repetitive use may give a false sense of balance and kids end up learning to lean forwards while they skate. Guaranteed they will learn faster on their own. If you’re confident on your blades, go behind them and hold them under their arms (making sure they keep their arms out.) Not only will they feel a greater sense of security, it will give them a taste of how awesome it feels to glide at faster speeds.
- Make it fun. It’s the best when you actually can speed around the rink. Until then, play some games and songs to make learning more fun and keep them on the ice longer. Here are some ideas:
- For learning to fall down and get up, pretend they are popcorn kernels and you’re slowing turning up the heat until they stand up and practice little jumps.
- ‘Head and Shoulders’ is great for learning balance.
- ‘Red light green light’ (and purple and orange lights, etc) is a good next step to practice starting, stopping, turning and other skills.
- My childhood favourite ‘What time is it Mr. Wolf?’ gets them turning, pushing and smiling. Beware, even if they know how to stop, guaranteed they’ll still be ramming into the boards.
See you on the ice!
PS – If you want to sign up for a class, here are some locations that offer skating lessons in the city. There are pay-what-you-can drop in parent-and-tot lessons (for 2-6 year-olds) at Evergreen Brick Works everything Thursday from 1 – 2 p.m.