Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ice Skating with Kids - 10 Ways to Make it FUN!

At least once a week I hear a parent comment on how their child never took to ice skating, didn't find it fun, or showed no interest in learning how to skate. 

Meanwhile,  I LOVE skating and think it's such a great family sport!  While there are plenty of other winter sports to choose from, skating is cost affordable (my son will be using the same pair of skates for a second winter now,) it's often free to participate in the activity once you purchase the skates and helmet, and it's great for gross motor skills and coordination.

Skating is FUN!

The first step to becoming a family who skates together is to find good skates that are comfortable and easy to put on.  I recommend checking out local second hand stores and starting there because feet do grow and you don't want to be buying a brand new pair of skates for your child every year. 

That being said, while my husband and I both purchased used skates, we did choose to get new ones for our son last winter so that we could get molded ones with removable liners.  They are warmer and more comfortable than the traditional hockey skate, have no laces (hence much faster too put on), and are expandable over a range of two to three sizes (meaning they last 2-3 seasons!)  Not much to dislike about the expandable skates. 

Learning to skate

For more information on choosing skates, getting started, where to skate in the Calgary area, and pretty much everything related to skating, please visit my story, How to Love Winter in the Rockies - On Skates, that I wrote last year.  The story is jam packed full of information including the best kind of skates for toddlers just learning to walk on the ice!

Toddlers skating with double blade Bob skates

And now, on to the fun stuff - how to have FUN while skating!!

One - Games, games, and more games!!
  • Red light, Green light (skate when the leader says green light, stop when the leader says red light as you race/toddle to the finish line.)

  • ABC hunt (scatter foam ABC letters around the ice and have the kids search for them in order.  They must practice bending over and standing up again to pick up each letter AND as a bonus, they work on early literacy skills)

  • Chocolate hunt (same as ABC game above but scatter chocolate eggs, kisses, or other candy around the ice for the kids to pick up)

  • Stuffed Animal Game (place a bunch of stuffed animals on the ice with a plastic bin at the far end of the ice.  Kids have to carry the animal down the ice and place it in the bin.  Skate back for the next animal and repeat.  Plastic bin comes in handy when transporting animals to the ice as well.)

  • Set up an obstacle courses with pool noodles, hula hoops, pylons, or other objects the kids must skate around.

  • Draw lines on the ice and have kids follow the lines.  Vary it up with squiggly lines, circles, snails, etc.

  • Ice Soccer!  (like hockey but with a ball.  Set up some nets or pylons and have the kids kick a ball to practice transferring weight from one foot to the other.  Can be played as a team or just individually kicking the ball up and down the ice.)

  • Hockey!  (Kids love hockey sticks.  Bring some plastic hockey sticks or invest in child-sized wooden sticks.  Get the kids hitting a soft puck or a ball around the ice.  And again, it can be played as a team game or just between parent and child.)
Never too young to play hockey
Ice Soccer!
ABC Hunt
Two - Make sure your child's skates are comfortable, fit well, and are not too tight.  (most preschoolers should be able to tell you if this is the case.)  As with most sports, it's not fun if your feet hurt!  If you have any doubts, visit a sports store for a fitting with a skate specialist. Toddlers are lucky in that they can wear boots with the classic Bob skates (a blade that fits on to a regular winter boot.)

Three - Make sure your child is warm enough!!  As with all winter sports, nobody has fun if they are cold.  I know I don't.  For kids learning to skate, they should be wearing ski pants.  This will not only keep them warm but will also pad their falls.  (of which there will be many.) 

Waterproof gloves are of course imperative and helmet liners or light tuques under their helmets are also recommended even when skating inside.  We use a kid's sized Buff worn like a balaclava. 

For moms prone to being cold on the ice, try wearing a long "skating coat" - my term for a jacket that covers your butt. (and if it's made of down, even better!)

Toasty warm with his orange Buff under his helmet

Four - Push smaller children around the ice in a Chariot or jogging stroller and pull older kids around in a sled.  This is a great game and you'll get exercise too as the parent pushing or pulling them!  I miss the days where I could rip around the ice pushing our Chariot.

A great workout for the parent who wants to skate with younger children
Ice + Sleds = Fun!!

Five - Keep it short when starting out!  Skating is exhausting for young kids!  We went skating this morning and my son could hardly climb a small hill on our afternoon hike. 

When first getting started, half an hour is plenty!!  Bring a sled and reward them with a ride around the pond or rink after.  Let them climb and play on the snow mountains next to the pond.  Let them run around in the trees with their friends.  Just let them play.  And return to skating another day.  

We do lots of outdoor skating with our outdoor playgroups in Calgary and the kids typically last about half an hour before they need a change of pace.

The snow piled up beside the pond is often the best part of skating!
Good thing he's wearing a helmet!

Six - Candy, you said?  Yes, I'm not above bribing my son to practice for at least half an hour.

Seven - Skate with friends.  Everything is more fun with friends.  We've been going out Thursday mornings as a group of moms and kids - and are having a blast!  I wish every morning was Thursday.

Everything is more fun with friends
Show your kids that skating is fun!

Eight - Start inside where it's warmer.  This will help you, the parent, learn to put your child's skates on without freezing your fingers, and allows the child to be more comfortable while learning.  No wind chill, no freezing cold fingers or toes - it's just more pleasant.

Learning to skate indoors

Nine - Skate as a family.  Why would your child want to learn to skate if they see you running around the ice in your boots?  Just saying.

Hockey is more fun when Dad's playing too!
Skating with Mom
Ten - Lessons!  It's amazing what 6 weeks of lessons can do for your child's confidence.  My son was not exactly a "fan" of skating last winter.  We put him in a month of lessons and suddenly he wasn't the only one struggling on the ice.  There was a whole class of other kids learning how to skate just like him.  AND the teachers knew way cooler games than I did! 

Everybody starts somewhere but nobody starts a professional!

Have other ideas for  readers struggling with skating as a family?  Or maybe you are the one that doesn't exactly "love" skating.  Have other games we need to know about?  I'd love your feedback and comments below!

This is the first in a series of posts I'll be featuring on how to make winter fun for kids.  I'll be covering topics from skating to cross country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking and sledding.

For moms that get cold skating - invest in a down skirt!  It's awesome!

Disclaimers and Safety Information:

CSA Approved helmets save lives
Helmet use while skating is highly recommended and depending on where you live or skate - mandatory for children.  Many indoor arenas are also starting to enforce helmet use for adults as well.  The minimum protection you should be using would be a CSA approved hockey helmet.

While a bike helmet is better than nothing at all, hockey helmets are tested to withstand repetitive impacts from both large and small objects such as pucks, sticks and the boards.  Meanwhile, a bike helmet is designed to withstand one single hit from a large object.  For safer skating yet, face masks are also recommended when learning to skate and have been known to save teeth!

While you may see older photos of my son without a helmet (or in a bike helmet), rest assured, he does not step foot on the ice now without an approved hockey helmet.

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