Teach Kids How to Ice Skate

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Photo by Unsplash/@tmatt2015
For young kids, stepping onto the ice for the first time can be terrifying.

Backyard Ice Rink(Countryman Press, 2015) by Joe Proulx guides you through every step of building your own backyard ice skating rink. From the simplest wooden frame to elaborate tall-board rinks, from measuring the slope in your yard to constructing your frame using parts found at your local hardware store, Proulx makes the project easy to tackle. This section explains how to teach your kids to ice skate.

For young kids, stepping onto the ice for the first time can be terrifying — especially in a group setting. When you take a child to a skating class, you’re asking them to strap on all sorts of unfamiliar gear, then to leave their parents and join an unfamiliar coach underneath the blazing halogen lights and surrounded by boards and glass. It’s overwhelming for sure, and not just for the young kids.

A backyard rink provides a retreat from all of that. With a rink in your backyard, learning to skate becomes a self-paced exercise, one that can take place whenever it suits you. You can turn the music up or down, you can skate under the sun or the stars, and you can see to it that your little Gretzky is as comfortable as possible while he or she tries to master a very difficult skill.

Of course, teaching them at home requires something the organized learn-to-skates have in droves: a little expertise. It’s OK, we’re here to help! How you teach your child to skate is a personal decision, but here are a few tips that will help you even if you can’t skate yourself:

  1. Dress them correctly. Whether you arm them in full gear or just put a helmet and elbow pads on them, make sure that they are warm and that their vitals are protected. I require hockey helmets with full cages on my rink for anyone under high-school age, and I put shin pads, elbow pads, and pants on my little ones, but it’s your rink and your kid. Also, every new skater wants to use a stick. By all means let them have fun, but I teach learn-to-skate without sticks at first. 
  2. Teach them how to fall, and make sure they know it’s OK. Pull up some NHL bloopers on YouTube if you need to. But make sure they know that the correct way to fall is onto their knees. Of course, the next lesson is how to get up. To teach this, have them kneel on both knees, put one skate blade on the ice, put both hands atop their knee, and push off hard to get the other skate up. This step may take months, or they may get it the first time. Every kid is different. At our learn-to-skate sessions, I spend a good chunk of the first two weeks taking the newest skaters back and forth behind one of the nets, “getting our belly buttons cold” by laying flat on the ice, then getting up and waddling back to the other side to do it again. 
  3. Build a skating aid. Not only will it save your back, but it also frees you up to man the camera! Your child will be comfortable knowing that they can hold onto something, as the “freedom” of being on the ice by themselves can be terrifying at first.
  4. One thing your child will learn when holding onto the skating aid is that moving their feet back and forth, as if they were walking, won’t work (unless you’re in figure skates — and you’ll need to consult someone else to teach skating in those). In hockey skates, the toes need to be pointed outwards so that the ice catches on the inside of the skate blade, thus propelling the skater forward. So when your son or daughter is holding onto the skating aid, teach them to bend their knees slightly, point their toes out, and push their toes out and back. 
  5. Once they can scoot around with the skating aid, sometimes they’ll be happy to just do that. But if their goal is to play hockey or skate without the aid, you’ll need to enact some tough love. Take the skating aid out of their hands and move it two feet away. Ask them to walk or glide over to it. Once they can do that a few times, push it further away. Make it a game. Cheer loudly when they make it, then pick them up and hug them before putting them back down and doing it again. 

Congratulations! You just taught a kid how to skate. 

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Excerpted from Backyard Ice Rinkby Joe Proulx. Reprinted with permission from Countryman Press.