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Ice Skating with Little Ones

At least once a week I hear a parent comment on how their children never took to ice skating, didn’t find it fun, or showed no interest in learning how to skate. Meanwhile... I love ice skating and think it’s a great family sport! While there are plenty of other winter sports to choose from, ice skating is affordable (my son will be using the same pair of ice skates for a second winter this year). Ice skating is often free to participate in once you purchase ice skates and helmets for yourself and the kids, and it’s great for developing your children’s gross motor skills and coordination.

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 your children’s feet will grow, and you don’t want to be buying a brand-new pair of ice skates every year. That being said, while my husband and I both purchased used skates, last winter we chose to purchase new skates for our son, so we could get molded ones with removable liners. They are warmer and more comfortable than a traditional hockey skate, have no laces (hence, much faster to put on), and are expandable over a range of two to three sizes (meaning they last two to three seasons!). There’s not much to dislike about expandable skates.

How to have fun while ice skating

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 or plastic ABC letters around the ice and have the kids search for the letters in alphabetical order. This is good practice for bending over and standing up again to pick up each letter and your kids will be working on early literacy skills, too!

  • Chocolate Hunt. Same as the ABC Hunt game, 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 each animal down the ice and place it in the bin; repeat until all animals are in the bin. A plastic bin comes in handy when transporting animals to the ice, as well.

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

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

  • Ice soccer! Set up some nets or pylons and have the kids kick a ball to practice transferring weight from one foot to the other. Ice soccer can be played as a team or 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 ball around the ice. Again, hockey can be played as a team or between you and a child.

2. Make sure your children’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 because they can wear boots with the classic Bob skates (a blade that fits on to a regular winter boot).

3. Make sure your children are warm enough! As with all winter sports, nobody has fun if they are cold; I know I don’t! For kids learning to ice skate, they should be wearing ski pants. Wearing ski pants will keep them warm and pad their falls (there will be many). Waterproof gloves are imperative and wearing a helmet liner or a light toque under the helmet is also recommended, even when skating indoors. My son uses a kid-sized Buff, worn like a balaclava. If you are 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!

4. 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 you are pushing or pulling them!

5. Keep it short when starting out. Skating is exhausting for young kids! My family went skating this morning and my son could hardly climb a small hill on our afternoon hike. When first getting started, skating for a half an hour is plenty. Bring a sled and reward the kids with a ride around the pond or rink afterward. Let them climb and play on the snow mountains next to the pond. Let them run around in the trees. Just let them play, and then return to skating another day.

6. Candy, you say? Yes, I’m not above bribing my son to practice ice skating for at least half an hour.

7. Skate with friends (while social distancing). Everything is more fun with friends. Me and my son go out Thursday mornings as a group of moms and kids - and we are having a blast! I wish every morning was Thursday.

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

9. 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.

10. Lessons! It’s amazing what six weeks of lessons can do for your child’s confidence. My son was not exactly a fan of skating last winter. I 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 instructors knew way cooler games than I did!).

Safety first! 

The minimum protection you should be using is a CSA-approved hockey helmet. Hockey helmets are tested to withstand repetitive impacts from both large and small objects such as pucks, sticks, and the boards. For safer skating yet, using a hockey face mask is also recommended when learning to skate and have been known to save teeth!

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies,


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