On the ice: Skating 101

[attach]2755[/attach]Every winter, little ones across the city can be seen stumbling out onto the ice.

Little Michelin men and women bundled in colourful winter jackets and mitts, heads engulfed in helmets that seem to take up half their bodies. Parents across the city have a rewarding yet challenging task ahead of them: teaching their kids to skate.

Fundamentally Canadian, ice skating is also a great way of keeping you and your kids active through the winter. So whether you choose to teach your little ones yourself or to enroll them in lessons, here are some things to think about.

Getting Started

What’s the ideal age to get your kids started without being overzealous? “Three- or four-year-olds are ideal,” says Matthew Solarski, skating director of Central Toronto Skating Club. “They’re pretty resilient, they’re quick to learn, and they’re close to the ground so when they fall down it doesn’t hurt that much.”

Tools of the trade

The next logical step is equipment. Anyone who’s been on skates knows the pain of an awkward fit. So when you’re outfitting your munchkins with a set of skates, go for comfort.

“Don’t cheap out on equipment,” Solarski says. “You’re never going to get a kid to start learning and have fun if they’re in pain.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive pair of new skates though. Find a skate shop with patient staff, expertise and competency in fitting skates, and a good skate exchange policy. “The guys at Sportchek will tend to do a proper fitting … I’ve had a lot of success with them,” Solarski says.

Those of you hitting the ice with your children should heed that same advice.

“Typically, parents dig up an old pair that are about 15 years old that are really uncomfortable,” said Minnow Hamilton, founder and director of [url=][/url] “If you have a pair you actually look forward to wearing, you will get on the ice more and that’s the best way to get your kids skating,” she said.

The other aspect that Solarski stressed was safety.

“Buy a kid a helmet with a hockey facemask on it,” he said. Whether it’s a clear facemask or a full cage, keeping your kids’ entire face protected is a significant concern with the number of falls they’ll be taking and the sharp skates, which will be flailing clumsily nearby.

Choosing the right classes and instructor “The biggest indicator of success in any program [in the 3-6 year old age group] is really instructor- based,” says Tania Tomilko of [url=][/url]. If you do opt for the organized lessons, try to find an experienced instructor.

Experience, as in most areas, is frequently associated with age and you may find yourself a grandparent-like figure who is simply enthusiastic to be out on the ice with the kids. Tomilko is quick to remind, however, that her own children had been taught by an instructor in his early 20s with experience teaching a range of skills to a range of ages. So the take home message is: look for experience.

Focus on the fun

“Good instructors know how to focus on the fun and still continue the progress of skills,” Tomilko said. Your kids don’t necessarily need the formal instruction though, and it’s the fun they have that will turn your toddlers into future Gretzkys (or at least have them back on the ice next season). Taking them out on the ice yourself for an informal lesson without set goals in mind is a good way of having some family fun and getting the kids enthusiastic about skating.

[url=]Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation website[/url] is a good place to start your research. It has a comprehensive list of arenas, outdoor rinks and skating programs on offer around the city.

Whatever you decide this season, be patient and have fun.