Skating is the perfect family sport. It’s affordable (especially if you buy your skates secondhand), 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. Sadly, lots of parents tell me that their kids never took to skating, so I’ve put together a list of 10 ways to make skating fun.
But before we get to the list, 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 secondhand stores and starting there because feet do grow and you don’t want to be buying a 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 moulded ones with removable liners. They’re warmer and more comfortable than the traditional hockey skate, have no laces (hence much faster too put on), and are expandable (meaning they last two or three seasons!). Not much to dislike about the expandable skates.
The other must-have for safe and fun skating outings is a helmet that fits properly. 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 is 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.
On to the fun stuff! How to have fun while 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 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. 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. 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 course 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.
Make sure your child’s skates are comfortable & aren’t 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.
Make sure your child is warm enough
As with all winter sports, nobody has fun if they’re 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 (many) falls. Waterproof gloves are imperative and helmet liners or light toques under their helmets are recommended even when skating inside. We use a kid-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!).
Push smaller children around the ice in a Chariot or jogging stroller. 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.
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 30 minutes before they need a change of pace.
Candy, you said?
Yes, I’m not above bribing my son to practice for at least half an hour.
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.
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.
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.
Book some 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. 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.
Have other ideas for readers struggling with skating as a family? I’d love to read your feedback and comments below.
Tanya Koob is an adventurous mom who hasn’t slowed down since the birth of her son six years ago. This article first appeared on her blog Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, which chronicles the joys and challenges of taking kids hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, biking, paddling, and all-out exploring in the Canadian Rockies.