Frosty fun

Make the most of ice skating with your kids


 
 

Katie Holland

 
Ten tips During the 1994 Olympics, my mom allowed me to stay up long past my bedtime night after night to watch the figure skating competitions. I would sit mesmerized for hours, fascinated by the feats of elegance and strength and caught up in the music, sparkle-laden costumes and whirlwind competition. Normally a stickler for bedtimes, my mom must have decided it was OK for me to miss a few hours of sleep during one week of second grade.

I curled up in my parents' peach comforter when each of the ABC broadcasts began and soaked in every second of it. That week, my dream of being an ice skater crystalized. And while I never brought home any Olympic gold medals, I still have dreams about skating every now and then.

Your child need not be the type who twirls down the sidewalk (I still do) or dreams of being the next Sasha Cohen for her to benefit from learning to skate. "It's good for everyone, because it's an activity that people can do their entire life," says Kimberly Leverick, skating director at Centennial Ice Arena in Highland Park.

Leverick suggests that the most important thing to teach a new skater is (ironically) how to fall. "Then it's not a surprise, it's an expected thing," she says. "Tell them to bend their knees and fall gently, ideally over to the side."

Even if you have never set foot on the ice, there are plenty of ways to help your kids get started. So pick up some tips with this quick grab-and-go guide and get out there.

1 Get the gear. Brand new skaters will get an extra boost of confidence and take fewer spills if you lace them into double runner skates. Most rinks have skates that rent for $3 or less if you'd rather not invest in your own pair. If you rent, ask for a pair with firm boots for ankle support and sharp blades.

2 Suit up. Indoor arenas keep the thermostat between 50 and 60 degrees year-round, so bundle up the little ones. Clothes that can stretch and move with your child such as sweat pants and sweatshirts are best. Lightweight socks or tights are more comfortable and less likely to cut off circulation to the toes than bulky socks. Gloves and hats are a good idea, too.

3 Be safe. Kids under 6 should always wear helmets in case of falls. Prevent collisions by moving with the flow of traffic on the rink and warn kids not to put their hands down on the ice if they fall where passing skaters might run them over. If your child falls, get her up as quickly as possible and out of the way of other skaters, but never pick a child up and skate with her in your arms.

4 Stay sharp. It might seem counterintuitive to request sharp blades, but it will actually make skating easier. Rusty or dull blades don't glide as easily on the ice and can cause kids to trip and fall.

5 Get out there. With dozens of indoor and outdoor rinks around Chicago, finding open skating hours that fit your schedule is a cinch. Check the ice skating rink listings on www.goingplaceschicago.com to find a rink close to home. If you don't mind braving the cold, hit the outdoor rink at Millennium Park's McCormick Tribune Plaza. Skating is free (skate rental $7) and you can't beat the view of downtown.

6 Keep your skates in tip-top shape. Particularly at outdoor rinks, plastic skate guards are a must to protect blades. Towel dry them after your skating excursion to prevent rusting.

 

7 Learn the basics. Start by gliding forward on both feet. Once kids can hold their balance, have them try gliding a short distance on one foot. For daring kids who want to try skating backwards, hold their hands and have them swivel their feet in and out in hourglass motions.

8 Warm up. Don't waste your money on overpriced snacks at the rink. As long as the rink allows outside food (some don't), bring along your own thermos of hot chocolate and some disposable cups from home. Keep healthy snacks in a bag for easy snack access for hungry skaters.

9 See the pros. Catch world champions and Olympic gold medalists in action at "Stars on Ice." The show will be in Chicago on Feb. 10 at the Allstate Arena with appearances by Todd Eldredge, Alexei Yagudin, Yuka Sato and more.

10 Keep it up. If your kid gets hooked, most skating rinks offer beginning classes for budding skaters. The United States Figure Skating Association (www.usfsa.org) sponsors kid-friendly Basic Skills programs all over the country. Click on the "Find a Club" link on their Web site to find a program in your area.

Katie Holland is a Chicago Parent intern and a junior at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

 
 







 
 
 
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