My kids ice skate. A lot. Even my middle child, who doesn’t ice skate, still manages to ice skate. I don’t know how that works out, but it’s true.
When I was growing up, I skated every once in a while, mostly on the few days when my parents were certain the ice over the pond wasn’t going to give way and send me into an icy fish bath.
Central Pennsylvania is chock full of ponds and lakes that freeze over in the winter. But we’re also home to eight ice rinks, some with multiple sheets of ice. If you count skating rinks in Sunbury and State College, that makes 10 indoor ice surfaces. Eleven, 12, 13 and beyond if you trek just across the Maryland border or head toward Philly and Pittsburgh.
For a state that isn’t Minnesota, we’re lousy with ice.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: ice skating, falling, head injuries and broken bones. Fair enough.
But try to consider this as well: bike helmet, skating lessons and access to a winter’s worth of “cabin fever” day activities.
Let me try to convince you a bit further. Here are nine great reasons kids should learn how to ice skate:
1. Ice skating requires paying attention.
Even the most action-packed, ants-in-their-pants kids will summon their powers of extreme focus when ice skating. Losing focus while on the ice is directly correlated with ending up on your bottom.
In skating lessons, the instructor will teach a child how to fall correctly and help bypass serious injury. But if you talk to folks who have been skating all their lives, they’ll tell you that focus is always required while on the ice. Like meditation, ice skating forces you to ignore all the distracting mumbo jumbo running through your brain. Both kids and adults could use an hour or two of “no mumbo jumbo” each week.
2. No matter the weather, ice skating rinks are always open.
Hazy, hot and 99 percent humidity? The skating rink is cooler than your pool. Ten below zero and too cold for polar bears? The skating rink is going to feel like a sauna.
In fact, the only two activities that completely wear out my kids are swimming and skating. Get a pool pass, get a skate pass, and your children will be happily exhausted.
3. Kids who can’t run fast can still learn to skate fast.
Skating may look like running on ice, but ice skating uses leg muscles in different ways than running does. Skating also requires less effort to get the “wind in your hair” feeling, although rounding the rink over the course of an hour-long public ice session can still be a great cardiac workout.
And because skating is a side-to-side motion instead of the up-and-down of running, joint impact is reduced. (Note: If you get to the point of working on your triple axel jump a few times a week, the “easy on the joints” discussion changes a bit. But that’s a conversation for down the road — or down the ice rink.)
4. Kids of all body types can feel graceful, artistic and athletic on the ice.
After mastering the basics, kids can learn to spin, spiral and dance on ice. Yes, Olympic-level skaters are generally lean and small. But kids of all ages, heights and weights can learn to perform the iconic layback spin of Peggy Fleming, practice the fancy footwork of Bobby Orr (shoutout to hockey players!) and hone the showmanship of Scott Hamilton.
5. Ice skating teaches kids to get up after falling. And to get up again. And again.
Persistence is a skill kids will carry off the ice and into the classroom. Check out U.S. Figure Skating’s WeGetUp site for an inspirational boost via ice skating.
6. Even little kids can learn to skate with confidence.
And younger children are already close to the ground, so falling doesn’t freak them out as much. By 3 years old, most kids can take group lessons and learn to skate.
7. As a sport, ice skating offers myriad avenues for true “rec league” competition.
Local ice hockey leagues all promote recreational-level playing opportunities for both kids and adults. USA Hockey, the organization that oversees amateur hockey, does a great job of keeping youth hockey’s focus on skill development and having fun. Trust me, no recreational hockey coach, parent or team is going to be disappointed if your child isn’t Wayne Gretzky. Rec league teams are very welcoming.
U.S. Figure Skating and the Ice Skating Institute both sponsor competitions in singles skating, ice dance, synchronized skating and theater-on-ice. In both recreational and club competitions, the focus is on building skills and having fun while setting and working toward personal goals.
A very, very small percentage of kids will go to the Olympics or play in the NHL. However, millions of kids and adults participate in various levels and types of ice sports competition, all free from Olympic-level pressure.
8. As a teen hangout, ice rinks deter many kinds of unwanted behaviors.
I can’t vouch for what happens off the ice. But for teens who do make the ice rink a Friday-night hangout, I can confidently bear witness to the fact that shenanigans are limited when you’re balancing on a three-sixteenths-inch blade.
9. Ice skating is an activity that kids can participate in through adulthood.
Maybe grownup skaters wear more padding to protect against falls. Maybe they don’t skate as fast, and perhaps older adults — who have work in the morning and kids to take care of — are more conservative with body contact during “beer league” hockey games.
But ice skating is truly a lifelong sport that can be enjoyed with relative safety well into what are normally the hip-replacement years.
Have I convinced you to seek out ice skating lessons? Check out Learn to Skate USA for a rink near you. Great! Have fun and skate great!
Suburban Resistance is a weekly blog by Josette Plank. Read more every Wednesday at CentralPennParent.com.