Teaching kids to walk is part of parenting 101. For many people, teaching kids to cycle and swim probably follows close behind. Skating is another really useful skill for kids to learn. What’s more, if you never had the chance to learn as a kid yourself, then you have a great chance to make up for what you missed.
Why learn skating
You could say that anything healthy and fun has to be good and that’s true. What’s really good about skating, however, is that it’s a really practical skill too. It gets you from A to B more quickly than walking and without needing to think about what you’re going to do with a bike when you’re not using it.
What do you need to learn skating?
Most obviously, you need a pair of skates. The good news is that even the best roller skates for beginners generally come in at very affordable prices. It’s also a good idea to invest in a proper skate bag. Basically skate bags have straps on the outside to hold your skates. This leaves the inside free for whatever else you might want to carry.
It’s a good idea to keep a separate pouch, like a waist pouch, for miscellaneous bits and pieces. This is a good place to stash some high-energy snacks like granola bars and ideally a collapsible water bottle. Skating can make you and your kids very hungry and very thirsty very quickly, especially in the early days.
You’ll also need knee, wrist, and elbow pads and a helmet, preferably a proper skating helmet. These provide more cover to the back of the head than cycling helmets. This is because skaters are more likely to tip over backward than cyclists. (Cyclists are more likely to tip sideways).
Getting started in skating
If you’re a confident skater yourself, then it can be great fun to teach your own kids. If you’re not, then the most cost-effective, and fun, approach is often to hire a skate instructor for at least one lesson. This is often all it takes to grasp the mechanics of stopping, starting, and turning. The rest is just practice.
If finances are tight, you might want to think about joining a group lesson. Alternatively, you could just look online for “how-to” videos showing the key skills. If you get a clear explanation then you can often work it out for yourself. You won’t get personalized feedback, the way you would from an instructor so it may take you a bit longer. Generally, however, you’ll get it with practice.
Getting ahead in skating
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics of skating, there are all kinds of ways you and your kids can take it further. For example, you can learn slalom or freestyle skating, street hockey, or speed skating. For many people, however, the real joy of skating is just being able to get out and about in the outdoors.
This can mean anything from using your skates to get to school (or work) to sightseeing in cities or heading out into the wilderness. If this sounds like something you and your kids would be interested in, here are some tips to help.
Never skate when you’re in charge of an animal
Even if you see other people doing this (which you probably will), never be tempted into doing it yourself. This holds true no matter how good you get or how docile the animal is. If you’re in charge of an animal, you should have all your attention on the animal. You can’t keep all your attention on an animal if you’re also skating.
Keep the brake on your skates
Heel brakes (on inlines) and toe stops (on quads) both make it easy to come to a quick and complete stop. This means that it’s best to keep them on your skates, even when you know other ways of stopping. What’s more, you should know how to replace them when they wear down. This is usually very easy and just requires basic tools.
Learn to take care of your wheels and bearings
Cleaning your skates properly will help them to last longer. Give your wheels a quick wipe after each skate. Once a week or so, take your wheels out of your skates and take the bearings out of your wheels. Give your wheels and bearings a proper deep clean and lubricate your bearings. Then give the rest of your skates a general clean up.
It’s really important to take care of your bearings because they’re what powers your wheels. If they get rusty you’ll start to find it more difficult to push your skates, you may even find them seizing up.
When you put your wheels back on, position them so they get equal wear. The usual way to do this is to rotate them in different positions. For example, you might swap the center wheels from one skate with the front and back wheels from the other skate.
Always be ready for rain and darkness
You want to avoid skating in the wet or dark if at all possible, especially if you’re skating with children. Wet conditions make it hard to stop and dark conditions make it hard to see and be seen. At the same time, you want to give yourself a bit of flexibility to deal with them if you get unexpectedly caught out. A practical solution is to keep a pack-away rain-poncho in your skate bag, together with some lights and reflectors.
Try to plan out new skate routes in advance
As an adult, you might just put on your skates and take your chances, but if you’re skating with kids, you always need to make safety your top priority. When it comes to skating, keeping safe really comes down to knowing your technique, knowing the traffic, and knowing surfaces.
Traffic means everyone who shares a space with you. A person with a baby buggy is just as much traffic as a car. Ideally, you want to avoid all other traffic, especially crowds. If you must cross roads with vehicular traffic, then do it the same way as any safety-minded pedestrian and use designated crossing places.
If you have to deal with crowds of pedestrians then be very mindful about where you’re going and very clear about indicating your intentions. Shouting “excuse me” doesn’t really tell anybody anything useful. Instead, shout exactly what you intend to do e.g. “coming through” or “turning left” and put your arm out in the direction you intend to move.
Do your best to stick to smooth surfaces. This means thinking about both the surface itself and what’s near it. For example, if a path has trees overhanging it then their debris can get stuck in your wheels. If this does happen, try running your skate backward and see if it drops out. If not, take off your skate and fix it as quickly as you can.
Get to grips with hills
On skates, getting up hills is easier than getting down them. Going up, you just need to push harder, going down, you need to control your speed. That said, if you’re dealing with hills, the chances are, you’re going to need to go both up and down them.
Make sure you keep to hills that are within your kids’ limits. Of course, you can help them to stop, if necessary, assuming you have the skills. That should, however, always be your Plan B. Your Plan A should be to keep to skating routes your kids can handle by themselves. It’s more fun for them and safer for everyone.