Whether it's winter or summer, ice skating is a fun sport that children can do year-round. It's also a sport they can enjoy throughout their lives. The stability, control, strength and endurance involved in ice skating, either competitively or recreationally, gives kids a way to be physically fit and appreciate an active lifestyle while having fun. It improves posture, balance, flexibility and coordination and enhances muscle strength and endurance.

But the benefits of ice skating extend beyond physical fitness. It teaches kids goal setting and the pursuit of excellence, and it gives children a higher level of self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life. Children learn to manage stress and perform under pressure, and they learn how to manage failure and how it feels to be successful. They also learn good sportsmanship while developing social skills and make bonding friendships. And all of these things can help them perform better in school.

Whether your child is interested in skating recreationally or pursuing competitive skating, ice skating classes will teach your child the correct techniques to make sure they are skating correctly, which will help them avoid forming bad habits that could lead to injury. Many rinks have group, private and semi-private lessons for children of all ages, abilities and goals. Even toddlers can start skating, usually with double-bladed skates for better balance.

Once skaters learn the basics, they can move on to figure, pair or synchronized skating or ice dancing if they are interested in formal competition. Figure skating involves short or long choreographed programs where skaters are judged on appearance, showmanship and ability; pairs skating has two skaters perform choreographed programs that include lifts and throws; synchronized skating has teams of multiple skaters perform a synchronized routine; and ice dancing is the interpretation of dance and theater on the ice. Skating skills can also extend to speed skating and ice hockey.

Isa Neuhauser, 14 years old, of Fairfax, Virginia has been skating since she was four. "I skate freestyle [figure skating solo] and I'm up to level four now. There are 11 levels - gamma, beta, delta then levels one through eight. I'm also ice dancing, and I like having a partner for that. I love it because it's dancing on ice," says Isa.

Children interested in figure skating may want a coach to help them achieve their goals. To find a coach for private lessons, talk with management at local ice rinks and ask about available PSA-certified coaches and if the coaches carry any ratings through the PSA (The Professional Skater's Association). Most reputable rinks prefer to hire coaches who have this industry-standard certification. The PSA works closely with figure skating's two governing bodies (the U.S. Figure Skating Association and the Ice Skating Institute) to establish certification levels for skating coaches. Coaches who have a PSA rating have maintained their training and are constantly working to better their teaching skills.

Talking with other skaters and their parents can be very helpful in finding the right coach. You can determine if the coach is professional by finding out what they like or don't like about the coach, such as punctuality record and credentials. Also, ask about the age groups the coach has experience teaching, fees and cancellation policy.

Isa has two coaches - one to help her train on the ice and another to help her with strength training. "I'm working on lots of things, but the most difficult thing for me right now is the Contasta Tango because it involves remembering to do so many things at one time. As for jumps, the axle is one of the most difficult jumps and the only one that takes off from a forward position. I'm working on that next," says Isa.

"Music helps a lot with my skating because it helps set the beat. I love to ice dance the tango and I enjoy the music that goes along with it," says Isa. To be competitive, skaters need to dedicate a lot of time to practice. Depending on the skater's goals, practice time can involve as much as 16 hours a week. "I usually practice on average four days a week for about two hours each time," Isa says.

To gear up for skating, have your child wear form fitting clothes that stretch because they will not hinder movement and they allow the instructor to see body alignment in order to give proper feedback to help the skater improve technique. "Loose clothing is never a good idea because it can get caught on a skate and cause injury. And I always put my hair in a bun or braid to keep it away from my eyes so I can see," Isa says.

If you want to purchase a pair of skates for your child, there are important things to consider. "Figure skates should be flexible and fit snugly without being too tight, and the better skates are sculpted from leather," says Isa. Ankles should be well supported, but if the skates are too stiff, or even too flexible, a skater could be in danger of turning an ankle and causing serious damage. Blades should be very sharp to match the skater's need for accuracy. Each blade has a toe pick to help a skater jump and spin more easily. Skates can be expensive, so boot covers or over-the-boot tights are usually worn to protect the boot's finish.

If your child expresses an interest in skating, visit The Skating Club of Northern Virginia at scnv.org, The Washington Figure Skating Club at washingtonfsc.org, skatepsa.com, skateisi.com and usfsa.org for lots of helpful information.


Glide to These Local Ice Skating Rinks

Maryland

    Bowie Ice Arena

  • Cabin John Regional Park Ice Rink in Rockville
  • Glen Burnie Outdoor Ice Skating Rink
  • Herbert Wells Ice Rink in College Park
  • Rockville Town Square Ice Rink
  • Silver Spring Ice Skating
  • The Gardens Ice House in Laurel
  • Tucker Road Ice Rink in Ft. Washington
  • Wheaton Ice Arena

Washington, D.C.

  • Canal Park Ice Rink
  • Fort Dupont Ice Arena
  • National Gallery and Sculpture Garden Rink
  • The Watergate Hotel
  • The Wharf
  • Washington Harbour Ice Rink

Virginia

  • Ashburn Ice House
  • Fairfax Ice Area
  • Haymarket Iceplex
  • Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington
  • Mount Vernon Recreation Center
  • Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating
  • Prince William Ice Center in Woodbridge
  • Reston Town Center Pavilion
  • SkateQuest in Reston
  • Tysons Corner Ice Rink

Jennifer Poole is Assistant Editor at Washington Parent