Learning to Ice Skate - There's More To It Than Just Fun On Ice

By Guest Writer-Stassa Mark,Figure Skating Director February 14, 2024

Stassa Mark, a lifelong skater, first put her son Hunter in skates when he was just a toddler. “It took him until he was about three to find his feet, to get up and get moving,” she says. “By four, he was booking it around the rink at top speed pushing on only one leg,” she laughs.

Somewhere between the ages of three and five, kids are ready to start on skates, says Stassa, a professional skating coach who is the Figure Skating Director at Oak Park Ice Rink in Stockton and who also is in charge of the Learn to Skate program. But, she adds, parents need to be patient. “It’s a whole new environment, new equipment and new skill set. It can take quite a while for children to start to feel confident.”

That confidence comes from learning how to fall down and get back up without hurting themselves, says Stassa. “There’s nothing more frustrating for kids than not being able to get back on their feet.”

Her Snowplow Sam preschool aged skating classes start out in the lobby of the rink, on a rubber surface, where kids can begin to balance on their blades, fall down and get up again. “We do this by showing them how to get on their knees, put one foot up, a second foot up, and then push up with their hands. Parents can hold onto the child’s skates to provide some stability,” says Stassa.

Getting on the ice

Next, they take these skills to the ice. “Most of the time kids will be down,” says Stassa. “That’s OK. They need to get used to the hard, cold, slippery surface. It takes practice falling down and getting up before they can do it on their own.”

Once kids are comfortable getting up on their feet, Stassa encourages them to march on the spot. When they’ve mastered shifting their weight from one foot to the other, they can start to move slowly across the ice. Walking forward and backward, sidestepping, singing Head and shoulders, knees and toes—it all helps kids find their balance.

“Let kids decide when they want to add a bit of power, to push off,” says Stassa. “Eventually, most just start doing it, as they begin to feel the edges of the blades and get more confident.”

Stassa doesn’t recommend walkers or other supporting devices because they encourage kids to lean forward. “To find the balance point, the child should be standing up straight so their weight is evenly distributed over their blades.”

A better way to support a beginning skater is to skate alongside and hold their hand while they march. Stassa finds kids usually feel comfortable with this because they want to know you’re there. “Encourage them to keep their head up, and put one, and then both arms out in a letter “V”, to balance,” says Stassa.

Whatever you do, keep it fun—and don’t push kids when they’re tired, says Stassa. “You want skating to be an activity kids enjoy for the rest of their lives.”

Getting the right equipment

1. Insist on a helmet

The Consumer Products Safety Commission offers guidelines for the type of helmet to wear for different activities. Although a helmet standard does not exist specifically for ice skating, until such standards are written, wearing one of the listed types of helmets may be preferable to wearing no helmet at all. For ice skating, the recommended helmets are: ASTM F1447; Snell B-90A, B-95, N-94. When buying a helmet, check the fine print for certifications.

2. Find the right skates

If you would like to purchase skates, Stassa suggests scheduling an appointment with the rink’s Assistant Manager, Dayv, to have your child properly fitted. Bring the socks your child would normally wear to the rink and have them try on skates in their shoe size; resist the temptation to buy a size or two larger to make them last an extra season. “If the feet are sliding around, it’s much harder for kids to learn and can cause injury,” says Stassa.

Tip: When the boots are tied up, your child should be standing up straight. Their heel should be right at the back of the boot and they should be able to wiggle their toes. Stassa cautions against a rigid boot with buckles, “When kids go down, the buckles can come undone.” Instead, opt for laces.

3. Consider going second-hand

Gently used skates are just fine, as long as they still offer good ankle support and the blade is in good condition. Don’t buy a used skate that has bends or creases in the boot. Creasing means the boot is broken down and will no longer support.

4. Be sharp about blades

Skates should be checked and sharpened regularly.

5. Bundle up

Kids spend a lot of time at this stage crawling around on the ice, says Stassa, so dress your child in a snowsuit and waterproof gloves. Head brand kids gloves are the best!

More Than Fun On Ice

Ice skating teaches us bigger lessons in life— joy in progress, resilience after falls, and overcoming challenges to achieve greatness. These invaluable lessons extend beyond the rink, shaping the way each skater approaches life's journey. 

Oak Park Ice Rink offers private and group lessons. For more info please contact Stassa at or (209) 425-3341. 

Private lessons are taught anytime during public sessions or freestyle sessions. 

Group lessons are taught in a group setting for 30 minutes every Wednesday at 5:15p and the session is 8 consecutive weeks.  Skate rental is included and the student receives a punch card for 8 free admissions to public sessions to practice what you learned in class.

What class should you sign up for?

-Toddlers age 2.5 - 3.5 (at the start of the lessons) sign up for Early Explorers.

-Kids age 4 to 5 years old sign up for Snowplow Sam 1 class.

-Kids age 6 and up sign up for Basic 1 class.

-Teens & Adults sign up for Adult 1 class.

Registration is now open. Sign up today! Classes start January 31st.