The world of figure skating can seem complicated and confusing to those on the outside. This can be especially true for parents who might want their child to learn how to skate, but who have no personal experience with the sport. Learning to figure skate takes time, patience, and dedication—and there definitely isn’t a shortage of bumps and bruises along the way as well. Knowing the sacrifices of what it takes to be a good skater might make some parents wonder what an appropriate age would be for their child to begin learning to ice skate.
Generally, starting children when they are younger will give them an advantage as they progress, but it’s important that you first make sure your child is mature and attentive enough to be able to follow along with an instructor. You should also wait for your child to have adequate flexibility, muscle strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. Typically, somewhere around age 4 is a good time to introduce ice skating to your child.
But don’t expect Olympic-level jumps right off the bat! Children must first start by learning how to balance and move on the ice before they are exposed to the multiple areas of discipline in competitions—singles skating, pairs skating, ice dancing, and synchronized skating.
As your child begins to learn the basics of ice skating, he or she will likely start with the program known as Snowplow Sam. This program consists of introductory classes divided into three levels, allowing preschool-age children with no prior skating experience to build confidence and strength on the ice while learning the basic skills of skating. Snowplow Sam is an integral part of figure skating, and at most arenas, the program is taught in a safe, comfortable environment with plenty of fun and games to make it enjoyable for young children. Here’s a breakdown of the developmental goals in each level.
Snowplow Sam 1:
- Sit and stand up with skates on—off-ice
- Sit and stand up with skates on—on-ice
- March in place
- March forward (8-10 steps)
- March, then glide on two feet
- Dip in place
Snowplow Sam 2:
- March followed by a long glide
- Dip while moving
- Backward wiggles
- Forward swizzles
- Rocking horse – one forward swizzle and one backward swizzle
- Two-foot hop
Snowplow Sam 3:
- Forward skating
- Forward one-foot glide – right and left foot
- Forward swizzles
- Backward swizzles
- Forward snowplow stop
Basic Skills Levels
The next step after completing the Snowplow Sam program is moving onto the U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills Program. This consists of eight basic levels that are considered the fundamentals of figure skating. Think of this as your child’s foundation. The skills learned in this program will transfer throughout a skater’s figure skating career, helping them to advance to the more specialized skills of their specific discipline.
When learning and going through the basic program, it’s important for a skater to be attentive and motivated. Slacking off during these foundational lessons can make it difficult to advance and master some of the harder skills you’ll see in higher levels. This is why it’s important to factor in the age of your child, since younger children are more prone to distraction and losing interest. That being said, there are some young children who are able to focus intensely, so the ultimate decision will come down to your understanding of your child’s maturity.
Figure Skating Competition Levels
In figure skating, there are several levels or classes in which a skater can compete. These include pre-preliminary, preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, and senior. In order to move up in levels, a skater must be able to complete a test in front of official judges. This test is based on the basic skills program and will determine what level a skater will compete in for competition.
As skaters become more competitive and advance to higher levels, they’ll have the opportunity to compete in qualifying competitions. These types of competitions are events in which skaters compete to earn a spot at the U.S. Championships. At this popular competition, the best skaters qualify for the World Figure Skating Championships and the Olympic Winter Games. This may seem like a lofty goal for your preschooler, but give skating a chance—you never know when a few mastered tricks will blossom into a love for the sport and for competition!
Ice Skates from Riedell
Beginning a new sport can be scary for young children, even if they’re excited at the same time. Set them up for success with the right pair of ice skates from Riedell! We have an extensive product selection to help you find the right fit for your skater’s first day out on the ice, whether that involves choosing from our range of boots or finding a custom fit. Boots that are custom-fitted to your skater’s exact foot specifications will help them step out onto the ice with confidence and comfort. With over 65 years dedicated to researching and creating the best figure skating boots possible, Riedell can help you find (or create!) the ideal figure skates for your child.