Inline touring is an activity that can be enjoyed equally by people of all ages. After the initial cost of skates and protective gear, it's a versatile form of active recreation that costs nothing and can be enjoyed anywhere there's smooth pavement. This makes skating an ideal form of family recreation.
Skating can be a healthy pastime even for families with smaller children who haven't yet developed the balance and coordination required to learn inline skills. The littlest ones can be pushed in a jogging stroller, while big brother or sister rides along on a tricycle or bike (with training wheels, if necessary). The parent pushing the stroller must be a competent skater, capable of using the heel brake to stop and control speed. It's a good idea to first practice maneuvering a stroller without the child in it to gain some experience lifting the front wheel(s) to get over curbs and make tight turns.
Protective gear allows the budding skater to relax while learning new moves. Children are especially injury prone (ah, the immortality of youth!) and usually unaware they're in a dangerous situation until it's too late.
Make sure the helmet and pads you buy for your kids fit properly. A bad fit or uncomfortable gear simply doesn't protect as well. And worse, when the Velcro straps on elbow and knee pads itch or bind, kids will resist wearing them at all. A helmet that flops back and exposes a child's forehead offers no protection in the event of a forward fall. Baby sizes may be hard to find, but do your best to find a helmet that fits your stroller-bound tot, too.
As for mom and dad, when parents don't wear gear, kids believe that when they get big they won't need it either. There is no double standard. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to ensure a lifelong helmet habit to protect your child well into the future. If you don't skate helmeted now, be aware that an adult's cranium is much more brittle and likely to hit the pavement at greater impact than a child's.
Shopping for Kids' Skates
Big chain sporting goods, department, and toy stores capitalize on the common desire to save money when outfitting children with growing feet for a sport they may not stick with. Don't risk wasting money on the low-end, limited selection inlines typically sold in these chains. Cheaply made skates not only wear out early, they often retard the skater's development because of a painful fit, bad ankle support and slow-rolling wheels.
The best plan for outfitting a child with inlines is to purchase one of the youth skate models sold in specialty shops. These will accommodate up to 4 foot sizes, using either a stretchy boot liner, two different-sized liners or an extendable sole. The price is usually $75 - $100 and it's well worth gaining a longer useful skate life.
Most youngsters develop the necessary motor skills to learn skating at about 6 or 7 years old. Before that age, a pair of toy skates will help them get used to rolling vs. walking on wheeled feet. In a few rare cases, however, children as young as 3 or 4 have demonstrated incredible early aptitude on regular inline skates.
A patient parent with advanced skills can begin teaching a child inline basics as long as a positive and encouraging tone is used throughout the lesson. Any sign of impatience or frustration on your part is instantly obvious to your child and may result in a power struggle that could plague every future effort to teach. Make it a point to quit as soon as fatigue or wandering attention (yours or your child's) starts making the lesson less fun.
Use games and imagery your child can relate to when teaching new skills:
- talk about Frankenstein or robot turns when teaching the A-frame turn,
- skate like a flamingo for one-foot balance practice,
- talk about the game of tug-of-war when describing proper heel brake position and play red light - green light to practice stops,
- play Simon Says to practice a variety of skills while skating in a big circle,
- set obstacle courses or have the child pick up objects off the pavement at a roll for general motor skills improvement.
Stick to a smooth, traffic-free site until the child can confidently demonstrate striding, turning and effective use of the heel brake for slowing and stopping. Next, familiarize your child with the Rules of the Road to make sure he or she understands the etiquette and safety guidelines expected of all trail skaters, and especially the importance of staying to the right side of the trail. Only then should you try an outing on a publicly used bike path.
Now you know how easy it is to prepare for years of family adventures on skates. See you on the trails!