Dec 24, 2009

What is my 4 or 5 year-old learning?

A series of posts on the actual curriculum you observe through the glass.

First of all, putting your child in a “tot” class (or whatever your rink calls it) is not a judgment on your child’s skating ability. It is an acknowledgment of their age, and an accommodation to their developmental level. Please remember that ice rinks are Lake Wobegonall the children are above average. Don’t tell me that your child is “very verbal,” “advanced for her age,” or “too good for tot class.” This doesn’t work at school, and it shouldn’t work here.

1. Marching/Push-and-Glide/Stroking: Very young children are first taught to march (rather than slide) down the ice, preferably in a “duck-foot” position (toes slightly turned out). Beginners will be asked to glide a distance of about three feet after 3 to 5 marching steps; Intermediate students should be gliding a short distance with each step. Advanced students are doing “push-and-glide” which is comparable to the stroking step learned in Pre Alpha 2 (starting with feet in a “T” or “V,” push with the side of one blade, bring feet to a two-footed glide, repeat with opposite foot, etc.)

2. Swizzles: Swizzles are an accelerating movement starting with feet in a forward “V” (heels together, toes apart) and ending in a backward “V” (toes together or “kissing” and heels apart). Beginners are asked to make the movement from heels together to toes together without forward motion. Intermediate skaters learn to do 3 swizzles in a row after marching to a slow glide. Advanced skaters must do five swizzles in a row from a standing position, gliding with feet together in between, with no additional pushes or steps.

3. Backward wiggles: Movement backwards down the ice using a wiggling motion with the hips and shoulders, and keeping feet together. Beginning skaters must be able to propel themselves backwards for any distance; Intermediate skaters should move their own height in 3 to 5 wiggling motions. Advanced skaters should be able to sustain a short backwards glide after 3 to 5 wiggles.

4. Dips and hops: A dip is a deep knee bend with the hips at or below the level of the knees and the arms extended straight in front. Beginners do it in place or after taking 3 marching steps (no glide required). Intermediate skaters should be able to sustain a short glide in the dip position; advanced skaters sustain a longer glide. Hops are two-foot jumps in place (for beginners and intermediate) and forward while moving (for advanced).

5. Snowplow Stops: Beginners learn to make snow with the inside edge of either blade. Intermediate and Advanced skaters learn to stop from a glide using this technique.

6. Gliding: Beginning skaters learn a two-footed glide forward for at least their height. Intermediate skaters learn to glide in a straight line one-footed on both right foot and left foot. Advanced skaters begin to hold one foot glides around a circle and with the free foot in different positions. A child who can hold a one-foot glide on a circle, on each foot, for a distance equal to her height is ready for cross overs.

7. Scooter pushes: Advanced students learn to push with one foot around a circle, keeping the other foot on the ice. Students are taught to move both clockwise, pushing with the left foot, and counter-clockwise, pushing with the right foot. This is another pre-crossover skill.

How do skaters learn these skills?
A major difference between Tot/Snowplow Sam classes and the Learn to Skate/Basic Skills classes (which start with PreAlpha/Basic 1-2) is the reliance on games and personalized instruction. Learn to Skate classes are more structured and rely on children to be self-motivated. In the Tot classes, coaches use age-appropriate techniques, including both example-based and game-based methods to teach. Don't assume you're just watching games. The games have an actual learning purpose that reach the kids on their level.

During the first several classes, you’ll see kids simply skating around or falling and getting up-- this helps get them moving and confident before moving on to more specific skills. Additional coaches will sometimes come on the ice to decrease the student-teacher ratio while the children learn to be comfortable on the ice. In later classes, fewer coaches may come each time.

Games like Blowing Bubbles, Fishing, Clothes Washer, obstacle courses, Mr. Fox, Red-Light Green Light, making airplanes and race cars, relay races, et cetera, help kids apply the skills they’ve learned in a fun and challenging atmosphere. Often familiar songs like Head-Shoulders-Knees-Toes, BINGO, Hokey-Pokey, or Ring Around the Rosie help the children learn skating skills while feeling confident and comfortable with a familiar tune.

If your 3- or 4- or 5- year old can do all of the above skills, they can learn the skills in the regular curriculum of Alpha through Delta (Basic 2 through Basic 6). However, there is no need to take them out of “tot” classes, where the teaching will respond to their developmental level.

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