As I was taking my skates off today, I was sitting next to a mom and her 5 or 6 year old son putting on skates. He asked to try tying them himself, so mom talked him through both ways of tying--end over end and "bunny ears." After about 6 or 7 minutes, the boy asked his mom to finish them so he wouldn't miss any class (you could see the other kids starting to enter the ice).
This mom had it together. One of the hardest things to do is sit there while the child struggles with tying his or her skates, knowing that s/he's doing it wrong–too loose, too slow–while the money you spent for him/her to be on the ice is tick-tick-ticking away.
At skating camp, where the kids come on and off the ice several times over the course of 3 or 4 hours, and the moms aren't there, it can take 40 minutes to get skates on all the kids. It's maddening.
A reader asked me how old a child should be before you make them tie their own skates, after observing what appeared to be teenagers sitting while their moms tied their skates for them. (One wonders how far they take the personal services for these kids, if you know what I mean.) Here's my guidelines (oh, you knew I had guidelines for this.)
When can a kid really handle tying their skates?
Younger than 8, kids often don't have the strength or coordination to tie up complex footgear like a figure or hockey skate, although I've seen kids as young as 5 handle this. A further impediment is added by the fact that street shoes no longer require tying; even if they have laces they are often permanently laced and the kids just slip them on. It is then further complicated by harried moms and overscheduling--the kids get to the rink with just enough time to run into class. It feels really wrong to miss ice because your child is trying to learn how to tie skates, and moms start feeling very pressured as the lobby empties out.
How old is too old?
Seriously, this child needs to learn to tie shoes. If s/he's really struggling, make her tie them with the promise that if they feel wrong, you will retie them. But let the kid tie her own skates. This is such a minimum level of self-sufficiency that I'm continually appalled that parents aren't getting their kids here. If you don't have time to sit and teach your child to tie shoes, you are seriously over-scheduled and need a break.
But I get it. You are, in fact, seriously over-scheduled, and harried after school activities are an established cultural norm. If your 8, or 9, or god-forbid 13 year old is having trouble tying skates, either try to get to the rink with 10 or 15 minutes extra to spare, or let her coach know that she's going to miss warm up so she can learn to tie skates. Then sit back and let her do it, don't keep sticking your fingers in. Let her do it wrong. In a month, she'll be doing it herself.
If someone makes fun of your 13-year-old for letting mommy tie her skates, I say go with it. Tell her, well, at 13 you really should be able to dress yourself. If you don't want the other girls to make fun of this, then learn to do it.
Nope, sorry, don't have time at the rink
So do it at home. Kids these days are master multi-taskers. So every night for a week, during your skater's tv watching time, have her take her skates on and off, on and off, on and off. She's also insulated from the peer pressure here in the privacy of her home.
Let the coach teach them
Years ago at the Ice Rink of the Damned, we solved the problem with camp by taking one of the on-ice periods every day for a week to just work on skate tying. By the end of the week, even the 5-year-olds were master skate tie-ers. Sadly, when a new coach decided he was in charge of camp, this ended, because apparently teaching self-sufficiency was stupid (or maybe it was just because I proposed it, who knows) and we were again stuck with spending 30 or 40 minutes tying skates.
But if a coach is finding too many kids late to the ice because they can't tie their skates, let them teach this as part of the session. It's a good lesson.
It's part of figure skating
There's a level of poise, self-sufficiency, and maturity that can come from participating in and mastering this sport. And it doesn't just happen gliding around on the ice. It happens because skaters learn to be responsible for taking care of their equipment, keeping their skating bag neat and stocked, not losing gloves, guards or shoes (yes, there are always shoes in the lost and found. And jackets. And skates. It's mystifying. How do you leave an ice rink in the middle of winter without your shoes and jacket?)
Kids need to be allowed to establish these habits themselves. Like I said, Mom is harried: she's worrying about Younger Sib, Older Sib, dinner, the car repair that the family can't afford, and where the hell she left the house keys. Take this off your plate.
Make the child responsible, at a bare minimum, for dressing herself.