Field Trip: Ice Skating with Kids

Our writer’s dreams did not match up with her 4-year-old’s reality at the rink. But she’s got tips to help your family’s next ice-skating  excursion go more smoothly.

I have a list of things I swore I’d never do after having kids.

And I have a list of things that I swore I’d never do after having kids that I’ve ended up doing on the regular (Example: “I’ll never bribe my child!” Um.)


Funnily enough, those lists are the exact same length.

But perhaps the biggest “expectation versus reality” fail to date happened when I took my youngest, Theo, age 4, ice skating.

Expectation: Images of warmly mittened hands; an adorable pile of mom and child as we became tangled in each other on wobbly ankles around the rink; growing confidence as we soared across the ice. I wasn’t going to get too carried away, but odds were good we would end up with me holding him above my head, gazing into each other’s eyes, as I did an increasingly fast, wide-legged spin.

Reality: A 44-minute (not a typo) limp once around the rink. (But check on the mittens and wobbly ankles.)

Ice skating is hard! And expectations need to be appropriately set. With the right rink, bribes (yes, I said it), and equipment, you may just end up having a Lifetime movie moment after all.


Tip 1: Consider a beginner skating class. Many rinks, including the Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver, where we began our magical skating morning, offer beginner skating classes for children as young as 4. Growing up in Boston in the ’80s, ice skating was a part of my childhood — we all did it, along with wearing neon and singing along to New Kids on the Block. But skating is not like riding a bike. It’s a bit wobbly getting back out there. Both Theo and I would have benefitted from a little help at the outset.

Tip 2: Start with the seal. Avoid my 44-minute death skate and start with a little help. Most rinks, Mountain View Ice Arena included, offer chairs or adorable blue seals that tots can sit on and then hold onto as they become more confident. Five dollars buys you 30 minutes of seal time, and it was worth every penny. We started out by me pushing Theo around the rink while he sat on the seal and dragged his skates across  the ice. Pro tip: Holding onto the seal while skating is like holding-onto-the- edge-of-the-rink power times ten.

Tip 3: Set clear goals. With seal in hand/under bottom, it was time to set some realistic expectations. While I was happy to see him enjoying the ice, I was aiming for him to make it around the rink on his own two blades. For round two, we alternated between Theo sitting and me pushing, and Theo pushing while he obstinately refused to let me sit. Whatever. I pushed him through the curves; Theo skated-while-holding-on during the straight stretches between them. I was hoping he would eventually make it all the way around without wanting to sit, but the allure of seal-back riding was too strong. Still, I took it as a win.

Tip 4: End with hot chocolate. Always. At Mountain View, they had a reasonably priced concession stand, where you could fuel up on the hot beverage of your choice. And if you’re feeling splurgy (or need a bigger bribe), get a chocolate chip cookie, too.

For those who need greater inducement than liquid chocolate, Mountain View also offered small sheets of stickers for 50 cents, and several arcade games to choose from. Theo chose one of the car racing games. I immediately began lowering expectations for when he gets his driver’s permit.


Mountain View Ice Arena

Location: 14313 SE Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, Washington

Cost: $9.75 for adults, $6 for under 5. Skate rental is an additional $3.75. Bring some extra money for the seal /chair and bribes, er, hot chocolate.

Check the website for open skate and learn-to-skate schedules.

Find other ice skating rinks at

Ali Wilkinson
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