• I recently took my children ice-skating and it brought back memories of when my dad taught me to skate. My dad is very ‘old school’ and always brought his own skates from home. Not just regular old skates but ‘speed skates,’ which were from the 1950’s, and I kid you not, had a nearly two foot long blade.  We would get to the rink and when he hit the ice he would lean forward and make his way around the rink, with one hand tucked behind his back with the other swinging side to side as if he was competing in a an Olympic speed skating competition. This was serious business for him. It was purely for exercise and speed with nothing leisurely about it. Of course, he expected us to watch him and then to skate the same way. I’m sure you can only imagine how hard it was to pull that off while at the same time, as a pre-teen in California, trying to look somewhat cool.  It took many trips to the rink before my siblings and I learned to skate, and several more without my dad to skate and try to blend in.

    Of course, he expected us to watch him and then to skate the same way

    Fast forward about 25 years and now I’m out there trying to teach my kids to skate. I try to take my kids about 2-3 times per year during winter break. Of course, I try to take a completely opposite approach from my father so my only focus is for them to enjoy themselves on the ice. Technique be damned.  Every once in a while I have to catch myself from barking orders to correct their form. For the past two years, my little guy would come along with us but couldn’t skate because the rink didn’t have skates in his size. Finally this year, he turned four and for the first time he found skates that fit and could get out on to the ice.  After the initial chaos of getting all of the kids fitted, we made our way to the bench by the rink. Hookie (my youngest son’s nickname) was so excited, that I laced up his shoes first.  I then turned to my other three kids to assist them with lacing their skates. I figured my older ones could make their way around the rink on their own so I could focus on my little guy. Once everyone was laced up, I turned around with my hand extended and said, “Let’s go,” but Hookie was gone. I panicked for a minute and looked around as my oldest daughter pointed to the middle of the rink and said, “Hey, look! He’s on the ice.” Sure as anything, there he was about 20 feet out on the ice walking casually as if he was still wearing his shoes.  A fully grown man, shaky on his feet and holding on to the side of the rink for dear life stared at my little man, shook his head and said what I was thinking-, “Unbelievable!” As a child my son didn’t worry about falling or technique, he just barreled into it.  But having done this before with 3 other children I watched the little one and realized that he really might have a gift – he could learn something simply by watching others.

    As a child my son didn’t worry about falling or technique, he just barreled into it.

    This is the same son who started riding a two-wheel bike on his own by two and a half. I came home one day and saw his older brother (who was 5 years-old at the time) holding Hookie’s bike upside down and fumbling with a wrench. “What are you doing?”  I asked. “I’m taking off his training wheels,” he responded. “Are you kidding me? He can’t ride a two wheeler yet. I haven’t even shown him what to do.” My son continued to work on the bike and excitedly said, “He can dad, he told me he can.” “Okay I’ll help you take them off but you have to put them back on when he can’t do it.” He agreed as he held the bike up for his younger brother. Hookie could barely reach the pedals, but jumped on the bike and rode down the entire block as I ran after him to keep up. I couldn’t believe my eyes and was shocked because I had nothing to do with him learning to ride. After thinking about it, I realized that he has two big things working in his favor. He has older siblings and he’s not afraid to try. He has spent years watching his brother and sisters and has learned and gained confidence from seeing them attempt and succeed before him.  So is this his unique talent?  Perhaps! But it’s made us think that maybe all children have this ability, to a degree.  We now try to incorporate observation before our family’s planned activities. For example, prior to our first ski trip we put on skiing instructional videos for the kids to watch.  It got them excited about going.  Who knows if it gave them a jump start out on the slopes?  I think that it definitely gave them more confidence. So though nothing can take the place of good old-fashioned practice (my nod to my own father), I now believe that observation does have a place in the preparation for and in the honing of a skill.  It certainly can’t hurt!