Teaching our kids how to swim, skate and ride a bike

Ian wonders whether it’s better for us to try and teach these skills to our kids or put them in a class

By Ian Mendes
Teaching our kids how to swim, skate and ride a bike

Photo by YanLev/

We’ve been hit by an early heat wave here in Ontario, which has brought the warm weather about six weeks ahead of schedule.

It’s created an odd mixture of seasonal activities, where children are doing skating lessons in the morning and riding their bikes in the afternoon.

Of course, that’s provided your child can skate or ride a bike independently.

Right now, we’re in the middle of teaching our kids some of the fundamental staples of childhood: How to swim, how to skate and how to ride a bike.

And each activity offers its own challenges for the child and the parents involved. This week, I discuss whether it’s better for us to try and teach these skills to our kids or put them in a class.


The background: When you take your toddler to the pool for the first time, there are only two possible outcomes.
1.  They will take to the water like a little fish.
2.  They will act like a cat that has been thrown into a bathtub.

Do it yourself? Of course, both of our daughters fell into the latter category and we had a hard time selling them on the water at first. The simple solution to this problem is to install a pool in your backyard and your children will become better swimmers instantaneously. However, we’ve also learned that a cheaper option is to make friends with people who have pools and your children will gradually learn how to swim. In any event, teaching your own children how to swim can be a challenge because most kids have trust issues in the water. Getting past that initial fear of the water is the most difficult thing to do when teaching your own child how to swim.

Outsourcing the job: We put them in swimming lessons, but they had problems passing the early classes because they refused to get their faces wet. So we would spend hours scouring through the city’s recreation guide, trying to find a swimming class that was “submersion-optional”. Finally, after a handful of classes through the rec department, our kids became more comfortable in the water. It turns out that our daughters had more trust with the teenage girls running the class than they did with us.

Recommendation: Outsource the job — but still try and find friends that own a pool.


The background: The biggest problem with skating in Canada — at least in comparison to swimming — is that parents are much more competitive about how their kids are doing on the ice. In short, if your son isn’t skating independently by his third birthday, you can probably forget about that NHL career — unless you want him playing for the New York Islanders.

Do it yourself? A word of advice: If you value the use of your lower back, don’t ever try and teach your child to skate by yourself. It’s about as comfortable as being told you need to drag a large sack of potatoes along the ice for 45 minutes. When Elissa was four years old, I took her skating in a ‘Parent and Tot’ program. I’m fairly certain it was sponsored by the Ontario Association of Chiropractors because I sustained long-term back injuries from that class. And she ended up throwing fits throughout the class, with each outburst culminating with an angry snow angel on the ice.

Outsourcing the job: We’ve had a lot more success putting her in skating classes where we can watch from the comfort of a heated viewing area. It’s amazing how the tantrums come to a grinding halt when the kids can’t see Mom and Dad because they’re sipping coffee and checking their smart phones behind the glass.

Recommendation: Outsource the job — and always show up to skating class with a fully-charged phone.

Bike riding:

The background: The beauty about skating and swimming is that you can pawn off the task of teaching these skills on some poor teenager who has been hired by the city. But with bike riding, the onus is squarely on the parents.

Do it yourself? More often than not, this task falls directly to the father. For some reason, we have this magical image of a father letting go of a bicycle and watching their child pedal independently.  What they don’t show you are the countless hours of yelling, threats and crying that lead up to that magical moment. And just like with skating, you are forced to bend at an awkward angle to help your child along — creating long-term back issues to go along with those lifelong memories. The trust issues — which were rampant during the swimming lessons — come to the forefront again when riding a bike because the child never wants to fall.

Outsourcing the job: I’ve always thought someone could make a killing by teaching other people’s kids how to ride a bike.

Recommendation: Start a home business teaching other people’s kids how to ride a bike and you’ll become a millionaire.  

This article was originally published on Mar 22, 2012

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