Take Disney’s “Bambi on Ice.” Put Bambi in a snowsuit, give Thumper longer legs and more grace, and you get a good idea of what it’s like watching instructors tutor the little kids in Spokane Parks and Recreation’s “learn how to skate” program at Riverfront Park.
The youngest participants have only walked for a year or two, and here they are with skates strapped on their feet, slipping and sliding, pivoting and gliding, legs going this way and that.
“The first thing we teach them is how to fall, and then of course how to get back up,” said Tera Caldera, Spokane Parks’ skating director, after a recent Saturday class.
Almost 75 people of all ages are signed up for the program, which runs Saturday mornings through Feb. 14.
The youngest skaters are divided by skill level, but all adult learners go in the same group. Some grownups are as wobbly as the toddlers – they just make a louder bump when they fall.
Michelle Palm was waiting for her son, Kellen, 4, to finish his class so they could skate together afterward.
“I’ve always liked skating and roller-skating, and now I can do it with the kids,” Palm said. “We tried to get Grandma to go, but she wasn’t too interested.”
It’s Kellen’s second season in the program.
“No, he hasn’t asked to become a professional hockey player yet,” said Palm, laughing. “I think it’s good for balance and coordination.”
Instructor Tanya West never ran out of encouraging words at the recent class: “You can do it, come on, let go,” she tells the littlest skaters.
Bike helmets – some featuring characters such as Snow White, Thomas the Tank Engine and Batman – protected heads, and most of the kids took their occasional falls in stride.
“Some get a little discouraged, but the staff is just great,” Palm said. “We bring a bike helmet, because we already have one. Then everything else is here, so it’s real easy to get started.”
New skaters work their way through “bunny hops” – bend your knees, make a little hop, and hope to land on your skates – and “bubbles,” in which you start with your feet close together, then spread wide, then close together.
“We try to teach them the skating basics, like gliding on one foot, stopping and starting,” Caldera said. “And then we do the backward and forward wiggles.”
Tuesday mornings, there’s a parent-and-child skating class that follows much the same syllabus, but kids can bring a parent along for moral and physical support.
Palm said her family will continue to participate in the program.
“Last year, we had Kellen’s fourth birthday party here,” she said. “We just invited everyone down here for the free skate after the class. I think we’ll just keep coming back.”