It's winter break -- prime time for bringing little ones for their first spin in an ice rink, either one of the holiday rinks or one of the indoor rinks that operate year-round (see our list for where to go).

But what's your strategy for helping them learn without breaking your back? Here are some tips, courtesy of Rebecca Frampton, a coach at Highland Ice Arena in Shoreline

1. Dress for success. Make sure kids are wearing tall socks, layers of warm clothes and gloves.

2. Consider a helmet. According to Frampton, ice rinks in Washington State can't legally make a recommendation about whether kids should wear a helmet, but many parents do have kids wear a bike or ski  helmet.

3. Practice off the rink. Once they've got the skates on, have them practice standing, walking around, and even falling before they get on the rink. When they fall down, have them get up by getting in a crawl position first.

4. Practice "safe position": When kids feel like they’re going to fall, tell them to get in the "safe position": bend knees and put hands on knees, which increases stability.

5. March. Another tip is to have them march in small steps, both on and off the rink.

6. Hold them from behind. Some rinks have walkers that kids can use to practice skating. Highland doesn't. Frampton recommends instead that parents holds kids from behind, with their hands under the child's armpits, which allows you to hold them without them leaning so heavily on you.

7.Look for a quieter time. Frampton notes that Highland tends to be busier in the afternoon than morning. (I can attest that the best time to skate at a rink like Seattle Center's Winterfest is first thing in the morning.)

8. Consider a class: Highland offers group lessons from age 3 and up. Kids can join at any time or do a drop-in class for $14. They also offer a Wednesday evening parent-tot class for $22.

Finally, what's the right age? Most rinks have kids' skates for rent starting at size 8, about 3-year-old size, and most rinks offer classes for kids starting about this age.

See also:

Slip-slidin': Guide to ice rinks in Puget Sound

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