Teaching Tools: What To Use And How To Use It
Teaching tools are not used to teach kids as much as they are used to keep them safe. So from this point on, let me just call them what they are, safety tools. My best advice for safety tools; don’t over do it!
Consider this, would you try to teach your child to swim wearing a life jacket, swim arms and an inner tube? Well, maybe I did once (when I had first child syndrome) but, now I know it was overkill and ultimately very unproductive.
We want our little skiers to be working towards independence, while keeping them safe. That is our number one priority and this is easily accomplished using only one device at a time or even no device at all. If you find yourself using more than one device at a time, I encourage you to take a look at the terrain you are teaching on and ask yourself if you can take it back a step. It’s important that children work on terrain that they can quickly gain independence on. This will boost confidence and encourage a much faster progression than relying on a variety of devices to get down a run that they’re just not ready for.
I will be the first to admit I have not used all of the safety tools out on the market today, so instead of reviewing individual products, I will share with you what I have learned from the types of devices I have used.
The tool I use most often is a wedge device. By this I mean a device that holds the tip of a child’s ski’s together, so that when they spread their tails apart, their ski’s automatically form a wedge. I prefer the ones that screw down because they don’t slip as easily as a clip or Velcro. However, these screws will leave their mark on the tip of the ski, so if keeping them nice is of importance, choose a gentler attachment.
There’s only one scenario under which you would want to use a wedge device, that’s if and only if, your child has the strength and balance to slide independently but, is still developing the fine motor skills necessary to perform the leg movements that form a wedge with their ski’s. Under this scenario, using the wedge device will help them to feel the proper body positioning, develop muscle memory, gain confidence and have fun!
How long you use this device depends on the child. Age, coordination and learning style will all play a role. Sometimes it only takes a couple of runs for a child to “feel” the movement and progress forward without the help of this device. Sometimes a child, especially the youngest ones, will use this device for an entire season. You are the best judge of when they are ready to move away from the assistance. Just keep in mind that your goal is to move them towards independence, so use it as little as possible and make sure your language around this device does not give your little skier the impression that they “need it” in order to ski as this can create a psychological dependency that can be hard to break through later on.
Though you don’t see them on the hill that often, I have used tools that attach my ski poles to the back of a child’s skis. I always imagine that for a child, this experience would be similar to becoming a puppet. When your poles are attached to their skis, you become the puppeteer. This technique keeps the child close and limits their control over their movements, so for this reason I only recommend this tool for the very young (3 and under). The benefit of using a stiff pole is that you can easily push your child across the flats or through the lift line, move them into a wedge or even manipulate the positioning of their skis to initiate a turn. This means, as long as your child can balance, you can use this tool to give them the full experience of skiing, long before their fine motor skills are developed. This is especially helpful when you’re teaching more than one young child and trying to keep them together. It’s a challenge however when trying to use the tow rope or chairlift, as you’ll have to carry your poles, which I don’t usually recommend while teaching little’s. For that reason, this tool is best used when you can utilize a “magic carpet” to get to the top of the hill.
If you plan to use a harness, you need to keep in mind that we want to see our child working towards good body position while sliding on skis. In order for them to gain good control, we want them to always have their weight forward. The downside to a body harness is that when there is any resistance applied to the leash, the child’s upper body or hips are pulled backwards. This is the opposite of what we want when we are trying to teach them to be centered and balanced. Most young children will naturally ski in the “backseat” anyway. Using a harness that pulls on their upper body can drastically slow their progress.
If the harness is your favorite tool, consider removing the leash from the harness and attaching it either around the ski boot or connect it to the back of your child’s binding. There are even leashes on the market now that are designed to attach around the boot only and do not include a body piece. I have used this type of leash very successfully. It is much more productive to add resistance to your child’s feet than it is to their upper body. Using your leash in this manner is much like using the ski pole attachments except it gives your student more space and autonomy with the added bonus of still being able to manipulate your child’s feet into positions that can help them initiate their turns.
Many Mamas like the body harness because it comes with an easy to grab handle that can be used for the purpose of assisting and/or holding your child on the chairlift. If this handle offers you a degree of comfort and safety, consider using the body harness, without the leash, just for this purpose.
Please note: When your child is wearing a harness take extra caution on the chairlift! Nothing attached to your child should not be hanging. Always check for loose straps, hooks or buckles that could become caught in the chair as they are a safety hazard to your child.