Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kids and Kites on Ice!

Ice skating is a perennial favorite among winter activities that is growing in popularity as an adaptive recreation opportunity in Massachusetts state-owned rinks. Many rinks now house a couple of ice sleds for people with mobility impairments to use during public skating. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) also offers adaptive ice skating programs, in which the entire ice is reserved for use by people with disabilities and their families and friends. Over the years this has become a popular "come-as-you-are" program, with skaters using wheelchairs, walkers, ice sleds and regular ice skates to enjoy time on the ice. Over and over we find that being on ice inspires play!

We offer a variety of game elements at DCR Universal Access skating programs when we have full use of the rink. Balls of all sizes and pucks can be knocked into nets. Foam blocks are built into crash towers and re-stacked again. Orange cones are placed in slalom patterns. Often there are impromptu hockey games. It is amazing to see how skating skills improve when a game is involved! The skater's attention goes outward, beyond the sense of awkwardness and inability, to focus on a ball or puck, enabling them to improve sometimes without realizing it.

A recent inspiration for our adaptive skating programs is the addition of kites, which add a whole new sense of color and movement. We've been experimenting with kites on ice as a program element and it is a lot of fun for skaters of all ages!

This activity is best with plenty of open space on the ice. Outdoors it won't work if trees are close by, otherwise the sky's the limit! At our indoor programs it works best when attendance is on the low side, and of course, the ceiling requires careful flying technique.

Our typical kite flight involves someone skating backwards with a kite, which generates enough breeze to give lift to lightweight kites. A good skater can avoid mishap while keeping the kite at an appropriate height by setting a string length with one hand holding the line winder and using the other hand to pull in or release a small amount of line as needed. Power wheelchair users can lift kites easily if they have reasonable traction, but may not be able to view the kite in the air themselves. Such flights serve as a colorful element for others to enjoy, both on and off the ice.

We found out last week that kids on skates can handle small kites pretty easily. They seem to appreciate the novelty of trying two different activities together. I noticed kids improving their agility and speed, learning to look backward and forward and monitor their movement in space.

Kids in sleds being pushed can expand their sense of space by watching kites, following them, and having a kite flown with them. I have found it quite easy to control the height and flight pattern of longer kites as well as simple ones, to avoid skaters and give selected participants a closer encounter.

So far we've had no kite flying collisions, entanglements, cut string or kites caught on the ceiling. Kite flights last just a few minutes usually. The visual display of a kite in flight seems to inspire the level of attention necessary for sighted people to avoid them. Precautions should be taken if anyone on the ice has a visual impairment.

If you are looking for some uplifting color in late winter and have access to ice, try flying kites!

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