Once your child has learned to skate, they now have the ability to move onto your local rinks Learn to Play Hockey (LTPH) Program. Most organized programs in the United States follow USA Hockey's American Development Model (ADM) for youth hockey. ADM emphasizes learning the game instead of a win-at-all-costs approach.
By focusing on the kids learning the game appropriately and most importantly, keeping the game fun, it provides multiple results.
If you want to throw your child into a "win-at-all costs" environment when they are 4-6 years old, then an ADM Program may not be the best for your child.
LTPH programs build off of the skills learned in the LTS program. Again, learning to skate properly and effectively is the single most important factor in developing a youth hockey player and those lessons are extended into LTPH.
In most LTPH Programs, full equipment is required. Hockey is not the cheapest sport your child can play, but there are ways (especially early on) to minimize the cost so it doesn't break the bank. As your kid is seemingly growing an inch a month, they can grow out of their equipment in a heartbeat, so don't worry about buying the best of the best when they are just getting started. There are also retailers that sell used hockey equipment.
Bauer has wonderful youth hockey equipment for kids just starting to learn hockey. Reference this sizing chart if you are unsure of what size you should order for a given piece of equipment.
The total should be $250-$300. You might be able to find a package a little cheaper and you definitely can buy gear much more expensive, but this is a quality starter package.
There's nothing wrong with buying some used equipment during these early years. But before you panic about the price, please note that many youth programs offer financial assistance to families under certain income levels. If you live on a strapped budget, it is recommended that you do some fact finding in this regard. Also, some programs have grants that allow them to purchase equipment that they can loan to you for free. The cost of the LTPH programs tend to run right around the LTS programs. $100 for 8 classes tends to be the average.
Once your child is geared up and ready to step on the ice they will learn how to skate with the equipment on. Instructors will begin to introduce puck handling drills, basic rules of the game, and towards the end of the program they may introduce a few VERY basic plays.
Once the instructors feel your child has a grasp of those key points, they'll typically suggest that they get ready to play in their house league. If the instructors feel your child is in need of more lessons, they'll be the first to tell you. A lot of times they'll offer a few one-on-one sessions in order to get your child ready for the house leagues.