Teaching a Child Chess

By: Fran Black

Raising children in the world today has become much more complicated than it was even 20 years ago. Among some of the influences that seek to effect the youth of today are a "got to have it now attitude" and related to that, a lack of foresight as to how choices will have consequences later. There seems to be a deteriorating of values and concern with basic moral character. Responsibility, effect of choices and thinking before acting are among these traits. With the world becoming more complicated children need these skills to be equipped to meet its expectations, challenges and the many problems that will arise. A person does not need to go to extremes to help their child, its as simple as teaching the game of chess.

Benjamin Franklin said, "Chess teaches foresight, by having to plan ahead; vigilance, by having to keep watch over the whole chess board; caution, by having to restrain ourselves from making hasty moves; and finally, we learn from chess the greatest maxim in life - that even when everything seems to be going badly for us we should not lose heart, but always hoping for a change for the better, steadfastly continue searching for the solutions to our problems." Some say chess is just a game, after all, but what it teaches seems to put its position higher.

The traits that chess develops not only effect the game, but help develop the skills to be applied to all of life. There is not just one skill required to play chess, but several working together. With a game lasting at times hours, chess teaches focus. Many things want a person's attention and the ability to focus on what is before you allows for the problem to receive full attention and to be solved. One move can lose the game and before a piece is moved a player needs to think about the possible effects that move will have, this teaches thinking ahead. Concentration is required to play chess. Each choice needs to be made consciously and deliberately, not just making a move to make it, but deciding the best move. There is no force of a choice or move to be made in a certain amount of time and this teaches responsibility of choice and consequences. Chess not only requires these skills, but allows for them to be developed. With the complexities involved in chess some may wonder if it really is a game for children.

Learning chess is a natural progression, and as a child grows and matures their skills will develop and the complexity of the game will increase for them. A child can start to learn the pieces, points and direction of movement as young as 4 or 5. There are many ways to help a child learn strategies, understand the effects of their choices and be able to see things from their opponent's view. One important tool for an adult to use to teach chess is asking questions. For example, as you are contemplating a move, ask the child the value of that piece, explain why are you doing something or ask what might happen if that piece is moved. Another helpful thing to do is to turn the board once, or more during a game. This not only allows for a child to gain back the advantage and help them be successful, but it also allows for them to learn perspective and how a move or placement of pieces looks to the other player. They need to not only see the possible moves they can make on their side, but their opponents as well. Another helpful skill is to encourage them think forward to how a move will effect the board, and how will the board look after their move. Encourage them to make two to three moves in their mind before moving a piece instead of doing the first one that they see. This will help them look forward to the consequence of their choice and train their minds to think before they act. Encourage them to gain ownership of their game by asking questions about why they did something and getting them to explain their thought process out loud. This will allow them to feel responsible for their own decisions. Never throw the game. Winning needs to be earned to allow for feelings of accomplishment, it does not help a child to be given the win. They should also sometimes play against someone their level, they will win sometimes, lose sometimes, but will learn to be gracious in both instances.

Just a game? Perhaps, but the skills developed will benefit a player beyond the scope of the game. Their mind is sharper, their thinking more complex and their ability to make choices and feel responsible for those choices has increased. Who better to benefit from learning these skills than a child?

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