Written by Jon Sieber
Chess has been linked to countless benefits, everything from critical thinking to emotional intelligence and grit. But chess can also carry an old stigma of being stuffy, elitist, boring and impossible to learn. The first part is true. The second part doesn’t have to be.
I’ve spent the last decade plus teaching hundreds of kids, as young as three years old, how to play chess, and more than 100,000 children across the globe have successfully learned the game through my educational company Story Time Chess.
If you’ve been thinking about introducing chess to your child, here are some tips to help you get started, make learning fun and spark that love of the game:
Think tee ball, not the major leagues. When I tell people children as young as three years old can learn how to play chess, they immediately think their child will become a grandmaster overnight. Toss that notion out. Think about how we teach children how to play baseball: you start with tee ball and teach them the basics first.
Take it one piece at a time. Chess is a complicated game. We recommend introducing children to one game piece at a time using the “Russian Method” of learning chess. Over time, you can layer in new pieces and concepts. This is known as a scaffolding building blocks approach.
Savor the “ah-ha” moments. Children learn best through self-discovery or “ah-ha” moments. Teach them the “why” in additional to “how” the pieces move and they’ll learn the rules of the game before you know it.
Teach good posture. We tell children to make a “Thinking Cup.” If you sit up tall, clap your hands together, open them up to make a cup (with the bottom of your palms together) and rest your chin in your hands, you can really focus on the board and think about your next move. This stance also teaches young children how to sit still, concentrate and establish self-control.
Use a story-telling approach. Historically, chess was taught to 7-year-old mathematically inclined boys in a very repetitive and serious fashion. Try a fresh approach that engages any child ages 3 and up who loves stories with silly characters, action, and adventure with Story Time Chess: The Game, now available at storytimechess.com and on Amazon for $39.99.
Don’t be afraid to get silly! I have a background in children’s theater and kids really tune in and engage when you speak their language. We do “chessercises” with kids where after learning how a chess piece moves, we’ll act it out and role play. We’ll even dress up if it means a few extra laughs and a more memorable lesson.
Jon Sieber is co-founder of Story Time Chess, which has successfully taught kids as young as three years old how to play chess all around the world through its innovative teaching method and silly story-based curriculum. The company offers private tutoring, virtual lessons, and its multi-award-winning board game Story Time Chess: The Game is a cult classic among parents.