I get this question a lot. Many parents wonder when they should dust off the old chess board in the attic and introduce the game of kings and queens to their child. I would venture to guess most parents wait too long. In our household I started teaching our son when he was 4 years old. The lessons were very short and fun, many occurred on the beach. As he learned more and more of the basics the lessons became longer and longer. Now that he is 5 and has more experience we can go 45 minutes without a problem. He has also played in two tournaments which lasted over 1 hour.
Since we teach our son regularly our 2-year-old daughter started to hop up on the chair in front of the board in the dining room and declare “Chess!” in a quite demanding way. At first glance this may seem to be an impossible task, but really, if you look at it, any familiarity with the game, with the pieces and board is good. So what’s the first step? Introduce and name the pieces. This is true of any student of any age. So I started with the pawn.
Holding up the pawn I said, “This is a pawn. Can you say ‘pawn’?” She eagerly repeated “Pawn!” and I handed it to her. Then I picked up another pawn and asked, “What is this?” “Pawn!” she chirped happily and received another pawn. I let her place these pawns anywhere on the board that she wanted, after all they were her reward for a job well done. I repeated this a few times and then I held up a rook. “This is a rook,” I said. “Rook,” she repeated and received the treasured piece. We repeated this a few times and then I held up a pawn to see if she remembered that piece. Seeing that she was having trouble I reminded her, “This is a pawn.” “Pawn!” she exclaimed and took it from my hand. I focused on these two pieces for a few minutes and then ended the lesson, making sure to tell her that she did a very good job and that I was really proud of her. She, like her brother, requests regular lessons from us.
A month or so later she could name all the pieces. Her brother helps to teach her. This will greatly improve his understanding and appreciation of the game. Any time a child can teach another a skill they will advance immeasurably in that area.
We actually caught a lesson on tape and posted it on YouTube so you can see them in action. Check it out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIaW0jCNKMc . You can see here that she is still learning the difference between a king and a queen, but now she has that down. Her teachers report that she is eager to learn in preschool and enjoys sitting and learning for long periods of time, embracing each lesson with gusto. She has also picked up on the English language nicely and will form full sentences with ease.
The next step will be to go over the movement of the pieces. Patience is the key. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for your child to grasp the next step. The only important thing is that he or she fully gets one step before moving on. Remember you are building a foundation of understanding.
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– GM Susan Polgar