Children of all ages can learn to play chess when they are taught in an age appropriate way. When we started the Smart Moves program people were often skeptical that preschoolers, including children as young as three, could learn the basics of chess. But years of successfully teaching the Smart Moves program to preschoolers have proven that it can be done! Teaching preschoolers chess does require a much different approach than teaching chess to older students, though. To help you get your young chess player off to a good start, here are a few tips for teaching chess to preschoolers:
1) Teach through play
Older children and adults are often taught chess in a lecture or classroom format. Young children learn by experiencing and playing. One of the best ways to teach chess concepts to preschoolers is to involve them in chess-themed free play. Role-playing as pieces or playing with the pieces like action figures builds familiarity with the pieces names and movements, while keeping children engaged.
2) Never, ever, ask them to sit at a chess board
It may sound counterintuitive, but the last thing you want to do when you’re teaching chess to a preschooler is to sit them down at a chess board (or demonstration board) and try to teach them in a traditional way. Even the most interested preschoolers don’t have the attention span to sit calmly at a chess board and learn through rote memorization like many older students do. Stick to the other methods discussed in this article until students have the patience and a clear enough understanding of the basics to set up the board correctly and play through a few moves. When they’ve reached that point, they’re probably ready for some more traditional chess instruction.
3) Involve different senses
Children are experiential learners. They learn about their world through all five senses. To get as many neurons firing as possible, engage as many of their senses as possible. Don’t just hold up a piece and tell them it’s called a bishop, let them have their own bishop to hold and have them describe how it feels. Or have them close their eyes and try to identify pieces by touch only.
4) Teach through stories
Parents know that children love stories. You can use this to your advantage when teaching chess to preschoolers. One of our favorite memory aids is the chess story, a story about the king and queen’s wedding day that helps young children remember how to set up the board. It takes a little creativity, but whenever possible, give young learners a story and they’ll be more likely to remember whatever you’re trying to teach them. If you’re not feeling very creative, ask them to make up a story related to what you’re teaching. You can use as a reminder in future lessons.
5) Keep it short
Brevity is the soul of wit – and the key to teaching preschoolers chess. Keep lessons short and change activities often. Our preschool curriculum recommends roughly 30-minute lessons made up of 3-4 different activities that are each 5-7 minutes in length.
Are you an organization with students ages 3-6? The Smart Moves curriculum was designed specifically to teach chess and early academic thinking to students like yours. Learn more about it in this detailed description of our preschool chess curriculum.