Chess programs can offer students of all ages an engaging and strategic way to build critical thinking skills, focus, and patience. Although this article mostly assumes you are a teacher at elementary through secondary institution, the steps for setting up a chess club are mostly the same regardless of the students’ age or the type of school. If you want to start a chess program at your school, this step by step guide will get you well on your way. You can do this!
Step 1: Assess interest and identify Goals
Understanding the level of interest and motivation for a chess program at your school is one of the first places to start. There’s no need to build a program if the interest isn’t there and if it is, gathering a little information up front can help tasks like purchasing materials, scheduling, and finding practice space go much more smoothly.
Survey students and teachers
- Create a survey to gauge interest in a chess program among students and staff. Tools like Google Forms or Microsoft Forms are simple, free tools that can help you gauge interest.
- Use the survey to identify the goals of the program. Is it for competition, casual play, or instructional purposes? Asking survey respondents what they are most interested in can help guide you.
Step 2: Obtain administrative support
Getting administrative support is a crucial step when you want to start a chess program at your school, as it ensures alignment with the school’s requirements and builds a foundation for a successful and sustainable program. Similarly, obtaining permission to use school facilities and equipment is vital, as it provides the necessary space and tools for students to engage in chess.
Propose the idea to school leaders
- Outline the benefits of chess, including improvements in cognitive skills, concentration, and academics. For help, see our ‘Why Chess?’ page for research and other resources that illustrate the benefits of chess. If your students will be older, the fun social component of chess may be the primary benefit you call out.
- Based on your school’s requirements, present a detailed plan including resources needed, volunteer roles, and schedule. Your school may have special requirements for clubs or activity groups. Therefore, it’s best to research these early so that you can keep them in mind.
- Request permission to use school facilities and equipment. The results of your initial survey will help determine the size of rooms and amount of equipment required.
Step 3: Acquire necessary equipment and materials
While not as expensive as some clubs, there are some basic items you’ll need to get your school’s chess program off the ground. Start by making a budget that includes everything from chess sets to teaching material, then look into different ways to raise the money. For recommendations on what chess supplies you’ll need, see our article on chess supplies to consider for your school’s chess program. School funds, parent or student contributions, community sponsorships, and crowdfunding are great options to help get your program started.
Develop a budget
- List expenses such as chess sets, clocks, instructional materials, and potential tournament entry fees. Our list of recommended supplies for your school’s chess program will help get you started.
- Explore options like school budget allocation, parent or student contributions, community sponsorships, or crowdfunding. Around $450 per 20 students is a good rough estimate, meaning a little over $20 per student should get you up and running with the basic necessities.
- Consider contacting resources like DonorsChoose or local businesses who might want to sponsor your program.
Purchase or collect supplies and instructional materials
- Explore bulk purchasing or request donations from local chess clubs. Smart Moves’ store stocks chess supplies designed specifically for use in school chess programs and offers discounts for purchases made to build new programs.
- Instructional materials can include books, curriculum guides, lesson plans, notation pads, flash cards, and other materials. The materials you need will depend on the curriculum you have designed or are using. For example, older students may benefit from books on chess openings. In contrast, a chess curriculum for preschoolers (such as Smart Moves’) should focus on learning indirectly through play.
- Libraries or local bookstores may be interested in donating chess books. In addition, you’ll also want to take advantage of free online resources, like Chess.com when possible. Smart Moves Chess sells custom downloadable lesson plans, curriculum guides, and learning resources for children as young as 3 through adults.
Step 4: Organize a support and instructional team
Even if you’re comfortable teaching chess, having assistance managing and leading your new chess program can help ensure it succeeds. Your initial survey may have already identified individuals who are interested in helping with your school’s program. You can also recruit teachers, community members, possibly even local chess enthusiasts or professional coaches who share a passion for the game. Providing them with a little training and orientation ensures everyone’s on the same page and working towards the program’s goals.
Recruit teachers and community members
- In your initial survey consider asking whether respondents are interested in assisting with your school’s new chess program. Use those results to identify potential assistants. Some parents will have chess experience and be interested in participating.
- Invite local chess enthusiasts or, if funding allows, hire professional coaches.
- Consider that younger students will need more guidance and supervision than older students. A ratio of 5-6 students to every instructor is good for elementary students, while high school students may be fine with 10-12 students per instructor.
Step 5: Promote the program
Get the word out!
Advertise in your school or community
- School newsletters, school announcements, and social media are great places to post flyers about your new program. Consider your audience when designing your promotions, maybe a clever meme or video short will garner more interest than traditional methods.
Step 6: Schedule regular meetings and tournaments
Establish a routine schedule
- Determine meeting days, times, and locations. If your group is large, scheduling may be difficult – it may be best to have multiple meeting times. A follow-up survey can be a good way to find the times that work best for students and instructors.
- For younger students, 1 meeting per student per week will likely be the right frequency. For older students or programs focused on competitive play, your program may want to have more frequent meetings.
Plan and organize tournaments (optional)
- If your club is interested in competitive play, intra-school tournaments or participation in local competitions can be great ways to build tournament experience in a lower stress environment. See our posts for suggestions on how to connect with other schools to conduct a tournament or how to plan and host a chess tournament on your own.
Step 7: Monitor Progress and Adapt
Once your program is up and running, don’t forget to check in to make sure it’s remaining successful.
Regularly evaluate the program
- Gather feedback from student and teachers. As before, a simple survey could be useful. Or for younger students you may find it more helpful to check in with parents periodically as they stop by to pick up or drop off students.
- Adjust and adapt to ensure alignment with goals and participants’ needs and interests.
These steps cover how to start a chess program at a school at which you are employed or attend. Either way, the process is mostly the same. Starting a chess program at your school can be a rewarding endeavor that fosters (or rekindles) a lifelong love of learning and strategic thinking. These steps can help you create a thriving chess program that enriches the educational experience of students and brings together your school community.
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