Two of the most common questions we get from parents are: “Can a 4-year old really learn how to play chess?” and “Can I teach my child the game even if I don’t know how to play?” We know from our own experience that the answer to both is a resounding “Yes!” In other words, children don’t have to know how to read to learn this game. They just need a little assistance from someone who can read.
We recently connected with the parent of three, ages 9, 7, and 4, who wanted to teach their 4-year old the basics of chess. The 9 and 7-year olds learned to play at school, and the youngest child, who is not yet in school, was motivated to learn so that she could keep up with her siblings. The parent had a slight advantage in that they used to teach preschool and used to play chess when they were small, but their chess skills were a bit rusty from lack of use. In other words, they weren’t all that confident they could teach their youngest how to play, but they were willing to give it a try. Their daughter is a pre-reader who recognizes letters and numbers but can’t yet decipher words. Here are a few tips they shared on introducing chess to a pre-reader:
- Use ChessKid in order to keep your little one engaged; it’s one of the best tools out there for learning the game. Try using it on a tablet rather than on a computer or laptop since a 4-year old’s motor skills aren’t yet fine-tuned.
- Narrate for non-readers. This is more than simply reading to them what’s on the screen; it also encompasses conversing with them about which instructions they’re hearing and what they’re learning. For example, if ChessKid tells them to “find all the squares where the pawn can move,” then it’s important to ask them what they heard as well as to offer encouragement as they are solving the puzzle. Ask them what the puzzle is teaching them, and maybe even ask them to teach you what they’ve just learned.
- Pack your patience. If they express frustration while learning a new concept, help them push past it by working with them rather than letting them quit. Offer plenty of praise and remind them they are getting closer and closer to learning the game.
- Allow for mistakes and remind them this is how we learn (trial and error).
- Encourage your child to actively observe older siblings or other family members working puzzles and/or playing a game. Have older siblings help younger ones; you can even call them “Chess Buddies.”
The next steps this parent would like to take is to give ChessKid Adventure on the tablet a try and then move over to an actual board for a game. Plan on using a large chess set with sturdy, plastic pieces that your child can manipulate easily rather than a fancy wooden set. We’ll continue to follow along with them as they move forward and report on their progress!
Here are additional resources you might find helpful: