Can I Teach a Preschooler How to Play Chess?

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:

Anyone – Even Adults – Can Learn This Game!

Can old dogs really learn new tricks?  If they’re a few ticks past middle age, like I am, there’s hope!  Over the years when my husband taught our children to play chess, I stayed in the background and didn’t get involved.  After all, I was a tired mom who was busy with other responsibilities and who had decided that it would be too challenging for me to learn such an intricate game.  We’ve all heard the stories about how chess is for brainiacs, right? By the time I’d birthed my sixth child, it was news to no one that I’d lost more than a smattering of brain cells. Give me Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams, or any other word game … but chess?  Nope.  That was not going to happen in this lifetime. I was too scared to give it a try. What if I couldn’t learn how the pieces move? I mean, this game has a knight, amirite? Forwards “L,” backwards “L,” right-side-up and upside-down “L” moves – what if I were even more spatially challenged than I thought? Patterns just aren’t my thing. (One time I tried to follow a pattern to sew a pair of shorts, and they fell apart in two panels the first time my daughter wore them). And don’t even get me started on castling, putting my opponent in check, or recognizing that I was the one in check!  I had completely talked myself out of ever being able to learn this game. I was content to smile politely and nod at the appropriate times when other chess parents were discussing their child’s chess moves. When they exclaimed with excitement, “Did you see little Jimmy whip out the Ruy Lopez in that game? Wow, what a great opening!” I, having no idea what they were saying, heard “Living La Vida Loca” start to play in my head. The Sicilian defense?  I was dreaming up delicious pasta dishes.  

Running an elementary chess club alongside my husband, Mark, didn’t require any special skills from me other than behaving like the mom that I am.  Kids are kids, and they need supervision, encouragement, and, on occasion, reining in.  I could perform all three duties with aplomb.  Even though I could set up a chess board at lightning speed and had learned to field questions about whether or not someone’s king was in check, I knew it was time for me to begin getting acquainted with this game.  I was inspired by the enthusiasm that five and six year olds had for learning how the pieces move, so I started doing puzzles on ChessKid and found them to be all sorts of fun.  Chess mom Beth C., who says she learned chess “by accident” when her daughter was new to chess club, agrees: “The children were encouraged to do lessons on ChessKid. At home, we used the lessons as a privilege that our daughter could have while eating dinner. Since electronics aren’t normally allowed at dinner, this served as a great motivator for her to do her ChessKid lessons.” Beth added that she got sucked in to those lessons and, before she knew it, ChessKid dinners had become a nightly ritual in her house. The enjoyment she experienced in learning the game surprised her, and she says she “certainly didn’t expect it to become such a source of bonding” with her daughter.  She had so much fun that she had to stop herself from logging into her daughter’s ChessKid account to do the lessons while her daughter wasn’t home! 

Beth went on to hone her new skills by teaching beginning chess to the youngest members of Hunter Elementary School’s Chess Club in Raleigh, NC. 

Crystal W. concurs, explaining that her chess playing youngster urged her to learn the game after his coach, Mark Indermaur, challenged the children in the chess club to teach their parents to play.  She also relied on ChessKid to learn how the pieces move and was soon sitting across the board from her son as his worthy opponent. Like Beth, Crystal found the most valuable part of learning the game the “added closeness” with her son. “When he wanted to test out new strategies, I was a willing victim. When he wanted to excitedly chatter about how a tournament game had gone, now I could follow along.” 

Whether you want to keep your brain sharp, or connect with others, or even if you just want something to do to pass the time, why not give chess a try? These resources can get you started.

Remember, anyone can learn this game – even adults!

Getting the most from your new US Chess account

Set up your US Chess account

Once you or your child have joined US Chess, you will want to set up your account to get the most out of your membership. Then you can get emailed as soon as your child’s rating is updated and score major “chess parent points” after every tournament!

Click on “Member Site Login” which is to the right of the big blue “DONATE” button at the top of the uschess.org home page.

Create your US Chess website login

On your first visit, you will need to set up a new login and password.

US Chess does not require you to have a unique email address on file to become a member and get an ID number, but to use their new membership system you will need to have a unique email address associated with your membership. 

Parents registering multiple children will need to use a unique email address for each child.

If you are certain your email address is attached to your ID number, click the “Reset Your Password” button, and enter the email address associated with your member record on the form that appears.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link that will allow you to set up a new login and password.  Once your new login is confirmed, you may return to the above screen and log in.  

If you know your email address is NOT attached to your ID number, or you are not sure whether it is, click the “create a new website login” link, and complete the form you see there.  The form will attach the email address you specify, and set up your new login.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link for setting up a new password.  Please note, this form is intended for members who do not have an email address already associated with their ID number.  

US Chess strongly recommends choosing a login that is NOT your email address.  Users do not have the ability to change their logins, and if your email address changes, you will avoid confusion if you follow this recommendation.

When you successfully log in to the new system, you will see your user dashboard.

Update your US Chess profile

From your dashboard, click on “Manage My Profile” to add or update your address. At a minimum, enter your “State/Province,” as that will help Tournament Directors find your information (especially if you have a common name). It will also qualify you to play in special events like your state championship.

To get notified by email when your rating or your child’s rating is updated, select “Ratings” under “Communication Settings“. Then you will get an email (at the email address in your child’s profile) as soon as their tournament has been rated. The email will have their old and new ratings and a link to the tournament rating report. You will often receive this email several minutes before the new ratings are posted on the uschess.org website, so you could score extra “chess parent points”!

In the “Tournament Announcements (TLAs)” section, you can sign up to be notified of upcoming tournaments in your area.

If you would like to play online rated games on US Chess’ online partner sites like ChessKid.com, Chess.com, or lichess.org, then you can link your US Chess Member ID with your user account on those sites in the “Online Chess Partners” section.

Accessing US Chess publications

Once you have set up your child’s account, they can access Chess Life Kids magazine by logging in to uschess.org and going to: https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-kids-magazine-issues. This link is also on the bottom of the US Chess home page. Then they can read issues online in the digital viewer or download them as PDF files.

You can also access Chess Life magazine in the same way at https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-magazine-issues.

For more information about the new US Chess Information Technology (IT) systems, please refer to these US Chess blog posts: