Dear Parents

Dear Parents

Thank you for your enquiry about chess lessons for your young children. I believe that chess is an extraordinarily powerful learning tool, and, much more than that, the greatest game in the world. Many children, though, are put off chess by starting too soon and learning too quickly. While young children are naturally attracted to the pieces and their moves, most of them do little more than play random moves and lose interest after a few months. The game of chess requires adult thinking skills to play well and adult sensitivities to appreciate.

The decision as to when and how your children should learn chess is complex and depends on many factors such as your parenting philosophy and the amount of help you can give your children at home.

If you are not yourselves chess players I would strongly advise you not to do too much chess with your children until at least the age of 6 or 7. There are many other strategy games which will, because they are simpler, give your children more benefit. While younger children may well pick up the moves of the pieces quickly, they will almost certainly be far too young to understand the logic of the game: joining a club or having private tuition at that age will only put them off. Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to learn more about chess yourself so that you will be able to help your children when they are ready.

The table below will give you some idea of the age at which the average child might expect to reach various chess milestones:

4-5 Learn the moves of some of the pieces
6-7 Understand all the moves, check and checkmate: play a complete game. At this age, a teacher will probably be able to do little more than humour children.
8-9 Understand the logic of the game enough to play in junior competitions. At this age children can learn to play a reasonable game by memory and mimicry, but will not have a higher level understanding of the game.
11-12 Be able to apply higher level thinking to chess and take part in adult competitions. At this age children can make rapid improvement with the right teacher
14-15 Be able to teach themselves to play better chess, using books, DVDs, software or online resources.

Some children can reach these milestones earlier, and, in exceptional cases, much earlier, but these are almost always children who are very bright for their age academically (top of the class in maths, for example) and possess the maturity to ‘switch off’ being a child while playing or studying chess. They will probably have a strong chess background at home and will certainly have proactive and supportive parents.

Now you might be parents who like to encourage their children to excel at everything they do at an early age. If this is your parenting style and you are prepared to spend time helping your children on a daily basis you may well want to start your children young and use chess as a learning tool to accelerate their cognitive development. Many children who start young and receive a lot of parental support do very well in competitions from an early age and gain a lot of benefit and enjoyment from playing chess seriously.

If, on the other hand, you believe that children should enjoy their childhood and develop naturally it would make more sense to encourage your children to start later, say 9 or 10. At this age they’ll find the game easier to learn and they will soon overtake many children who started younger. They’ll also need rather less parental support. The higher level thinking skills they’ll require after a couple of years will come naturally to them.

If you decide you’d like your children to start young, they will probably gain most benefit from learning chess incrementally, one piece at a time, one chess skill at a time and one thinking skill at a time. You should ensure that each concept is fully understood before moving on. Our methods involve using mini-games and puzzles with only a few pieces on the board to ensure that the learning process will be fun for your children.

In most cases, you are your children’s own best teacher. We provide a wide range of coaching materials in many formats: you can choose the mix that suits your children best. Many of them are available for free on our website. If you don’t like our materials that’s absolutely fine: we also provide links to other resources which might be more suitable for you.

Our aim is to ensure that your children get real benefit from chess, in terms of developing cognitive and non-cognitive skills as well as having the chance of a lifelong interest, rather than just short-term fun. If you think your children are old enough to benefit from what we do, I’d be very happy to discuss the possibility of their joining our junior chess club (children will have to pass a simple test to join) or having private tuition.

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.