Three Wise Men

I’m writing these lines on 6th January, the feast of Epiphany in the Christian Church, where believers celebrate the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men, to the infant Jesus.

One of the most interesting suggestions made at the recent Chess and Education Conference was that chess courses for young children should be written by a combination of chess players, teachers and psychologists. Three (at least) wise people. You need chess players to ensure the chess content is both useful and accurate. You need teachers, who will also need to have an interest in chess, who will understand what happens in classrooms, which types of activity will work and how they will work, how lessons should be paced, how much a class will get through in one lesson. You also need educational psychologists, preferably also with an interest in chess, who understand children’s cognitive development, who will know what you can expect children to understand at any particular age, and how children process information.

All this, at least in an ideal world, makes perfect sense to me, especially if you want a lot of children to benefit from chess. You can be an excellent chess player, a really nice person, brilliant with children, but none of this makes you a good chess teacher. It’s quite possible that if you stand in front of a class demonstrating a grandmaster game, one or two will understand it and become good players, and you’ll believe you’re a good teacher. Well, if all you want to do is produce prodigies no doubt you are, but the other children, while perhaps enjoying the lesson will learn little or nothing from it.

Even the Dutch ‘Steps Method’ goes slowly, with children solving puzzles of gradually increasing difficulty, with every child actively involved rather than watching a lesson on the demo board.

I wrote last week about the need for formal structured chess education. The course should be written not just by chess players but by experienced primary school teachers who understand how children think, learn and process information.

Richard James

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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.