Think of the first time your child may have been exposed to chess. For me, it was an Academy Award winning Pixar short film released in 1997 – Geri’s Game. In Geri’s Game a pair of sweet, older men both wearing suits are playing an intense game of chess in the park. To avoid spoiling the ending for you, I’ll stop there and point to one preconceived notion about the game of chess – it’s for Grandpa.
Contrary to that belief, chess is an ideal game for schoolchildren.
It is the oldest strategy game in the world and is a perfect tool for students to develop 21st century skills including communication, critical thinking, problem solving and spatial reasoning skills. All of these skills create a great foundational understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.
The idea of young children playing chess may be surprising to some. However, experts such as Robert Ferguson, the executive director for the American Chess School, believe kindergarten is a great age to begin. Tom Brownscombe, scholastic director of the U.S. Chess Federation, sees the most success when he begins teaching the game to second graders. Perhaps the best answer to “when should my child learn to play chess” is to gauge your child’s level of interest and let that be your guide. Exposure to the game at an early age is critical though, since that sets the stage for later interest.
In our current traveling exhibit, Kings, Queens & Castles, even the youngest visitors enjoy learning about the different chess pieces by dressing up and discovering that each figure has certain ways to move. Moving chess pieces around on a life sized chess board creates a unique and interactive way for a child to experience chess. And for the child who is ready to learn to play, there are several chess booths complete with regal thrones that make head-to-head matches with their parents, friends or other visitors even more fun.
Kings, Queens & Castles, developed in partnership by the World Chess Hall of Fame and Magic House St. Louis Children’s Museum, will be at Creative Discovery Museum until May 14. Experiencing this dynamic exhibit may spark a life-long passion for the game at any age.