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I am a father of a 5 years old who shows a keen interest to play. Probably as a result of the fact she sees me playing all the time, or because she noticed she can get any dad time she wants by asking to play. Or maybe, just because it is arguably the greatest of games.

I am totally at a loss to how to best teach her. She is at the stage where she competently knows how to move the pieces, she rarely drops a piece if attacked, she even has some basic strategy understanding such as importance of king safety or development.

But how to proceed from here?

I was taught basic endgames first, and I felt like a GM when I understood how to win the pawn + King vs pawn endgame. I had great fun, but she finds these very boring. Is this a good approach? Even if she finds them bor-ish, is it a necessary evil? And how to teach her for example a queen vs King endgame, if this is the right approach? Let her try hoping she develops an understanding by trial and error, or give her suggestions all along? Maybe just explain her the procedure full blown, at risk of making it look really tedious?

Chess-in-one puzzles, also not her cup of tea. She will do them as I suggest is a good way to learn, but she is not having that much fun. Again, is it something that has to be done, or better to avoid the boredom risk?

What she likes is to play full games, and she is very competitive, she genuinely thinks she can win. The fact is, I am a CM level player and it will be some time before she does (and for the first time I will be happy to be overplayed! Or will I?...)

So what to do? I have tried to play well under par, like giving her the chance of getting a piece for free, or giving her some advice on for example, getting a queen d3 and bishop c2 battery and giving her the chance of mating on h7.

But is this instructive at all?

Let me add I have no interest whatsoever in sporting results, ELO progression or such things. I think it would be best to give chess a chance to "grow" on her, and to her a chance to appreciate the beauty of the game and its social aspects.

I cannot find any source on how to best do it. I find the situation similar to learning classical music, e.g. violin. The classical curriculum has a prohibitive barrier to entry: technical exercises, scales, and so on. It can take 2 years before producing the most rudimentary of melodies. It works all for children naturally inclined to hard work I guess, if such a species exist. Alternative approaches exist, like the Suzuki method, where after a basic introduction on how to handle the instrument, the accent is immediately put on enjoyment, playing (simplified) famous motives, and so.

How to translate such an approach to chess? Or one should simply accept that there is no free lunch, and if she is not ready to do some boring technical work on simple endgames no progress can be achieved? What about the importance of playing with her peers? I am of course most reluctant to open her a chess account on lichess.com, but then at least she would get both the pleasure and winning and could practice, but what is then the teacher's role? Analyzing the whole game might be silly, is it best to focus on one important moment and try to teach the game on small lesson at the time? Or not focus on anything, just very briefly mention all the big blunders?

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  • "Checkers" might be actually more tractable for a small child... allowing for more direct gratification... though the chess pieces are definitely cooler. :) The thinking in checkers is not quite the same, but the little bit of discipline involved might be a less burdensome intro than doing chess directly. Of course depending on the temperament and gifts of the kid. :) Oct 9, 2022 at 21:15
  • And, yes, in my own experience and observation, unless you think your daughter really should be trained for top-end chess/musical-performance/mathematics/whatever, just letting her do whatever she wants (without trying to "teach" her anything), is probably best. From your remarks, it appears that she has strong ideas about what she should do. Good! Then just help her do what she wants. :) Oct 9, 2022 at 21:22
  • @paul Garrett, thanks for your comments. Of course I do not think she should be trained for anything. Getting better is just a way to enjoy the game more, and matches exactly what she would like. I am looking for the most efficient way to do so, where "efficient"stands for, not impacting her interest/enjoyment in the game.
    – Smerdjakov
    Oct 9, 2022 at 21:46
  • Ah... well, my experience with my own kids is that they instinctively do not want to be "taught" anything... but may learn from experience, when they make stunningly bad moves. But they don't like adults' commentary on their bad moves! :) Smart kids do learn things, even while being angry or denying the facts. :) Oct 9, 2022 at 21:50
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    As a life-long kids trainer, I say: FUN is the only thing essential when starting. There are a ton of chess-based mini-games with low difficulty that I have at hand. For example catch-the-horsie (Q vs N, nothing else). Or Pawn war (8P vs 8P, first queening wins - this is hard even for a GM and a good way to learn pawn handling!) Oct 10, 2022 at 7:48

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In general, training suited for pre-school kids should be playful and follow / be guided by a 25-30' action and reflection, 5-10' break-schedule. They benefit most when they discuss any findings immediately after any action.

So, in short: Offer her an environment wherein she can playfully discover different examples and contexts of the inherent logic of chess, and help her precisely phrase what contexts she mentally dismantled before (in plain and simple terms in her native tongue). Let her attention span dictate the frequency of breaks.

For this, minigames are (as mentioned in the comments) a very useful ressource; however, some focus should always lie on a post-mortem-like verbalisation of logics, in pairs with you. Here, insist on her doing the cognitive workload precisely when it comes to explaining you concepts, but avoid insisting on her displaying precision in applying procedural (repetitive) knowledge; instead, bring these procedures up only occasionally, again in a challenging and playful manner. This is also how you can squeeze life from puzzles; let her explain you what's going on in the position, and not necessarily so with regards to the main motive. Make her convince you by means of explaining logics, laudate her successes and progress your minimal expectations slowly over time.

To give some background on your role as teacher/ coach, I'm quoting Foley, John: The role of teachers in chess education:

A great skill possessed by teachers is the ability to imagine themselves in the position of the child. Children do not want lectures; they want to play. In order to encourage them to listen they need variety and surprise. They like stories. Teachers know how to wrap information into a story to make the topic come alive. This is a didactical technique which chess tutors will have to master.

There is a more fundamental concern about competitive chess. Put simply, the pursuit of victory can crowd out so many of the other wonderful aspects of chess. This is not a concern about competition in itself – after all the world is a competitive place. The concern is that competition is being foisted on children because there is a lack of awareness of the real nature of chess.

The family of chess games have four elements in common: a gridded board, a set of pieces with defined moves, the rules of the game and the objective of the game. We can vary any of these elements and still have a game in the chess family. Once this is understood, then we can open the doors to a new form of activity to which, for these purposes, we can refer to as “Scholastic chess”. Scholastic refers to the educational purpose.

To illustrate what is meant by Scholastic chess, imagine varying each of the above four elements. You could play on a smaller board, perhaps 5×5 to make the game less challenging. The power of the pieces could be varied so that for example the queen also takes on the power of the knight. You could stipulate that the en passant rule does not apply. You could have alternative winning conditions e.g. capturing the king, or getting the king over the half-way line, or both. These few examples show that there is an unlimited number of chess-like games that can be constructed from just a few elements. This stimulates the imagination and encourages players to think in new ways. Being an expert at orthodox chess is no longer the prime qualification – what counts is flexibility and creativity of thought.

To give an example, in Scholastic chess we could stipulate the winning condition to be the capture of the opponent’s king. This is a much easier concept to understand than checkmate. [We] struggle to identify checkmate in a position. However, there is no doubt as to whether a king has been captured. Hence, it is much easier to teach chess with the king-capture objective.

A set of chess minigames can be found here.

The full text can be found here.

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  • Your description is good one. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend shadyantra to be learnee by kids.
    – ShadYantra
    Oct 12, 2022 at 17:34
  • Thanks very useful
    – Smerdjakov
    Oct 24, 2022 at 17:50

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