As a followup to What is the earliest possible age to start teaching children how to play chess?, I'm wondering: What is the easiest possible way to start teaching children how to play chess? The point is that at such an early age, it's possible, if not likely, that the best way to teach an adult would not apply to a young child. Any suggestions?
The easiest way depends on age.
If they are really young, just start simple with how a plain board and introduce the pieces one by one (where they go on the board and how they move). Then put all the pieces on the board and show how the pieces move together.
If they are a little older, I would play show them short games with tactical ideas and mating patterns. No need to dwell too much on the opening yet or the endgame. Stick to the fundamentals first and make sure they have a firm grasp on that.
There are some fundamental differences between adults and children. Namely, the attention span to focus on a long game of chess might not be there. There are also some psychological differences: An adult (most likely) already knows what it means to win and lose, where children may not have grasped that concept yet. Adults also probably can grasp the concept of a turn-based game very easily, where young children might not as easily understand that.
So, yes, it will be quite different than teaching adults.
I don't profess to be an expert in child psychology, but I've been exposed to some rather interesting ideas via books. I recommend reading: Nurture Shock, Chess Child, and Chess is Child's Play.
If you like movies and chess, check out "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (PG), and "The Knights of South Bronx" (PG). Also, "Queen to Play" (unrated because it's French, but doesn't contain much controversial material that I can recall), is about a woman who gets into chess as an adult. Aside from being good movies, they might serve as inspiration or even as a way to get your spouse excited about chess and the kids.
Bill Kilpatrick and I wrote a book, which was recently published called, Chess Is Child's Play: Teaching Techniques That Work. This book teaches a parent to teach a child as young as four to play chess.
We made the lessons super simple, allowing the parent to learn the game along with their child, if the parent isn't familiar with chess.
We employ a “mini-game” strategy that is a lot of fun. With mini-games a parent and child can focus on one element at a time, learning and perfecting it before moving on. It has been my experience that younger and older children really enjoy playing these mini-games.
I have used these techniques to teach adults chess as well as young children. It really works well!
Here's the link to the book on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Chess-Childs-Play-Teaching-Techniques/dp/193627731X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338048903&sr=8-1. Please do check out the reviews.
My 5 cents to Wes' answer.
I disagree about understanding of "turn-based game". From my experience it's easily possible. I agreed about duration of game. Long game will be broken! About win / lost, all children understand this, then tend to win of course and don't like to lost, tested :)! Children are small people. As adult they like playing.
I think playing of playing chess is a way to tеach and using chess to disclosure of intelligence of the child.
My little brother learned chess with a video game called "Learn To Play Chess With Fritz and Chesster" (OT "Fritz und Fertig"). It teaches kids the basic moves of the pieces with mini-games, moving on to games with only some pieces, and finally with all of them. The sequels go more in-depth into basic, and then more advanced strategies. He went from not knowing anything about chess to beating everybody in the family at 10 years old after playing that series, so I would suggest at least giving the game a look to see how they teach and guide the players.
Start by playing with only pawns on the board. First person to the opposite side of the board wins the game. This was Magnus Carlsen's training method used by his father when he started to learn chess. It's much simpler for a child to understand this, and it's a highly effective method to learn about sacrifices, pawn structures and zugzwang.
My experience is that young children find it hard to grasp the movement of the knight. I would suggest to make a chess board out of a whiteboard or a similar material, as long as it's easy to draw and erase on it it's good enough. Challenge the child to find the shortest routes for the knight from A to B. Increase the difficulty when he/she has grasped n-ply solutions. To further increase difficulty you may add pawns as obstacles. Let the child draw possible solutions on the board.
This is just an idea, but I think it might be pretty effective for learning simple calculation and visualization.
I suggest you get a spare set for the child to mess around with, let them see you playing a proper game, and wait for their questions.
I would expect that you just tell them rules (legal moves and aim of game) to start with.
There are a couple of books, Chess for Children and More Chess for Children that introduce simple strategies such as pinning and forking.
I think, overall, I'm saying "let the child dictate the pace".
[This is my opinion, based on how I and my siblings were taught. None of us turned into prodigies, but we all picked up the basics easily and painlessly. If we had been given "Even More Chess for Children", we might have gone further with it.]
I orginally learned to play chess using a product called "No Stress Chess" http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Moves-1091-Stress-Chess/dp/B0007Q1IO4
This game has cards that the players can draw and then you are required to move that piece. This allows the player to focus on learning the moves and makes the strategy simpler as they are only concerned about what a single piece can do.
As the player increases in skill, they can hold multiple cards in their hand and then must pick one to play and then draw a new card. As the number of cards in the hand of the player increase they learn more about which piece they should move. Finally they are able to go and forget the cards and play chess for real.
As a kid's chess teacher I would say keep things fun.
1)Talk in pictures. Make them dream : chess is war, with a king, soldier, knights, fighting on a battlefield, call a fork a special secret weapon and so on.
2) Use games. For example when I wanna teach them the value of the pieces I play a market game where they would trade pieces and after 10 minutes we would see who's the richest.
3) Compliment them a lot. I like to go all like "woaw you're a world champion" when they find something out. Carot works much better than the stick imo.
4) Make them compete and earn prices. Kids like rewards and competition for some of them. That way they'll do their hardest to get better and learn new chess tricks. Make sure though everyone is rewarded and congratulated.
For any beginner, the process will be a success if the instructor can relay the fundamental truth about chess: the game is, at it's core, numeric and is all about accumulation of small advantages. We all know what this small advantages consist of: material, piece activity, pawns, king safety, but that comes next. As the simplest pedagogical example of my main point, have the place place knight in the corner and count the squares it can reach. Then repeat when it's in the center. Let them reason (with your help) which N is stronger.