Chess Is Child’s Play

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Chess Is Child’s Play: Teaching Techniques That Work [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]  by Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick.

Sherman Kilpatrick Chess Is Childs Play

Chess Is Child’s Play is a manual for adults on teaching chess to children. There are twenty-six chapters dedicated to instruction, arranged in a progressive topical sequence, so twice-weekly classes could cover the entire curriculum in a quarter. The authors have absolutely minimal expectations of the children and adults involved. The adult teacher need never have played chess before. The children may be pre-literate and new to board games. The teacher may be new to the teaching process. (There is a reiterated emphasis at the beginning that the teacher needs to read the book through before attempting to offer the lessons, which I thought would go without saying, but … there you go.) There are also some remarks apparently intended for adults familiar with chess, for whom the challenges faced in learning the game are so remote that they easily lose sight of them.

I wish that I had known some of these techniques when I first taught my daughter to play, and I will be using some of them to review with her, and try to renew her enthusiasm for the game. The authors are very careful to structure lessons in ways that avoid discouragement and frame learning as fun. Exercises and drills are called “mini-games.” The entire course brings the student very incrementally to the point of full working knowledge of the rules of play, and nothing more. The object is to have children be able to play and enjoy the game, not to make them formidable at it.

Some failings: Although the table of contents is sufficient for most purposes, I would have liked an index. An introduction to chess notation for teachers and students would have been an important addition at the end. Also, a glossary would also have been consistent with the aims and methods of the book. The authors deliberately keep the language simple to cater to younger players, so “block” always serves for what an experienced adult would call “interposition,” for example. Although the authors rightly say, “your child will continue to learn simply by playing” (302), it still makes sense to give new players explicit access to the vast range of chess literature, as well as to the argot that is used to analyze and discuss games in communication among players.

Materially, this book is a glossy textbook hardcover with text in a generous font and large-sized game diagrams throughout. Instruction is punctuated by relevant (if sometimes banal or saccharine) anecdotes about children learning the game, along with little maxims and atomized advice from the authors. It retails for under $20, which makes it a steal in my opinion. I would recommend it to anyone undertaking the exciting challenge of teaching chess to children.