Thursday, February 24, 2005

How To Teach Your Four-year-old to Play Chess

  1. Start with a basic, Staunton-pattern chess board and pieces. No North-vs-South, Romulan-vs-Klingon, or clear-vs-opaque crystal games. No travel size, either.

  2. Put the pieces on the board one at a time and tell your child the name of the pieces. Use the proper name, but you should also tell him what it is, for example: "This is a rook. It is shaped like a castle."

  3. Show him how each piece moves. Try to relate the movement to the name or the shape of the piece. Create a mnemonic device. Knights, Rooks, and Bishops are shaped like the way they move.

  4. Remember that chess is warfare! Pawns' movement in particular need to be related to their function. Imagine a pawn as a footsoldier who moves forward one step at a time holding a big shield and a spear. He moves forward but can only attack on the diagonal because his shield is in the way of his spear.

  5. Start playing a game. Don't worry much about your child having memorized everything yet. At each turn, tell him what his possible moves are, then let him decide which piece to move.

  6. Don't try to teach any strategy right off the bat. That comes later, when he has a good grasp of the moves.

  7. Be patient! Remember that a four-year-old's attention span is shorter than the amount of time it takes to play a normal chess game. It is fine to quit in the middle. Try to stick to the rules, but if occasionally the King sprouts wings and flies to the other side of the board to knock the other King over, that's fine. Game over! Time to watch Barney.

  8. If your child likes to use the computer, download or purchase a chess game where he can play against the computer. Computer games have the added bonus of not allowing you to make an illegal move; thus helping teach the child the moves

  9. It will be a long time before your child will be able to win, even if you are a beginner yourself. This can frustrate a child (to which anyone who has ever played Candy Land with a four-year-old can attest). Switch sides in the middle of the game. Let them win occasionally. Before you know it, you will have to work to beat them.

  10. Keep it fun! Quit if he becomes bored, tired, or frustrated.

  11. A great book is Chess for Kids by Michael Basman (Dorling Kindersly, 2001).

I was inspired to do the above after reading an interview of a judge in a law journal - I don't remember which journal, or which judge - who mentioned teaching his grandsons to play chess whey they turned four. If you read the article and have a link or a cite, kindly email me.


TulipGirl said...

Our boys' "big" Christmas gift a few years ago was a wooden chess set with child-friendly pieces and the book "The Story of Chess."

They all leared rather quickly and we leave it set up in the living room for them to play whenever they like. My 5 y/o beat me a couple of months ago--it was the first time I played him. *blush*

My 4 y/o still doesn't really focus on the game. Like your "rules" remind us mommies--it's good to go at their pace and their attention span.

The Mommy Blawger said...

Thanks, I'm glad to know that my son isn't the only 4-yr. old who can play chess! I can still beat him, but it it getting harder and harder.

Laura Sherman said...

Wow! I had no idea anyone else had tackled this subject. I just wrote an article on my new website:

Check it out and let me know what you think! I love that you posted this and are encouraging parents to teach their young children. I have had a lot of success teaching 4 year olds. It is so rewarding!


Anonymous said...

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I invented a chess teaching set which is specially designed for young children. The moves using geometry concept such as lines, line segments and central rotation ec. concepts are designed and used on this set. This is the major diffeene orm other chess sets. Further players can play blind chess by let chess pieces stand up on its edge.

Great fun while learnig play chess. Details visit

Danielle said...

My 4 year old loves to play chess even though he tends to use the same pieces which are his favourites. We have a big garden chess set in the house and take turns when we feel like it, so our games usually last all day. There is a great chess course for kids as young as 3 which has lots of short, fun activities, from My son learnt how to play in about 3 weeks!

Anonymous said...

My son can play chess and move his pieces at age 3 1/2. He is getting better each day.

Now he can even comment if he move this pawn, your knight can capture me.

He is so interested that he always want to borrow books on chess.

I am still waiting for him to beat me :) Now that I read this article, perhaps I should let him win once.

Home Educating Father said...

Chess in 4 days! My girls (age 4 & 6) picked up the basics quickly. I keep a vlog, welcome anyone to visit:
I found your post very informative thank you! Hope to contribute in a small way I can with my videos to inspire.