Q: What's the best way to teach young children (ages 5-8) how to play chess?
I've spent quite a bit of time teaching chess to kids this age. I've tried all the approaches and always come back to the following, which I use most successfully with groups of 6-10 kids:
1) Start with an empty board, and introduce the pieces one by one, starting with the King and Queen. As I discuss each piece, I offer some history of the game; Royalty, importance of the battle theme, etc. As I introduce each piece, I place it on its starting square on the board.
2) Once all the pieces are placed, and the kids know their names, I start introducing their moves, giving lots of examples, and having the kids demonstrate the moves. I always use the order Bishop, Rook, Queen, King, Knight, Pawn. Once they have learned the Bishop and Rook, teaching the Queen and King are easy. Knights and Pawns require a bit more instruction and practice.
3) I show them a quick example game or two, illustrating the ideas of developing one's pieces, controlling the center, attack, defense, check and checkmate. After the kids have seen two or three games played through, they have enough information to start playing some little games amongst themselves.
4) As they play their games, I monitor closely to make sure they remember the moves of the pieces, and have at least a basic understanding of the purpose of the game.
I find that I can accomplish all of the above in 30-45 minutes. After two such sessions (the second for review and playing), the kids basically know how to play, and are ready for practice and additional instruction.
I've found that even kids who have short attention span are motivated enough by the inherent interest of the game to stay connected.
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