I was delighted to receive the latest edition of First Rank, the newsletter of the European Chess Union’s Education Commission, the other day.
This issue describes Schack4an (Chess4), a Swedish project introducing chess to 10-year-old schoolchildren.
There are some significant differences, though.
- Children are introduced to chess in schools at the age of 10: here in the UK children usually start at 7, if not earlier.
- The main thrust is to promote the social benefits of chess, not to ‘make kids smarter’. It is specifically described as a ‘social project’, not as an education project.
- The aim is to produce a chess culture, not to produce prodigies and champions. Above all, it’s about Anna, the girl who found it hard to fit in, who wasn’t picked for teams, but who still gained a lot from helping her school in a chess competition. Never forget Anna.
Here at Minichess HQ we agree with all three of these points.
- While many bright children with supportive parents gain a lot of pleasure and benefit from playing competitive chess at an early age, for most children ‘big chess’ is too hard. Not until the age of 10 will most children ‘get’ chess. So we prefer to promote minichess for younger children in schools.
- We believe the social benefits of teaching chess to older children are at least as important as the educational benefits for younger children – and these educational benefits are better delivered using simpler games than ‘big chess’.
- We believe that if you promote a chess culture you’ll eventually produce champions. Trying to develop a chess culture by producing champions is the wrong way round. We believe that all chess players are important: the players in your club’s lowest team are just as important as your first team players.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a Scandinavian country is getting things right. I have a lot of admiration for Scandinavian models of education. Here in the UK we suffer from the mistaken belief that the younger you start learning something the better, which is why we start formal schooling far too young.
But that’s another topic for another article.
I have another story for you another time as well, about another child who, like Anna, didn’t fit in at school, found it hard to make friends and wasn’t picked for teams. Another child who, while never becoming a champion, gained a lot from chess. Visit regularly to find out more.