Many people believe that chess is the greatest, most beautiful, most exciting game in the world. All children should have the opportunity to learn how to play.
Strategy games, preferably played in person rather than on a screen, should play an important part in all children’s lives.
Most children are able to learn the basic moves of the pieces by the age of 5 or 6.
However, chess, by its nature, is more suitable for older children and adults than for younger children: it requires the ability to handle complex abstract reasoning as well as exceptional executive function skills.
Chess is not the only game you can play with a chess set any more than bridge is the only game you can play with a pack of cards. There are many simpler games available which are more suitable for children of primary school age.
Most young children will make little progress at chess without significant proactive parental support.
Having said that, some very bright and mature children with supportive parents can derive a lot of benefit and enjoyment from taking chess seriously and playing competitively from an early age.
Children who start competitive chess young are more likely to become grandmasters: children who start competitive chess when they’re older are more likely to continue playing as adults.
Traditional primary school chess clubs serve little purpose beyond providing low level entertainment and childminding services because they encourage parents to sign their children up without helping them at home.
For primary school chess to be successful, schools need to separate the three aspects of chess: learning chess, social chess and competitive chess.
Having said that, some primary schools are successful in promoting chess proactively, ensuring all children have the opportunity to learn chess and getting parents involved in supporting their children.
According to meta-analysis of multiple studies, there is little evidence that putting chess on the curriculum produces a unique and long-term improvement in academic performance.
The social benefits of encouraging chess for older children are, in my opinion, more important than the perceived academic benefits of encouraging chess for younger children.
Strategy games, including chess, can be exceptionally valuable for a wide range of children with special needs: for example children on the autistic spectrum, children with ADHD, children with dyspraxia.
We believe that, although chess naturally attracts more boys than girls, there’s no reason why girls can’t play as well as boys, and we’d like to see many more girls taking part in chess competitions: therefore we encourage schools and parents to introduce girls to minichess.
Our principles, therefore, are:
- Encourage as many children as possible to learn how the pieces move and play simple chess-based games (the MINICHESS project). We promote minichess in schools, youth groups and other organisations. We promote community minichess clubs in libraries and elsewhere.
- Support competitive chess for parents who want to fast track their children through children’s chess clubs, competitions, private tuition and coaching materials (the CHESS HEROES project)
- Encourage older children to learn chess, play social chess and participate in competitions.