[UPDATED: July 13, 2012]
Chess is becoming a more and more popular program for children both in school and out of school as parents and educators see how learning chess can help children develop critical thinking skills and other positive academic and non-academic abilities. I recently sat down with Fred Wilson, who has been teaching chess to kids in Manhattan for 18 years and runs the chess programs at NYC private schools such as Grace Church, Little Red School House, City and Country School, and the Village Community School (no wonder he's a legend in the Viilage), to pick his brain on all that he knows about learning to play chess for kids in NYC.
Find out how to know if chess is right for your child, ane asy way to know if they are ready to play chess, why kids should play in tournaments and how to find a good chess program for your child:
Why is chess good for kids?
Chess helps teach kids critical thinking skills, to plan ahead, and to think before they act. Children learn to see patterns, solve problems and be more deliberate. Some studies show that kids that play chess do better in math and reading skills. Chess is also an antidote for the current progressive buzz that discourages competition. In chess you win and you lose and you have to be competitive and you learn that having an opponent is OK. These are important skills to learn that have been removed from a lot of the traditional activities.
Who should play chess? Is it just for precocious, highly academic kids?
Of course, I think all kids should play chess, but I'm biased. The one caveat is that they should like it. There's no point in forcing it on a kid that doesn't like it. While I think that all kids can benefit from chess, chess is particularly good for children who like things that make sense, like to play games and are good visual thinkers. I have taught at many different schools, including Churchill, which is a school for children with learning disabilities. Most kids can play chess and it can even help them focus, if they like it.
Actually, the children who can handle the competitive aspects of chess best are the ones who do athletics. They understand that you need to practice and that you will fail a lot until you get there. A kid who has played baseball knows that you may only hit the ball once in 12 pitches and that is considered good, so they can deal with the winning and losing of a game like chess.
How do you find a chess teacher or program in New York City?
Many of the schools now are offering chess programs either as part of the school day or in an after-school program. Otherwise children can take private or small group lessons. [See our resources below] I do think it's good if girls have a female teacher. Unfortunately you tend to see girls drop out at 10 or 11. I think having a female teacher encourages them to stay in the game longer.
What age is should kids start learning chess?
Usually around 4.5 or 5 years old is a good time to start playing. One benchmark you can use is if they like to play board games and can follow the rules. By 5-7 they should definitely begin. Chess is a symbolic language and, like with any language, it's important to start young enough to gain fluency.
What about tournaments? Are they just for the strongest players?
The purpose of tournaments should be to expose kids to more players so they can gain experience playing against a wider range of playing styles, which helps them become better players. Kids should really know all the rules and checkmate before playing in a tournament, but other than that tournament play should be good for all players and fun.
Private Chess Lessons for NYC Kids:
Fred Wilson teaches private and small group chess lessons to Intermediate players from his Greenwich VIllage office. He has two associates who teach beginners in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Contact Fred Wilson:
Phone: (212) 533-6381
Fred also recommends Sari Glickstein as one of the best teachers for beginners. Contact Sari at 917 445-3647.
Chess Clubs for Lessons and Tournaments:
The Marshall Chess Club offers Saturday Chess classes for kids, summer chess camps and tournaments for all levels. Note: The Marshall Club allows two free visits before you have to join.
NY Chess Kids runs some of the most popular chess tournaments in NYC for kids as well as summer and vacation chess camps, day-long workshops and an after-school program out of PS 116 in Murray Hill that is open to all children. Interestingly, NY Chess Kids also has an online chess school where kids can take lessons via the computer. Their website has chess games and puzzles for kids to study.
The Brooklyn Chess Club in Canarsie is a chess club with no membership fee allowing kids to play at their weekly Saturday meetings for free. They also offer private tutoring sessions and tournaments, which offer cash prizes.
Chess in Schools offers free chess programs to any Title 1 public school in NYC.
Fred Wilson's Chess Books for Kids:
202 Checkmates for Children is a good book for beginners.
303 Tricky Chess Puzzles written with Bruce Albertson is good for 2nd and 3rd graders.