Editor’s Note: With so many different activities and classes to choose from, we parents can be confused about the right fit for our child and our lifestyles. This is the first in a series of articles where we will feature an activity or class every month and highlight what it might mean to your child and your family in terms of benefits, physical, mental and monetary commitment.
This month we focus on common questions and concerns around taking chess lessons. We consulted with Mr. R Jayaram, Chess Coach and Secretary, Chess Shoots Academy, Bangalore, India.
What are the advantages to a child learning chess?
There are many tangible and intangible benefits of playing chess over the long run:
• Chess strengthens problem solving skills, planning skills and teaches how to make difficult and abstract decisions under time pressure, a skill that can help improve exam scores at school.
• Enhances reading, memory, language and mathematical abilities.
• It inspires self-motivation and improves patience, will power and concentration.
• It is a very affordable sport and reaches out to boys and girls regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
• Parents often think that only quiet, focused kids who are good readers will enjoy chess but you may be agreeably surprised to find your active, outgoing youngster enjoy the challenges of strategy-making and problem-solving.
What’s the right age for a child to start formally learning chess?
On an average 6 years is a good age for learning chess, but due to the competitive nature of the sport, some have recently redrawn the starting line to 4 years.
Chess coach R Jayaram says, “At 4 years I would say that only 3-5 out of every 50 kids enrolled into a beginners program will pick up the game as the maturity and concentration levels at that age is very less. When kids start this young, it makes a whole lot of sense for the parent to pick up the basics and double up as an interest generator and a playing partner.”
How can parents play a role in improving a child’s interest in the game?
• Parents can double up as practice partners so that the child is excited to try lessons learnt from class on their Dad or Mom at home.
• Parents can go that extra mile in sometimes sacrificing their weekends and taking their kids out to compete in tournaments so that the child is eager to come back to class and learn more tricks, score more points and have fun on the board.
• Finding someone in the neighborhood to practice with your kid also helps very much.
• A common problem with parents is expecting results too soon from their kids. When you start expecting results, the kids think of chess as an exam, and they don't play their normal game. They begin to drop out, as it is no more pleasurable. Every kid is different, and parents have to set a realistic target because they know their kids the best.
• Let your child make mistakes, otherwise she can become so afraid of messing up that she quits trying, and unknowingly, stops improving. Improvement is a closed loop system, wherein you err and then work on that and then err somewhere else, and rectify that and so on.
• Make it fun - sometimes in the early stages of learning the game, the parent or the teacher has to explain chess as a fable/ fantasy situation or a war wherein one side is the child’s army and the child pretends he is the king and has friends (other pieces) around to attack the enemy army.
What kind of Commitment is required from your Child and the Family to learning Chess?
• Beginners usually take weekly lessons supplemented with some practice puzzles and games either using a computer or a partner at home one or two times a week.
• Kids who play at competitive levels need to intensify their practice as well as coaching. Coach Jayaram recommends 3 training sessions a week of 2 hours duration each, and 10-12 hours of self-study and practice per week.
• The cost of chess lessons can vary widely, with group lessons obviously coming much lower in price than individual coaching. Other equipment such as a chess clock (to time each player’s moves) is relatively inexpensive. If you want your child to compete, you might also invest in some chess apps or computer games.
• In terms of time commitments, once your child reaches a competitive level, you may find yourselves spending more time traveling to various tournaments in the area.
How should a parent find the right chess teacher/academy for their child?
• A good chess coach should have a good chess rating as a player and should have been exposed to tournament environments and training methods within his/her country and abroad to broaden his/her training approach.
• It is good idea to get a demo session of maybe 15mins - 30mins with a coach you like.
• A chess concept can be taught in multiple ways and a chess coach should be in a position to understand a child and choose the concept accordingly. Ensure that the coach is able to communicate effectively at your child’s level of understanding and experience of the game.
• When choosing an academy select one which has a good reputation in the area and often conducts tournaments to provide a competitive atmosphere to their students.
• An academy should concentrate on both playing sessions and teaching sessions. Some Academies concentrate a majority of their sessions only on playing.
• An Academy which clubs a 5 year old beginner and a 15 year old beginner in the same class is a complete no -no.
Chess Shoots Academy - Bangalore, India. http://www.chessshoots.com/