Teach Chess to your Child

Teaching Chess to Kids

When beginning to teach the game of chess to our child you should know that the best way to motivate and stimulate our child´s learning is to provide him or her with a positive example.  If a child sees someone in his or her environment playing and enjoying the game of chess, it is likely that their natural curiosity will inspire them to want to play as well.  This child like curiosity should be encouraged and cultivated and used to help the child grow and learn and under no circumstance should we pressure or obligate the child to learn to play chess.  This would most likely lead to the opposite effect: he or she would reject the game. And nor should we have unrealistic expectations.  While it is true that almost all of the greatest chess players throughout history began to learn at a very young age (3-4 years old) and by doing so your child has a greater chance to become a talented player, we should recall that the primary and best reason to teach chess to your child is to help them develop into healthy and successful adults by enjoying the benefits that the game has to offer. What are the benefits of learning chess?

            Improved attention, concentration and memory

            The ability to analyze, synthesize and organize information

            A greater capacity to resolve problems and make decisions under pressure

            Developing creativity and imagination

Just to mention a few.

Chess Master




But what if I the parent don’t play chess? I mentioned that teaching by example would be the best approach but if you do not currently play don’t worry. At this point you do not have to be an expert and with the help of a good book you can learn along with your child, but be careful that you understand things clearly before teaching so that you do not confuse your child or introduce wrong ideas, as these may be difficult to undo.



General Guidelines for Teaching Chess to your Child

Patience and fun are the keys. I once taught a kindergarten class of 25 students in an international school which meant that not only did they not know anything about chess but almost half of them did not yet speak English! How many days did I find myself crawling around the classroom floor from chessboard to chessboard! I never had so much fun, but it was a task that called for a great deal of patience. And slowly but surely, with patience, sweat (!) and laughter, by the end of the school year they were all able to play a game of chess.


Praise, encourage and laugh. It is important to praise every success, encourage any hint of curiosity, and laugh. It is important that the child view the learning of chess as fun. We should never criticize a failure but find a way to help the child discover the solution.


Teach with stories. One of the best ways to teach is to invent stories. For example, when talking about where chess came from I would tell the story of how the King of Persia invented and gave the game of chess to the King of India as a gift for his birthday (and the King of India in return gave the King of Persia the game of Backgammon)


Limits Unless your child is insistent and wants to continue, your chess sessions should be brief. 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 days.  Also remember that at this age your child is not ready to play a full game of chess. We should begin with just one piece at a time add smaller activities that require only a few pieces.


Chess for Kids



One Piece at a time

The Rook is the easiest to learn. It moves like a train on a track. Always in straight lines, up, down, to the left or to the right as many spaces as it wants.  Let the child move the Rook around the board, making shapes such as squares or rectangles.

            Activities:  Hungry Rook! Place a small reward on one of the squares (a candy, a sticker etc) and ask the child to reach the square in 1 move, then extend to 2, then 3 etc. in order to “capture” the reward. Alternatively, place the reward under the King piece and have the child move the Rook to capture the King to reinforce that this is the goal and when he or she captures the King they get the prize that is underneath.


The Bishop is the next easiest to learn. It can slide diagonally in a straight line as far it likes. Because it can only move diagonally this means that it is always on one color of square. And so we have the “light squared” Bishop and the “dark squared” Bishop.

            Activities:  Again let your child move the Bishop around the board to practice sliding on the diagonals, followed by the same system of rewards (Hungry Bishop!) as with the Rook. To reinforce that the Bishop must stay on its own color of square, place the reward on a light square and using the dark squared Bishop ask the child to capture the reward. Let the child discover on her own that this cannot be done and ask what we could do to solve this problem. (Use the other Bishop should be the answer, if not, hint until he or she comes to the solution on their own, then give the other Bishop and allow them to make the moves)

The Queen is the “Star” of the show and the most powerful. She is the combination of the Rook and Bishop and moves in straight lines to the left, right, up, down or diagonally as far as she likes.

            Activities:  If we place the Queen on one of the 4 center squares of the chessboard we can imagine the star pattern that her movements would make, shooting out lines to the left, right, up, down, and to all of the diagonals. To demonstrate her pattern of movement, place some colored string along her lines of movement, creating a colorful visual image of her star like power for your child to see. Also play Hungry Queen!

 Chess for Kids 2

The King and his basic movements can be taught using the same methods and activities as we did with the Queen, as he is able to move just like her but only one square at a time. Now is not the time to talk about Check or Check mate. We can play Hungry King! to learn how he moves and captures.


The Pawn is more complicated than it seems and therefore has been saved until now. It is the only piece that captures differently than it moves. It moves only one space at a time, only straight ahead, but with the option of moving two spaces if it wants on its very first move. (Because it’s slow it can take a head start if it wants!) But it captures, again just one square at a time, diagonally when it is in contact with another piece.

            Activity:  After practicing the movements, set up the board with only Pawns and play what is known as the Pawn game. The first one to capture all of the other player’s Pawns or to reach the other side of the board wins.


The Knight is saved for last because it is the most complicated. It is the only piece that can jump over other pieces and is the only one that does not move in straight lines.  It moves in what is normally called an L shape, moving 2 spaces straight and 1 to the left or right (or 1 then 2) to arrive at its landing square.

            Activity: Dancing the Cha-Cha-Cha! When I taught the Knight I would, and you can with your child, move like a Knight by doing my 1, 2, Cha- cha- cha! dance. As you hop 2 spaces ahead count and say out loud “1, 2”, and then on your hop to the left or right to your landing square jump 3 times as you sing “Cha-cha-cha!”  Now as your child moves the Knight on the board he or she can do the Cha-cha-cha to remember how it moves in its L shaped pattern.

This is how we begin, step by step, piece by piece, with patience, games and laughter. Later on you can talk about things like Check and Checkmate, but for now just have fun!