A review of Chess Is Child’s Play: Teaching Techniques That Work by Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Chess Is Child’s Play: Teaching Techniques That Work
By Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick
Mongoose Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781936277315

There is no doubting the educational and social benefits of chess for children: it develops concentration and focus, fosters independent thinking (since you can make any move, it’s your free choice) and responsibility (once you make a move, you’ve got to stick with it: the old ‘touch-move’ rule) both, brings into play logic and imagination. What other game could do as much? Few would claim it contains calcium, mind, that would be going a bit too far.

The aim of this book is to enable adults to teach chess to children, and in this it succeeds admirably. Although intended for one-to-one tuition (a mother teaching a son or daughter, say), the exercises and mini-games can quite easily be adapted for use in the classroom. And certainly the advice, insights and troubleshooting fixes are applicable to both contexts.

The book assumes that the children to be taught have no knowledge of the game, they come to it with a blank slate. By the end they’ll know how all the pieces move and their respective values, have a grasp of key concepts like checkmate and stalemate, and possess a rudimentary understanding of chess strategy, at least as it relates to the opening. Why, they’ll even have a handle on what the authors rather quaintly call ‘that weird French thing’ (the en passant rule, just in case you were wondering). And after that, of course, the real learning starts…

There’s an interesting discrepancy between one of the authors’ recommendations and the practice of chess coaches in the UK (and perhaps elsewhere) that’s worth pointing out. It’s usual to begin teaching chess to children by explaining how the pawn moves and then to introduce a mini-game played with pawns alone. The idea is that children may well play draughts, so they’re at once playing a game that they’re familiar with; you tap into their experience. By contrast, the authors recommend that you should show children the rook first, because it moves in an altogether no-frills, plain-bloke simple kind of way. It captures the same way that it moves, for one thing. There’s no option as to how it can move on its first go. It doesn’t change into another piece when it reaches the eighth rank. A pawn cannot capture another pawn on a square to which it hasn’t moved, which is the en passant rule in essence. They make a good case, I think. The pawn is a weird, complicated creature.

Anyway, this well-organised, comprehensive, very helpful book is highly recommended.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com