Kids and chess? You bet.
Never mind the Netflix hit series, “The Queens Gambit” and how the popular show has brought an interest in chess to a wider audience.
Long before the streaming service dropped the show, educator Ruthie Schwartz, was bringing chess to a very young audience with great success in what they learned and are accomplishing.
Now she is using the board game of strategy to help youngsters with learning or social issues, developmental delays or other challenges gain a plethora of skills that include hand-eye coordination, patience, fine motor skills, endurance, turn-taking, listening, confidence, following the rules, executive functioning, critical thinking, consequences, planning ahead, to name a few.
And you thought it was all about checkmate.
“I am always thinking of creative ways to teaching children skills that they need to learn,” said Ms. Schwartz, who worked as a kindergarten teacher for about a dozen years.
“Differentiated learning was always the way that I taught and still do, teaching to multiple levels at the same time, breaking up into groups so each child is learning at his or her own level and gaining the most from the lesson,” said Ms. Schwartz, who founded Kids Kingdom, a Teaneck-based program that uses chess to enhance children’s skills and achieve developmental milestones through through the board game.
“I found that the game of chess was beneficial to every child no matter what their level of learning or development stage,” said Ms. Schwartz. “Every child had something to gain.”
Kids Kingdom offers private lessons and small group lessons, school programs, after-school programs, professional development programs, teacher workshops and summer and camp programming.
“My goal was to have each child in my classroom reach his/her developmental milestones, and learn the skills taught in kindergarten in a creative way that would interest them. So why not teach them the preschool skills needed for life while incorporating the game of chess?
While as a kindergarten teacher, she realized the skills that the students were gaining — 3, 4, 5 and 6-year-olds — while they were playing chess together.
Even learning how to hold a pencil and developing fine motor skills were enhanced by the students playing chess.
As for her students’ parents’ reaction to their chess-playing children, “They loved it,” said Ms. Schwartz, whose four own children are also chess players.
Another bonus, the youngsters were able to then play chess with their grandparents. It was a great way for the children to connect with a different generation.
In her multisensory approach, Ms. Schwartz would sometimes decorate the chess board with more than just the Queen and the Rook. For instance, the Knight’s move — and “L” shape is an interesting way in which a child can learn fine motor skills. To that end, Ms. Schwartz might introduce glitter glue for the student to draw the move on the board.
She has used other accessories to make the game even more fun and hone skills. Jellybeans, shaving cream, pieces of uncooked pasta, have enhanced the game in the most creative ways. She has also had the students learn how the moves take place with their own bodies.
In her experience, success, the students have taken their newfound skills into the real world.
“They learn the details of the big picture of the game and they transfer the skills to real life,” said Ms. Schwartz.
Sounds like a winning game.