TAKING CHESS TO THE CHILDREN
"A man never stands so tall as when he leans over to help
a child." Abraham Lincoln
There are few things in life that can make a person feel better than passing on skills and knowledge to a child. As the father of three sons, I'm quite proud to know that at least two of them are as thrilled with the game of chess as their Dad. The third is beginning to show some interest.
Sadly, there is a tremendous shortage of chess clubs in the local schools where children can learn and develop their chess skills. So, three years ago I approached the principal at the elementary school where our sons attend school and asked for permission to start a chess club. She was absolutely thrilled to offer us the opportunity to start a club.
I did not have the slightest idea how to go about starting a club -- but simply having the opportunity was enough to get me started. I expected to have maybe a dozen kids sign up for the chess club. Imagine my surprise when more than 40 kids signed up -- most of whom had no idea how to play the game. Now, three years later, many of those kids are tremendous chess players and many of them have taken home trophies from local tournaments. They are the bright future of the game of chess.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Your children love chess and you can play a semi-decent or better game. Let me encourage you to start a chess club in your area. All you really need is the desire to get started. The rest will almost take care of itself. Below are some ideas on starting a local chess club for younger children.
- 1. First you need a place to meet. Check with the principal at your local elementary or middle schools. You may find that they are more than happy to provide you with space and time to hold chess club meetings. That failing, check with your local parks and recreation center or even a local church. In our area there are several churches which sponsor annual tournaments and provide the space for chess clubs. Most need more parents who will get involved in sponsoring the club. Having secured a site, the next need is seed money to get started.
2. When we started our club in the elementary school where my children attend, we were met with an instant challenge. The principal was glad to provide space and time, but didn't have one dime of money to put toward the club. State budgets simply did not provide for extra-curricular clubs or activities. Nor was the principal willing to let us charge a participation fee for club membership. So, I approached the PTA. One of the moms/teachers/mother of a chess player got behind us and helped us secure $100 for our club. It wasn't much, but it was enough to get us going. That first year we began with some worn-out cardboard chess boards and ultra-light chess pieces -- the kind you find in a $1 store. Those were provided by our Gifted and Talented teacher, who also agreed to be a staff sponsor of the club (another vital necessity for clubs meeting in elementary schools).
3. Next we needed to purchase some equipment. There we were greatly aided by the Internet and wholesale chess stores. By surfing the Internet we were able to find quality vinyl club boards and heavy plastic pieces for a small amount of money. With our initial outlay and a little out of pocket we were able to purchase 20 chess sets and a single digital chess clock. It was a roaring start!
4. Next we sent invitations home with all the students. We limited participation to third grade and up, with a few exceptions for kids who were already accomplished players. In fact, this year one of our most accomplished beginners is only in the first grade. He recently took first place in the beginners division of a local tournament, beating beginners from both middle schools and high schools. For our first meeting a week later, we had more that 40 students signed up. Most of those students stayed in the chess club for the entire year. Most have returned both the second and now the third year of our club.
5. Next we let it be known that all we needed to continue to grow was money. Without actually soliciting funds (which was against school rules) we received ample donations from thrilled parents to add to our chess sets and other equipment. Today, we have a well-established chess club and have added several first-place club trophies to the school walls in return for their support and help. We have a wonderful relationship with the school staff and leadership.
I am already looking forward now to next year, when my twins will go to middle school. You guessed it -- there is no chess club in their middle school. So, sometime this summer I will approach the principal there. With any luck, soon we will be able to start another chess club and even more children will learn the timeless game of chess. Yes, it takes time, money and effort. But there are few things in the world that can beat the love and appreciation shown by the kids who have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play chess with their friends.