Open day: Chess Class

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Yup, they teach 4 year olds chess – – the only other option was ballet.

At first there was chaos. Yet, amidst the shouting and noise each little kid began setting up their boards. The teachers came around and corrected the placement of a knight or a king but this much, it was clear, they had already learned. Once each board was in order the chess teacher came in. I was immediately struck by his amiable face and certain that Max’s enthusiasm for the class had to do with a fondness for the man and not the game (at least not yet).

The teacher stood in front of a large drawing of the board that was placed on the wall with flat magnetic pieces that he could move about. He first quizzed the kids on the basic layout of the board making sure they understood — or at least could sing out the name — of the center of the board, the white and black spaces, the diagonal line.

He then made a move. The white pawn in front of the king moves two spaces (Max knows all these words in Chinese but I am already flailing). He moved his magnetic pawn. The students were then all meant to follow, moving their middle pawn two spaces up. And so it went. A move by the black pawn, the white bishop, the black horse etc. Each student mirroring the teacher at the front of the class. The teacher would pause between each move adjusting the boards around him, rearranging a misplaced piece.
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After an hour the class was over. Black and white, had both lost one pawn each.

I am certain that Max had no idea what was going on. He clearly understands very little of the game. This is education Chinese style. Pure rote learning. Comprehension is neither demanded nor required.

Part of me shudders at the absurdity of the lesson. But, at the same time, I am pretty sure that Max will, before long, learn to play chess. And besides how else would you teach 4 year olds such a complicated game?

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