“Chess education was introduced in 2010 to the Happy Kids International Kindergarten, where my own kids went at that time,” Hungary’s Judit Polgár, the world’s top female chess player recalls in a recent interview to Diplomacy & Trade.
It was then, through her kids, she got more and more involved in chess education. “I was glad to see that Happy Kids was very open to the idea and even made chess a compulsory subject. It very much fits with the spirit in which children are raised and educated there. Even the teachers were surprised to find how much chess helped. Kids had better concentration and became more motivated. Generally, parents also like their children to learn to play chess because they are aware that it is something that stimulates the brain cells and provides skills that can be used later in life. Kids like to play and chess is a good game,” she adds.
In 2011, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov launched the ‘Chess in European Schools’ project for which Judit Polgár also gave her backing. Having collected the signatures of more than half of the Members of the European Parliament, all EU member states must find the way of including chess in their education systems.
Teach by chess
In Hungary, thanks to successful lobbying by Judit Polgár, talent development through chess education has become part of the national curriculum as an elective subject. It is to be taught through the ‘Chess Palace’ program managed by the ‘Judit Polgár Chess Foundation’. “After looking around the world to see how chess is used in education, we concluded that the best would be not to teach chess only but to teach by chess,” she points out.
There will be a course book and an exercise book for the children as well as a guide-book for the teachers. The book explains the rules of chess, presents the chess board, the figures and their rules. “We use the rules of chess for skill-building. For instance, when kids learn how the horse knight moves in an L shape, they could use this movement to arrive at certain letters or numbers arranged on the board (the ‘Chess Palace’) in language or mathematics. The book has lots of stories, poems, drawings, pictures, ‘chess money’, etc. to help the children indulge in handicraft, history (of kings and queens),” she explains.
Pilot projects of this program are already being conducted in a school in Budapest and in three schools outside the capital. “Experience shows that through chess kids are much more motivated to receive information they are supposed to learn in school, anyway. With our method all the information reaches them in a playful way,” she adds.
For general teachers
Of course, these children also learn the basics of chess. Judit Polgár finds it important to point out that unlike Happy Kids where this subject is taught by a chess teacher, the Chess Palace program is for general teachers. The book is meticulously prepared, giving step-by-step instructions so that even teachers who do not know anything about chess will be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to explain the exercises to the children. The unconcealed aim of this method is to get children to like chess and – according to experience – 70-80% of children take an actual chess course because their interest in the game is raised.
The Chess Palace program will also be converted into a ‘kindergarten format’ in the future but now, Judit Polgár stresses that “we focus on the school program as it is the one to be launched nationwide.”