This spring CFK partnered with Chess NYC to start a new program for every first grade student at PS 160 in Jamaica Queens, and we are so impressed with everything they have already learned. I dropped by last week to see the kid in action and I couldn’t believe the thoughtful, strategic moves I was witnessing these 6 and 7 year old kids execute after only a few weeks of instruction.
The classes meet every Friday and I know after talking to a few of the students, it is something these kids look forward to all week. During each lesson Coach Rebecca introduces new chess concepts and leads the class through puzzles that challenge kids to think critically about what the best possible move could be. “What are our three ways for moving out of check?” asked Coach Rebecca? Hands shot up all across the room, and Jamal proudly answered, “Protect, capture, or run away!”
The first thing every beginner chess player has to master is the basic rules that govern how each piece moves. Each one moves a different way, and each has a unique function in the game. Pawns can only move forward, and they capture on the diagonal. Rooks can fly as far as they want in a straight line, backwards, forwards, or side to side. Bishops move only on their color. Knights hop around in an “L” shape. And so on. Every week for the first few weeks of the program, the kids mastered a new piece. And when it came time to play their partners during class, they got to add that piece to their boards. The day I was there, the classes had just finished learning their last piece, and they were ready to play their first official games with every piece on the board. So exciting!
As I wandered around the room I asked kids why they liked playing. “Because I get to have fun” was a common response, but my favorite came from a table of girls… “because it makes me feel smart when I capture a piece,” said Shawntel. Their teacher Ms. Garrity said she was “excited to see the kids think so many steps ahead” and she was “shocked with who some of the students were who were coming up with the best moves.”
Thanks again to the fantastic directors at Chess NYC, and their generous donors who have made this program possible. The cognitive and social benefits of playing chess are tremendous, and I can’t wait to return in a few weeks to see their continued progression. I’m going to have to brush up on my skills, or I know a few kids who will quickly be able to beat me if they keep up this great work!