When I was 5 or 6 years old, my Zeide began teaching me the art of playing chess. It became my favorite pastime. So engrossed was I in the game, that I didn’t realize that my Zeide was giving me a roadmap for life. Each lesson was jam-packed with a wide range of attributes such as concentration, memory, logic, critical thinking, problem solving and more.
First rule Zeide taught was, first engage with your eyes and brain and only later allow your hand to touch a piece. This meant having a solid plan in mind and evaluating all the possibilities before committing to a particular action. Second rule was to know there are choices to consider. Even if a possible move looked ideal, there were always other alternatives and one may be better, if I allowed myself time to explore more options. Third rule was keeping my hand on the piece until I was ready to commit. He would say, “We don’t always have an eraser to undo what we’ve done; be ready to live with and go forward in the path you have chosen.”
Sure it was fun to press the button on the chess clock, but at some point I began to watch the clock and weigh the minutes out carefully and judiciously. On the one hand, I needed the time to consider the consequences of my choices, but on the other hand, I couldn’t get carried away with limitless possibilities as it would mean I would lose by time out. How sad it would be to excel over my opponent in material, position, and strategy and yet lose because I ran out of time.
Zeide would invite me to switch sides and see his vantage point. In order to understand your opponent (or your friend,) you have to see how “the game” looks from his perspective. In later years, I often caught myself trying to “see” how the other person sees the world by stepping into his proverbial shoes or sitting on his side of the chess board.
For almost three decades I have been sharing and teaching life skills clothed in the game of chess. Children do not need to appreciate chess beyond its surface value. The furrowed brows and eyes glued to the board are enough to inform the casual observer they are learning skills. These skills include focus, sustained attention, weighing the possibilities, calculating the best move, observation, evaluating and understanding their opponent, socialization, sportsmanship and appreciation of others plus many more. The friendly handshake and exchanges of “good game” exemplify the values and skills we strive for our children to have in all walks of life through the many choices they will encounter and decisions they will need to make. Come play with us or play at home, but however you do it, choose to play, learn and watch your children grow.
Chaya Zlatapolsky MA, LBSI, is an award-winning licensed educator and certified Feuerstein mediator. She is the Director of Center for Learning Abilities and Founder of Play Thinks. You can contact her at (773) 937-7527 or Chayateaches@me.com.