A Story about Chess

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It was a time of year when many projects were in focus. The children were working in small groups and exploring their interests. In the time away from their project work the children were interested in chess. Chess had been gaining in popularity for the last two weeks. As an educator, I am always observing, looking at the current and new interests the children are investigating.

Activities that the children choose to play when away from their project work varies throughout the school year. Often the choices follow the latest trends like Pokemon, Minecraft, Superhero’s, Harry Potter, etc. The children play games and read books that contain these characters, but at this time chess was gaining in popularity. The investigation of chess was not only about the game but other aspects that make up the game.

As two children played chess, another group of three children became interested in the game. We do not have a traditional chessboard instead we use a black and red checkerboard. The three children were not interested in the game, as I originally thought, but the visual aspects of the chessboard intrigued them. 

Observing from a distance, I become interested in why many children were watching two other children play chess. Through conversation I discovered that some of the children were interested in the pattern of the board. Taking time to engage in conversation with the children informs me of their true interests that at times are different from what my eyes tell me.

Some time had passed and I walked back over to check in with the group playing chess. I noticed the three children who were watching earlier sitting on the floor creating representations of the chessboard using paper and colorful pencil. Another group had joined in and was sitting close by using dry erase boards and markers to create their representations. 

Having materials readily available is important so the children can take action on their ideas and wonderings.When I approached the children creating representations of the chessboard they were talking with each other about the amount of lines needed to create the board and how many squares the board contained. There was also some discussion about the colors used to create the board and some debate if the board we owned was a real chessboard. Meanwhile, the first game of chess had ended and new players were joining the game.

The chess group invited a new player to try their hand at a game. It turned out the new player was more accomplished than the current group of players and started teaching the original chess group some new strategies for playing the game. 

The school age children are open to inviting new players into their group. The children at this age are very social and the bulk of their time in the program revolves around social connection and negotiation. These interactions usually come with much debate between the participants but in the end they usually work out whatever challenges come with being in a large group experience.

The interest in chess continued for weeks. The children were playing multiple games daily and were very eager to learn more about the game. Some of the children signed up for a chess club at school to further their knowledge of the game. I did not see the children who created the board representations revisit their work again. For now drawing squares within a square was a one-time experience. Up to this point none of the five children who created representations of the board have played chess. Their interest in the patterns of the board did not transfer into a curiosity about the game itself.

This experience showed that all of the materials in the learning community are products of inspiration and wonder for the children. As educators we may think certain materials have one purpose but the openness of the children to live in the moment makes all of the materials that make up the environment of the classroom available to inspire and educate.

What games, activities, or investigations in your program have the children showed interest in that surprised you?