For six years, I went from house to house and school to school teaching chess through stories. I worked with hundreds of early childhood students from all walks of life, but one thing never changed: Full games of chess are challenging, and anyone teaching children to play needs a toolkit for tackling the trickiest moments.
Luckily, our fun, engaging stories are excellent at keeping young chess players motivated. Story Time Chess kids know that whatever happens on the board, every lesson is going to include a silly adventure and manageable mini-games.
But we’d like to give you a few extra tricks to keep up your sleeve, so here are 15 ways to make the chess learning process even more fun!
1. Crack a joke
If your child is taking their chess games seriously, it’s a sign that you’re already doing a great job. But it’s easy for kids to lose perspective and become too emotionally invested as they’re playing. If that’s the case, it can ugly when things don’t go their way.
That’s why one of the easiest, simplest ways to keep chess fun is to introduce some levity: “If you lose, is a spaghetti monster gonna eat your lunch? No! It’s just a game!” Humor is one the best tools you can use to keep your child grounded and resilient when they’re struggling to find the right move.
Kids in the midst of a challenging chess game sometimes lose sight of everything beyond the board. If that sounds like your child, fear not. Simply remind them it’s not the only game you’re ever going to play.
Lower the stakes a bit by saying things like: “After we’re done, win or lose, we can always set up the pieces and play again!” The promise of a rematch reminds children that life goes on and they’ll live to play another game no matter what.
3. Go back to the stories
When the going gets tough, help your child stay actively engaged by keeping the story alive. Repeat details from Story Time Chess chapters and narrate piece movements with character voices: “Here goes Clop the Knight — gallop, gallop, step to the side.”
When a piece gets captured, provide a narrative context to soften the blow: “Daryl the Pawn got tagged out of the game, so he’s going to sit on the sidelines and cheer on his teammates!” Kids need to feel the sting of losing pieces, but it should never stress them out so much that they want to stop playing.
4. Ask questions
If your child seems uncomfortable or distressed about the way a game is going, inquire about their feelings. Use phrases like: “It looks like you’re thinking about something. What’s on your mind? Is there a piece you’re worried about? What’s your plan? What are you trying to accomplish?”
5. Acknowledge the difficulty
Chess is hard and that’s okay! Let your child know that we (adults) get it, it’s a challenging game. Relate a moment from your own life when you were navigating a tricky activity as a relative beginner so your child understands that what they’re feeling is universal and shouldn’t be a source of shame or embarrassment.
6. Adjust your play
Whenever you’re playing chess with early childhood learners, it’s important to dial in the right level of difficulty so the game is challenging but not Sisyphean. If you’re not a chess expert, don’t worry. Just make a few planned mistakes, such as offering your child a capture, and see how it plays out.
You can’t rely on your young chess partner to be a purely rational actor, so try not to expect that of them. If they miss an opportunity to make a good move, make a mental note to discuss it later. They’re much more likely to learn and improve if the in-game mood is light, bright, and focused on fun.
7. Thinking Cups to the rescue
Feel free to stop the game any time and make a Thinking Cup with your child (if you don’t know what that is, pick up our Level 2 Strategy Expansion to learn how). Discuss both players’ pieces, the plans you’re each making, and what the next best move is.
If you can, help your child “see ahead” a move or two and predict the consequences of a given tactic. If nothing else, call a timeout to analyze the board, giving both of you a breather from the competition.
8. Say: “Challenge Accepted!”
In our upcoming Level 3 Tactics Expansion, we share some very useful tips for helping kids through the back and forth of the middlegame (chess lingo for the middle part of a chess game). It’s not at all uncommon for early childhood players to say things like, “This is hard!” when they’re not sure what to do.
Reframe your child’s anxiety and empower them to think critically by removing “This is hard!” from their repertoire, and replacing it with, “Challenge accepted!” Even subtle adjustments like that can encourage a growth mindset and give kids the self-confidence they need to play out the rest of the game, no matter how tough it is.
9. Toys as teammates
If you sense your child’s stress levels are increasing during a chess game, take a brief pause and bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal into the mix. With a familiar stuffy at their side, your child will be more at ease and able to think more clearly. Encourage your kiddo to talk through their moves with their fuzzy friend; this is an especially good strategy if they’ve been reluctant to do so with you.
10. Hit the books
Sometimes the best way to remind your child how fun chess can be is by diving back into a Story Time Chess tale. Calling a timeout to revisit the most recent chess story you read to them is a great way to keep your kids mentally sharp while offering a break from the rigors of the game.
When your child seems antsy from sitting too long, get up and act out your favorite moments from a Story Time Chess story together. It will help reinforce the nuts and bolts chess knowledge they’re still learning and serve as a helpful reprieve before restarting the game.
11. Host a chess party!
Everything’s better with friends, especially chess. When kids play against their peers, it has a way of refreshing their perspective on the game, making it even more fun and captivating. Switching things up so they’re not playing against a parent, teacher, or another authority figure can also helpfully interrupt habitual patterns in their play and allow them to be more creative on the board.
But if the thought of refereeing a kids’ chess party makes your blood pressure spike, you can always leave it to the professionals! Story Time Chess’s sister company, Chess at Three, has over a decade of experience running tournaments, parties, chess camps, and group lessons. Click here to learn how we can transform your playroom into a fun-tastic chess club for your child and their friends.
12. Get creative
If your child’s stamina is flagging partway through a game, don’t hesitate to bust out the crayons and markers for an art break! There are so many ways to incorporate creative activities like drawing, coloring, and playing dress-up into your chess time, starting with our awesome coloring books for Story Time Chess Level 1 and Level 2.
You don’t have to stop there, either. With construction paper and a little ingenuity, your child can design their own character cutout to insert into Story Time Chess’s custom pieces. Or you can crack open your dress-up box and have a Chesslandia costume parade!
13. Reward persistence
Sometimes, all a child needs in order to finish a challenging game is a little light at the end of the tunnel. One of my favorite techniques for keeping kids invested in gameplay is to offer a special bonus storytime at the end of a game. Children love to hear their favorite stories retold; allow them to pick one from a previous chapter as a reward for staying gritty and playing a game to completion.
For even more bonus stories, subscribe to our newsletter which includes one free bonus story and mini-game every month, not found in any of our printed materials. Or get a copy of our awesome Puzzle and Activity Workbooks for Story Time Chess Level 1 and Level 2. They’ll help keep your child focused on chess without the grind of playing multiple games in a row.
14. Dance it out
We always remind our students that they need to have a “chess-ready body” to play: sitting calmly with their hands in their laps. But when they inevitably fall prey to ants of the pants, the best thing you can do is get up, stretch, and take a physical activity break.
Some excellent options: a one-minute dance party to your child’s favorite song, or chess charades, where you and your child move like different chess pieces and get each other to guess which one you are!
15. Change the scenery
Last but not least, a great way to shake things up and introduce some novelty and excitement into your games is to play in a new location. Playing on your patio or at the park is a fantastic alternative to the dining room, but sometimes simply moving from the table to the floor is enough. Or you can take your inspiration from a Story Time Chess chapter and, say, build a pillow fort like King Shaky’s castle and play in there!
We hope these tips help make your child’s chess journey as fun as possible, even when the game gets tricky. Have any other suggestions? Leave a comment below!