Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lessons from conducting a free chess camp

After years of dreaming about offering free chess or juggling camps for little kids, I finally acted on it a couple of days ago. I offered a free chess camp for kids aged 5 to 10, and quite a few showed up.

Like everything in life, it was a fortuitous confluence of factors that made it happen. We had come down to Richmond Va. to visit my brother-in-law. He has a vast circle of friends, my nephew (age 6) was interested in chess, it was summer and my brother-in-law took my offhand suggestion seriously and actually ran with it.

He composed and sent out an email to his friends (who forwarded it to their friends). On Tuesday, we had decided to hold a chess camp on Wednesday. By that evening a few kids had signed up. We eventually had 12 children attending our 4-hour afternoon "chess camp."

Here are my observations/lessons about camps, chess or otherwise.

Chess related lessons that I learned 1. For most little kids, four hours is way too much time to focus on chess. (I will shorten it the next time.)
2. Children have very little patience for chess theory or ideas. They just want to start playing as soon as they learn the moves.
3. They just love to attack the opponent's king and take enormous pride in shouting check. I wasn’t able to convince them to stop giving checks and doing something else to improve their game.
4. The age group was probably not right, but they had no interest in learning endgame or checkmating patterns. They only wanted to play full games, preferably with kids they could beat easily.

General Lessons regarding holding 'Camps"
1. There is a lot of joy in offering free camps/workshops. (I am pretty sure that if we had charged even a nominal fee, only a fraction of the kids would have showed up.)
2. I had underestimated the amount of work involved in keeping 12 kids occupied, productive and well-behaved. (A nod to kindergarten teachers and parents (esp. moms) here. If I didn't have 2 other adults helping me, it would have been chaos. It is so much easier managing grown children, I now feel. But what do I know?)
3. Kids love to shout out answers to really simple questions. (I will modify my material to throw in a lot more spot quizzes, to give them the joy of being right often.)
4. There is an unbelievably large amount of material and videos available on the web for any topic. With just a few hours of research on the web, lots and lots of material for "camps" can be created.
5. In order to teach kids under (say) age 10, you don’t have to be an expert at anything. In fact, I think knowing a lot of theory might actually hinder being a good teacher/coach.
6. Each and every person reading this can offer at least half a dozen free camps that little kids can benefit from. The trick is in finding the time and making the logistics work. I am so glad I started, because it feels easier once you have taken a small step. (I will be glad to offer camps in any city I visit, as long as there are takers and a couple of parents help out with the logistics.)

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