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Chess and Emotional Learning Leaps

After listening to a talk at one of our local libraries yesterday, five year-old No. 2 and three year-old No. Three asked to stop into the adjoining chess room for a game before they headed back out.  In the past, Three has usually devolved into tears upon losing her first piece, so I figured the game would be quick.  "Sure, you can play until somebody screams." was my answer.

Much to my surprise, Three and Two had matured immensely over the last few months!  Not too long into the game, Three did in fact lose a pawn.  It was no big deal though, she kept right on playing!  Two quickly remastered how all the pieces moved, and then started helping Three.

Even more surprising, Three started telling me about his strategy of bringing his pawns out while leaving his queen, a bishop, and all the pawns in front of them behind to 'protect that guy', (that'd be the king).  He'd internalized what his mom had shown him months earlier and was now putting it to use.  He had paid attention!

When Two was Three's age, we didn't play many board games as he was quick to anger if things didn't go well.  He's grown out of that, but the whole experience seems to have left him with a burgeoning sense of empathy.  Without any gain to himself, he was helping Three along, occasionally pointing out to her that he'd placed a piece in a position where she could nab it.  He was keeping the game fun for her so he could keep playing.  Three may be the most emotionally intelligent of the lot of us.

As the game neared its end, I looked down at the pieces, realized that Three could win the whole thing in one move, and tried to explain.  I reminded her that the objective was to get Two's king.  I reminded her how bishops move, (diagonally across corners).  Finally I pointed out to her how her bishop would be pointed straight through the single diagonal gap in Two's king's defensive wall.  Three decided to take a pawn instead.  Like any good unschooling parent I backed off.

On the next round of moves Three did manage to get Two's king into check.  Two moved the king out of danger, and we hit the first snag of the game.  Three was disappointed that Two wouldn't just give her his king, and tried to liken the whole situation to sharing.  “Clearly Three should share his king with her.”  I thought we’d finally hit the snag I’d originally feared.  I was wrong.  She accepted the game wasn’t about sharing, put her head down, took a few deep breaths, and lo and behold... she carried on!

 In the end, Two won.  For me, that wasn't really the point though.  I'd walked into a chess match thinking I'd be out in a few minutes.  Instead, I was treated to the delightful experience of watching two kids grow right before my eyes!


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