Preview and purchase How To Teach Your Child Chess at YourMovePublishing.com.
In early 2019, I taught two hour-long chess classes every morning at Mason Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri. Students ranged from 3rd through 6th grade, including both special needs and accelerated learners, with a wide variety of previous chess exposure.
The most advanced students at Mason were highly competent in academics and boasted multiple years of formal chess instruction. They were generally much more mature than students at the 3-5 other schools I was also teaching at. I was excited to have them as pupils with whom I could engage in serious chess study.
Yet I was shocked to discover even these students lacked the most basic chess skills, like seeing their pieces were about to be captured.
After a few weeks trying to provide helpful lectures and create diagnostic tests, I had to admit I was failing to teach these students. No wonder the previous instructors didn’t get very far.
Chess is hard. Teaching is hard. Kids are hard.
I went back to the drawing board determined to completely re-invent how I was teaching. I looked up everything the internet had to offer on introducing chess to beginners, as well as elementary school education in general. I ended up landing on a few core themes.
Students have to be excited to engage. Pulling up a 5 minute YouTube video of a skydiving grandmaster or a speed game with a prodigy trash-talking an adult will focus the classroom 10x better than putting up my chess demo board.
Play is paramount. Worksheets and abstract instruction are not good at delivering lessons that stick week over week. They are also far removed from the social joy of chess. Kids exhibit the most energy during free play, and the experience generated while playing is what reinforces their thought patterns and habits.
Students need appropriate structures. At the individual level, students who are missing obvious piece captures are not ready for a full chess game. Moreover, they will be bored and frustrated by it. At the classroom level, a clear goal for the room (such as a prize at the end of class) will keep everyone more focused for the duration of the hour.
I made a “Welcome To The Magical World Of Chess” reference doc with links to content I could string together into various motivational intro lectures: historical origins, rating systems and world champions, local St. Louis landmarks, chess strategy, A.I. and computers, Hollywood movies, etc. I compiled minigames and other curricula that were well-suited for students to play and problem-solve together. I bought candy in bulk to experiment with various incentives.
I wrote down and showed other instructors my methods, what was working and what was not, and I learned from them as well. It was clear that I had something special to offer, which hadn’t been widely understood even among professional chess teachers.
These fits and starts fell far short of what I was hoping to accomplish. But they helped me think more deeply about my audience and the key points I wanted to make.
After transitioning out of my job at the end of August, it was the perfect time to start writing seriously. No more mini-projects, and no more excuses!
I converged on parents as the key reader to address, and I jotted down a bunch of ideas for what I wanted to say to them most urgently. Looking at the notes, I found a few thematic buckets that all seemed interesting and important: chess curriculum, teaching tactics, and underlying principles for good child engagement.
Satisfied with my brainstorm’s coverage, I narrowed down the chapter titles and drew up a table of contents in September 2020.
After wasting some time trying to get a literary agent and speak with publishers, it became clear that I should just go ahead and write, self-publishing if necessary. So I hunkered down for the next couple months to flesh out the book.
Each chapter started as a vague concept that demanded concrete stories and examples, so I happily obliged. I threw down a bunch of different ideas—often getting stuck and going for walks until inspiration struck again—then cleaned and cut and stitched together the writing until I had a first draft.
Counting and graphing new words written per day was a huge help to keep things flowing.
I asked for feedback from friends and family, particularly on chapters which focused on chess-adjacent teaching ideas that I hadn’t shared explicitly before. The responses were extremely useful.
After taking a break and coming back to the draft, I went through and revised it with my own eye, incorporating many suggestions from others and discarding a few that I thought missed the mark.
I felt pretty good with the result, and didn’t think I could improve it much more. I knew there were little things I’d want to change, but the overall product was close enough to finished that it begged to move on. It was time to print the first copy.
Printing and Publishing
This was a big challenge. Each step was accompanied by constant worrying about whether or not to go through Amazon, to try getting more professional help publishing, etc. The project management and identity anxiety proved far more difficult to push through than any of the actual work.
Here in the mountains of Ecuador, I finally decided to just go for it. I had enough waiting and relaxing on vacation. Enough unanswered questions that seemed to never end. I set myself an ambitious deadline to publish before I turned 25.
I went through my first draft and asked permission to use all the images which weren’t mine. Although one content owner was kind enough to give me free reign, others weren’t so cooperative. I decided to do everything myself to the greatest degree possible, including coding up my own chess diagram tool.
With templates from the printer, I formatted the interior content and tried printing a PDF directly from Google Docs. It worked! The book proof turned out great. I could cancel my Adobe Acrobat trial, which I no longer needed to generate a PDF/X-1a.
I created a website to sell the book and set up a Stripe checkout page. Everything was coming together very nicely!
The universe seemed to agree. Acorn Chess got in touch and we found synergy in our shared philosophy to focus on chess minigames for beginners. Then I got an extremely inspiring message out of the blue a couple days before the new year from someone who found my YouTube content useful.
A couple final edits to the content and cover, some updates to the acknowledgements, and everything was ready to go! So here we are.
Publishing is just the beginning. I’m excited to dive into the challenge of marketing and sales. Then of course there’s writing the next one!
Many other things are on the might-do list: formatting as an ebook, setting up a more robust distribution infrastructure, helping other aspiring authors publish, etc.
So far, I’ve found this project to be an incredibly valuable experience. We’ll see how the launch goes and where the winds blow in the months to come.