The Richest Man in Inyo County (urkadur) wrote in chessparents,
The Richest Man in Inyo County

Do's and Don't's of the First Year of Chess Club

I'm now entering Year Two of our elementary school's chess club, and it's time to reflect on some lessons learned from Year One.

DON'T buy cheap chess sets from Target. I know, I know, at $3.95 per set it's tempting. But the pieces are small and light and flimsy. Kids aged 5-11 aren't exactly known for their dexterity; there were pieces being knocked off the boards left and right. No notation on the boards; instructions worthy of; surprisingly heavy and hard to transport.

DO instead go for a tournament-sized board, roll-up vinyl. Now before you throw a hissy fit, calm down and shop around. Wholesale Chess has sturdy sets for around $7 each (less if you buy in bulk). After 3 months of suffering with the Target specials, I brought in the full-size vinyl boards, and the kids thought they were in heaven. I was out about 80 bucks for all those Target boards. Don't let this happen to you.

DON'T do much publicity. Trust me. They'll come.

DO plan on getting there early and leaving late. Boards need setting up. Rooms change. Parents run late. Squeeze chess into a tight schedule, and it's no fun. Block out the time.

DON'T think, "These kids don't need snacks." Are you kidding me? See Revolution, French. Hungry hordes are angry hordes. Bring snacks. Lots and lots of snacks (you'd be surprised how many kids do without dinner on a regular basis). Bring only one kind of snack - don't give them a choice. Keep away from peanuts and peanut products. Bring out the snacks 20 minutes into practice --- any earlier, and you have kids come in on their way out of school, just to grab a free snack.

DO hold your program after school. Come on. The last thing kids need is another activity at night or on the weekends. Lunchtime? I don't know about you, but that's when I eat. What kids do need are activities from 3:00 to 4:00 (Even better, 3:00 to 5:00). Strike a deal with your boss, and go in early on Thursday mornings. Recruit substitutes when you know you can't weasel out of a presentation. But be firm, even with your clients; explain what you're doing, and they'll be surprisingly understanding. If your boss doesn't approve, why are you working for such a person anyway? Trust me, do it in the afternoon, and after a few weeks, chess club will be the highlight of your work week.

DON'T push tournaments too early. These kids aren't there to compete. They're there to have fun. You remember fun, don't you? Later, it'll be pretty easy to pick out the ones who want to see how they stack up against other schools. When the time is right, it'll all come together. But for now, let's play.

DO ask for help. Lots and lots and lots of help. Most parents will be intimidated. "What do I know about chess?" Just explain you need a few adults in there to keep the peace. Kids need to go to the bathroom. Kids get hurt. Chess teachers get caught up in one thing, and three other things blow up. Rule of thumb; for every 10 kids, have an adult standing by. I ask parents to come once a month, if they can. For my 40 kids, I have maybe 20 parents available. That means 4 to 5 parents a week, and everybody's happy.

DON'T play the kids. I hate to say it, but it's nothing but trouble. If you play one kid, 39 others have their feelings hurt. You get in the middle of a game, and someone has a rule question three tables away. You're running back and forth. The kid you're playing gets frustrated. Someone decides to launch a bottle rocket.... well, you get the idea. You're there to teach and keep the peace. Want to play? Do it on your own time.

DO teach the knight tour. I reserve two boards (and 126 pennies) for people who want to practice the knight tour. Those 2 boards are always occupied. Great for a kid whose opponent had to leave early.

DON'T lose control. 40 kids having fun is going to make some noise, but work on keeping it to a dull roar, or the principal (who's trying to catch up on his paperwork next door) will give you a dirty look for the rest of the year. Keep it quiet. That leads to the biggest DO of all....

DO DO DO DO DO set ground rules. Here are some of ours: 1) Come straight to chess club after school. Do not go to the Kwik-E-Mart first. 2) You're here to play chess. If you need to do homework, go home or go to aftercare. 3)Talk quietly. 4) Be polite at all times. 5) If you have a chess question, raise your hand, and an adult will come help you. 6)Yes we're having snack today. 7)Not yet, that's when we're having snack. Be nice, but be firm. Without rules, we're back to the angry hordes.

DON'T think you can start a chess club without it changing your life. At every open house, every soccer game, every awards assembly, you become an instant celebrity. For those of you who are men, you are often one of the few masculine authority figures some of these kids know. Maybe it'll change their lives, maybe not. But it'll sure change yours.

Comments welcome.
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