The Suzuki Method is among the most well-known systems for teaching music to children. Modelled on human language acquisition, the Suzuki Method (as I understand it) involves immersion in musical ‘culture’ and drilling in the most basic elements of playing and theory. The idea is that any child can be brought to competence if they begin with the most basic building blocks of musical practice, building to increasing levels of proficiency in a systematic way.
I believe that chess education should proceed in a similar fashion. I believe this because I have seen the results of the traditional American chess education, a most haphazard and slip-shod enterprise, and I believe that American chess suffers because of it.
Most Americans learn chess from a well-meaning parent or adult, one who may or may not know all of the rules. Perhaps they take a lesson or two, attend a club at school, or check out a chess app. Maybe they even defeat Mom or Dad in a friendly game. Soon they enter a real tournament, suffer defeat after defeat, and give up the game.
No one likes to lose. No one likes to lose and not understand why they lost. (“I beat Mom and Dad… what happened?”) Through proper, systematic education, we can prevent that, and we can inculcate a true, lifelong appreciation of the game in the process.
I prefer to use a modified version of the Stappenmethode ( ‘Chess Steps’ or Steps Method) a teaching system created by the Royal Dutch Chess Federation, in my teaching. The advantages of the Steps Method are many; in summary, I find that the Steps are a tested and proven system of providing level-appropriate instruction for players from beginner through expert.
Because we do not have the same chess infrastructure here as exists in Europe, some of the precepts of the Steps Method are difficult to translate to the American context. So while I believe fully in the efficacy of the Steps, I modify some of their implementation to accommodate the American chess scene.
I focus on tactics, game analysis and playing over the games of a ‘chess hero.’ For most of my beginning players, that hero is Paul Morphy, whose games can be used to illustrate a multitude of important chess facts and truths. Homework is assigned each week, and I encourage students to play games on ChessKid.com where I can view and assess their play.
As our teaching relationship progresses, and as we progress through the Steps, I introduce some basic opening and endgame knowledge along with the study of other great players in chess history. All of this is done in an age- and developmentally appropriate way.
When you begin a long-term relationship with me as your child’s coach (or as your chess teacher), that relationship does not end each week with the end of our lesson. I am available via e-mail for questions and assistance. As an active player and organizer, I attend many of the tournaments your child might be participating in, and I’m always happy (time permitting) to do on-site analysis and coaching with my pupils gratis. I know the local and national chess scenes, and I can guide you through them, from your very first steps in tournament chess through your entries in National Championship events.