Chess and Books

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by Yaroslav Gaveiko, regional co-ordinator, youth organisation “Restart.lv”

Nowadays, children and teenagers pay less attention to reading books. Inevitably, this has led to a debate about the impact on their intellectual development.  Children and teenagers have less free time for exploring imaginative hobbies and spend almost all their free time on digital activities. Unusual steps are necessary to change the situation. Chess clearly has a positive effect on the development of mental abilities. Our education system must use ever more creative methods for children and teenagers to raise and maintain their thinking skills. Our idea is to pick up where Lewis Carroll left off –  a chess game through the plot of book. 

The Latvian youth organisation “Restart.lv”  conducts a wide range of public-spirited initiatives for children and young people. Of course, Latvia is a small country disproportionally famous regarding chess having produced Aron Nimzowitsch Mikhail Tal, Alexei Shirov not to mention Dana Reizniece-Ozola, our Finance Minister who happens to be a grandmaster. The branch of “Restart.lv” in Jekabpils , a small Latvian city, has developed an interesting  approach which has attracted the interest of children for both reading and chess.

The approach combines in one event books and chess using a large “garden” size set which allows children to be physically active. We successfully implemented in a modern theatrical production with “quest games” based on a book’s plot. We conducted the event in several libraries: to plunge into the fantastical world of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the Looking Glass” with children and teenagers.

Lewis Carroll’s Looking  Glass concept is interpreted by literary scholars as an allegory but we using it as an experimental theatrical experience. Within the framework of the “Alice Through the Looking Glass” event, children could play chess whilst enacting the book’s plot. Each child faced the paradoxes so beloved by the real-life Oxford logician.  The kids had to overcome these difficulties and they enjoyed it!

Indeed, there are many different books and films where chess is part of the story. Harry Potter is another source of inspiration for young people. Why not use the synergy of chess and reading, to develop scenarios for future quest games? In our experience, using large chess pieces on a non-standard chess table attracts attention. Children with individual characteristics will be able to complete a specific task and achieve their first successes. It is sweet to feel the taste of victory and socialise in a group.

Chess through the Looking Glass

How to proceed? It is necessary to develop scripts based on books containing the content of the chess game itself. This is an opportunity to effectively present chess and thus stimulate the intellectual environment of young people. Another bonus – the budget does not have to be high.

The ability to participate in a chain of initiatives or in a centralised event will allow children to test out their abilities in a fun game-based environment. Chess should not be heavy but presented in a natural way, enriched by combinations with other intellectual domains such as literature and drama. The objective is that all the participants should feel interested and get an emotional connection. No need to force your child to play chess  just give her or him the opportunity to find the game for themselves. Probably this will encourage more children to play chess.

Playing game and reading books can work together in a complementary way if we have enough imagination. The impact on the younger generation can be quite positive.  

Yaroslav Gaveiko mail

About John Foley

Director, London Chess Conference Secretary, Education Commission, European Chess Union Director, ChessPlus Ltd Promoting chess as a way to develop thinking skills

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