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Psychomotricity on giant-sized Chessboard at a Kindergarten

Written by
Maria Beatrice Rapaccini e Mauro Gaspari

The psychomotor activity here described, performed on a giant chess board, was developed at a kindergarten, which is part of the IC “Marco Polo” School Institute of Fabriano (AN), in the Marche Region, Italy, and it is a collaboration with Mauro Gaspari,chess lover, and the teacher Luana. This project is the result of inspiration drawn from various sources: the works of A. Pompa, S. Paulesu, C. di Mauro, the A.Wild’s inspiration, and of an adaptation of the PSG protocol (Psychomotor Activity on a giant Chessboard) by Prof. Trinchero from the University of Turin.

The aim of this workshop is neither learning how to play chess, nor the acquisition of the competition attitude which is necessary to win games or to set up challenges. At this stage we do not intend to associate the world of chess with the desire for competition; on the contrary, we would like the children to approach that world with the same curiosity they have when listening to a fairy tale, trying to enter it gradually, until they become part of it. At the end of the school year they become capable of interpreting this world through a theatre performance.

In the magical world of chess children stroll up and down a giant-sized chessboard, they meet characters (the pieces of the game), they learn to move like them, dressed up to look similar to them, forming orderly arrangements, and singing songs and rhymes along with them (at least one for each type of move the characters are able to make).

The children thus make experience of the sense of geometrical space and of the options for movement that this offers, also in relation with the presence of other children; then they experience the sense of time, the rhythm marking the actions, but also the slow pace of the pawn or the speedy passing-by of the bishop, and, lastly, the sense of energy emerging from collaboration: characters who help one another, such as the two rooks, acting together, or like the many pawns lined up in array, ready to march forward supporting one another.

Scheme of the activities

Each lesson starts with the construction for the chessboard and it ends with its dismantling in the rhythm of the relevant opening and closing songs.

The arrangement of the chess pieces takes always place while a fairy tale is being told, a tale that contains the characteristics of the piece in question, of the game of chess, and the moral qualities of a good chess player. The moves of the pieces are shown while rhymes (which have been written and put to music for this purpose) are being sung.

The fairy tales all belong to the folk tradition, drawn from the Brothers Grimm collection, except for the one for the knight, which is a tale from the Arab cultural tradition.

Most of the activities are based on a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, therefore the individual child’s satisfaction arises from well accomplished work, and in the case of the individual or group exercises, from the congratulations he/she receives from his/her class mates. We have never spoken of checkmate and the pieces are never captured, let alone ‘eaten’.

The scheme of a sample lessonis as follows:

  • “Opening” sung rhyme while building up the chessboard
  • Animated narration of a fairy tale
  • Sung rhyme relevant to the piece and presentation of its movement
  • Individual and group exercises
  • “Closing” sung rhyme and dismantling of the chessboard

Construction and “Destruction” of the Chessboard

One of the preliminary and most important activities of our project is the building up and the “dismantling” of the chessboard.

For building it up the chessboard 64 squares are needed measuring  25×25 cm, with one side white and one side dark (double sided), which have to be arranged in a square perimeter, marked by four large black bands made of plastic material. The whole of the chessboard is used for the exercises, including the side strips.

The chessboard that we make is not actually giant-sized, as its dimensions represent a compromise with the space available in our kindergarten, which does not have a gymnasium.

It is believed that this activity if very important both for the cognitive development of the child, and also for the social abilities involved. The children, working together, will have to find a strategy to build up the whole of the chessboard in a proper and orderly arrangement.
At the beginning they are left free to find a solution, then they are invited to argument the suggested solutions, and finally to implement them. The solution may be relevant to localised problems (for example a square has been placed incorrectly) or generalised problems (for example what is the best way to start building up the chessboard). In the process, it has been observed how roles are taken up autonomously: those distributing the squares, those who place the squares down, those observing and those adjusting.

The building up of the chessboard with its relevant “opening” song, prepares the children for the right concentration which is needed later on, during the narration of the fairy-tale and the performance of the exercises. To come to a close, at every lesson a “closing” rhyme is sung, complementary to the opening one, which is necessary to accompany the “dismantling” phase.

The Transformations of the Chessboard

Everything acquires value thanks to its opposite and it lives with it; darkness is illuminated by light and light is darkened by darkness in the movement of opposites: an active and a passive movement, one offensive and one defensive. Black and White may be transformed into one another. Exploiting the reversibility of the squares of our chessboard, the children are faced with simple transformation activities of it.

The chessboard, therefore, may be transformed from 8 by 8 squares in one which is 4 by 4, which is easier for the children to handle, and where calculation exercises are possible. Subsequently, in a simpler 2 by 2 one, to achieve a black board (all black) or a white board (all white). Then there are surprising exercises for the children, those relevant to the creation of some check schemes, as they were playing with large pieces of a mosaic, doing special tasselation. Some examples:

The exercises

The activities performed during the lessons are mainly drawn from the italian book “Gli scacchi e i bambini: appunti per una teoria della mente” (Chess and the children: notes for a mind theory”  by A. Pompa et al., and from some posts on Psychomotricity appeared on Stefano Tescaro’s web site Scacchi012.

The chessboard related activities, some of which are explained in the above mentioned posts, concern two types of exercises: walks, whereby the child moves in order to carry out exercises; and transformations, whereby the squares are moved.

The walks

These are both individual and group exercises. There are exercises aimed at exploring space; exercises of alternation in the rhythm, in the colour and in the type of movement; exercises of orderly and disorderly arrangement; laterality exercises; exercises for the formation of configurations while moving; identification and positioning of the coordinates of a house. Group exercises: games with letters, colourful skittles, syllable jig-saws, purposely made cards.

The transformations

Use of a double-sided chessboard enabling both sides to be uses: histograms and games with numbers; construction of special “chessboards”; tesselation exercises and walking within “walls” created by the various arrangements created (internal, external, in and out; and, in the whirl movement, converging and diverging).

Complementary activities

The workshop takes place once a week and it lasts approximately one hour. During the week the teachers start complementary activities including drawing, sculpting, painting, piece constructions, dress-up costume preparation, performing reinforcement exercises, intertwining, and so forth.
The prompts for activities to implement after every lesson are varied and they may be explored in depth. In particular drawing is an aspect which is worth studying in detail, bringing it into relation with the child’s school readiness.
During this school year we have started the accomplishment of a simple practical workbook for kindergarten.

Future developments

An aspect of this workshop that we care very much about is the affective and emotional aspect involved in this experience. Furthermore, it has been observed that the game and the pieces acquire a more empathic value for children. After three years the children still remember with enthusiasm the rhymes, the movements and the games suggested.

The game of chess, therefore, offers a very wide interdisciplinary curriculum approach, and it is not limited to the mere development of logical and mathematics abilities; it helps towards stress and emotion control, towards effective decision making, even though in Italy, unfortunately, this game is not so widespread in schools.

An encouraging piece of news comes from the European Union. The European Parliament have stated, thanks also to the intervention of Garry Kasparov, that chess is not only a game, but a true sport, in that it helps children’s development, and they have provided indications for the future to ensure allocation of more funds to implement chess workshops in schools.

The European Parliament declaration dated 15th March 2012 invites the Commission to:

– encourage the introduction of the programme “Chess in Schools” in the educational system of the Member States;

-in its forthcoming communication on sport, to pay the necessary attention to the program ‘Chess in School’ and to ensure sufficient funding for it from 2012 onwards;

– dtake into consideration the results of any studies on the effects of this programme on children’s development;

The advantages of chess in schools are now well known. Last May a Conference was held in Turin on “Chess and mathematics : learning by playing”, which was a continuation of the conference held in 2009 “Chess: a game to grow up with”, where it is shown how the advantages involve the various disciplines, as well as the aspects relevant to socialization and ethics.

Our speech on the Conference in Turin:

Resources concerning the advantages of chess may be found in the World Chess Federation (FIDE) website.

For further information concerning the exercises, the rhymes or the project in general please write to the following email address: kinderchess(at)yahoo.it

4 Risposte

  1. […] Splendido articolo su Scacchi012, in inglese, della bravissima Beatrice Rapaccini, che sintetizza un anno di lavoro, con Mauro Gaspari, presso una scuola dell’infanzia delle Marche. Pur ispirandosi ai lavori di Alessandro Pompa, Paola Russo e del sottoscritto, Gaspari e Rapaccini hanno sviluppato delle novità assolute, come la costruzione e de-costruzione della scacchiera “double-face”. Notevoli anche i contributi musicali e l’utilizzo della favola, ma anche il lavoro “artigianale” di disegno e di creazione dei pezzi e delle scacchiere. […]

  2. “Psychomotricity on giant-sized Chessboard at a Kindergarten
    Scacchi 012” was indeed a fantastic article and thus I really ended up being
    pretty glad to discover the blog post. I appreciate it-Tina

  3. […] The PSG  methodology has been used for several years at San Michele kindergarden in Fabriano (AN), starting with Mauro Gaspari, a chess player and computer scientist. The aim of the workshop is not teaching children how to play chess, but to let them approach the world of chess with the same curiosity they have when listening to a fairy tale, trying to enter it gradually, until they become part of it.  A short description of the workshop structure can be found at: https://scacchi012.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/psychomotricity-on-giant-sized-chessboard-at-a-kindergart… […]

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