Stopping in to catch the match, County Commissioner Bob Thomas was charmed by 5-year-olds Lily Fisher and Cameron Bogus. A neighbor of owner Anoula McCarren, Thomas is a proponent of early childhood education. (Photo: Margie Hagen/Shopper News)

Source: Knox News

Chess is a game of strategy, requiring skill and concentration, but for kids at the Goddard School, it’s as simple as child’s play. Preschoolers as young as 3 have taken up the game in a unique program called Chess at Three. They play regularly and hold matches; it’s one of the most popular activities at the school.

Designed to make learning fun, each chess piece is a different character and has a story to go along with it. For example, the white king is “King Chompers,” who can eat 30 pizzas at once and has a big belly. He can move only one space at a time, just like the king in regular chess. Other pieces have their own stories; the kids remember the stories associated with each piece and begin to play chess.

It started when Pre-K teacher Leia McKenzie attended an educational conference where Chess at Three was introduced. She realized the potential of the program, saying, “It teaches the kids cognitive skills. They learn decision making, planning ahead and problem solving, all while having fun.”

Rachel Shearer is the teacher in charge of the program. “We have small groups that play a couple of times a week,” she said. “It’s free choice, so they decide if they want to play.” And they do want to play; the engaging “fairy tales” appeal to the kids and the stories stick with them.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett took in the action at a match last year. (Photo: Submitted by Anoula McCarren)

Designed to make learning fun, each chess piece is a different character and has a story to go along with it. For example, the white king is “King Chompers,” who can eat 30 pizzas at once and has a big belly. He can move only one space at a time, just like the king in regular chess. Other pieces have their own stories; the kids remember the stories associated with each piece and begin to play chess.

It started when Pre-K teacher Leia McKenzie attended an educational conference where Chess at Three was introduced. She realized the potential of the program, saying, “It teaches the kids cognitive skills. They learn decision making, planning ahead and problem solving, all while having fun.”

Rachel Shearer is the teacher in charge of the program. “We have small groups that play a couple of times a week,” she said. “It’s free choice, so they decide if they want to play.” And they do want to play; the engaging “fairy tales” appeal to the kids and the stories stick with them.

For the Goddard School, it’s another way to enrich the curriculum. The Hardin Valley location, 10720 Virginia Way, accepts children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Owner Anoula McCarren has operated the school for nine years, saying, “I love seeing their personalities emerge and grow.”

The school is decorated with a nautical theme; classrooms are named for sea creatures like dolphins, guppies, jelly fish and sea turtles, making them easy for kids to remember. “The school can accommodate 172 students and is near full capacity now,” McCarren said. She recently added three new classrooms and a multipurpose room.

Farragut also has a Goddard School, 125 Loudoun Road. The two locations sometimes get together for Chess for Three tournaments.

Cameron Bogus makes his move, preparing to topple the king and win the match. (Photo: Margie Hagen/Shopper News)

What do the kids say? Lily Fisher likes to play “because of all the different stories and moves they have.” Veteran player Cameron Bogus likes the characters; when asked about his favorite, he was quick to answer “Ironman!” Ok, that’s not a chess piece, but who can blame him for getting caught up in all the excitement?

The HV Goddard School sponsors quarterly community service projects. A canned food drive for Second Harvest runs through March. They are already planning their Fall Festival, where donations will benefit East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Kids love games, so you can try this at home. Any chess set will do, but you’ll have to provide the imagination. More info at goddardschool.com.

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