Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chess House ~ Starter Chess Learning Kit ~ A Schoolhouse Review

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My husband is extremely bright and as a child participated in gifted education at school. One thing he and the others in his gifted ed. class learned was the strategic game of Chess.  Interestingly, I've seen Chess sets and even tournaments at homeschool conventions and over the years have read about the many intellectual benefits of playing this 1,000 + year old game.

Knowing the many benefits of Chess, we bought a small set earlier this spring, and my husband taught our oldest child to play.  Over the course of a a few weeks she became pretty good and taught me how each Chess piece moves. But, I still lost - a lot! So, when the opportunity arose for the children and I to review Chess House's Starter Chess Learning Kit I hoped we'd be picked. My goal, since the spring has been to become a worthy opponent to my daughter (and husband, too) and for our younger children to learn to play, also. With a forty-nine minute instructional DVD taught by National Champion, Elliott Neff  and a nice, regulation sized Chess set I was hopeful that the boys and I would be well on our way to playing the game with confidence.

So What Exactly is Included with the Starter Chess Learning Kit?

Let's start with the instructional, foundational DVD #1, Pawn Level. In this DVD you learn how to set up a Chess board, learn about all the pieces and how they move and are introduced to strategic methods of play for each piece and the most important squares to control.  Here is a short example of the DVD.

Topics on the DVD include:
  • Intro to Chess (board, names of pieces, values)
  • Pawns
  • Rooks
  • Bishops
  • The Queen
  • The King
  • Knight
  • Castling
  • Pawn shields and when to break it
  • Development
 Also included in the starter kit is a very nice, 20" x 20", flexible roll-up Chess board with 3 3/4" regulation size king piece - all the pieces are a great size, and all fit nicely in a super handy carrying case. Our case is a nice green camo color.
We love the camo case!

The above picture shows the three compartments open, and the bottom shows them zipped up, revealing the rolled-up playing board.
  How Have We Used This Set?

Caraline (9), Ryan (7) and I were a little more into the DVD than our five year old. We used what we learned from the video to introduce little brother to each skill presented. The kids and I watched the full DVD once and then focused in on one playing piece and the strategy exercise games for that piece at a time. Some of the strategies are explained in the DVD video. Those games and a few extras can found in the DVD activities pamphlet, too.

An example of a fun and super easy game for the whole family is the first of the Intro to Chess exercises. Game 1 is a race to see who can set up the board with their pieces first with a special reminder that the queen is 'always on her own color'.

Another example of a game that we enjoyed was Pawn Game #2. We lined all of our pawns against each other on the 4th and 5th rank (Yes, we learned real Chess language! We know what files and ranks mean!) The goal is to reach the other side to be exchanged for any other piece, except another pawn or king. When no other pawn moves can be made, the winner is decided by whomever has the most points on the Chess board. (Each piece has a numerical value - for example a queen is worth 9 points,  rooks are 5. Did you know that? I didn't.)

We practiced a few of the "easier" strategy exercises over and over again. Some were challenging to figure out, but we persevered together and certainly became better strategists. We've played traditional Chess the most, utilizing the tips learned in the DVD. The pamphlet exercises are a fun and challenging way to mix things up a bit - and they are absolutely great for what they are intended for - to practice strategy.

The boys playing a game with their sister making sure they are following the rules.

I love playing Chess with the little ones during school time and just-for-fun family game time, too. Knowing how great this game of strategy and logic is for a growing mind is a wonderful motivator for me as  mom and teacher.

What Do We Think?

Well, I certainly know more now than before! They boys are moving along nicely from a zero knowledge base with their Chess skills, too. We are actually able to play competitively with another. No longer is my daughter giving me sympathy plays - pointing out a move that I should make to advance my position. But, we really are playing tough against each other.

I also love the Chess set itself. The pieces are a nice size to hold in your hand. The carrying case makes traveling and set up a breeze. I know this may sound like a strange plus, but there are no odors from the board or pieces. The small plastic set we personally bought this past spring had an awful smell. That may have been a big reason why I wasn't as motivated to learn back then. It's hard to play when you feel nauseous.

From actually being able to feel strategic while playing a game to actually loving the set itself, I give this learning system a big thumbs up!  Chess House has made a fabulous product and we look forward to being able to further increase our skills with more DVD based lessons from Chess House.

Pricing and Age Recommendations: The Starter Chess Learning Kit is regularly $49.95, but is on sale at the time of this posting for $39.95. The recommended age for the Learning Kit is 4 years and up.
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