2008 International Chess Academy Summer Camp Review:
By now most of the children who went to this year’s camp are immersed in math, science, and literature. Their teachers are tough, and as is usually the case with each successive grade, so is the curriculum. Of course, unless most of them stared at the tip of their pencil’s eraser last year, all of this fractions-distractions mumbo jumbo should be a piece of delicious home economics baked cake.
Yet what about the chess?
Perhaps most of the things they learned this summer have long disappeared beneath the endless parade of the adventures of Sponge Bob, and Count Chocula. Perhaps they don’t remember what the Dragon is, and confuse it with some crazy themes from Yu-Gi-Oh, or maybe, just maybe the real dragons that inhabited the earth somewhere around the time of the Dinosaurs, and Santa Clause. Perhaps every single thing that I have fervently raised my voice about to my students, week after week, in order to emphasize its importance, is somewhere in the black hole of their memory and imagination.
If there is one thing that I wish your children learned this summer, it is to be mentally tough. Even if chess is the furthest thing from their mind, until next summer, or maybe until never, at the very least I hope they have grown more mature in regards to being competitive. After all, in life, as on the chess board, there will always be someone, trying to outsmart, outmaneuver, or out, and out, checkmate you into submission. This is why whether it be in the classroom, in the workplace, or even in line to buy the new Kim Possible DVD, that is the lesson I hope your children took away this summer.
It is especially gratifying to see evidence of this in your youngest children who are still trapped in a world between static dependence on mommy and daddy, and an independent belief in self. For instance, watching some of our younger campers, like Dukkha, and Shane, play Dodge ball, unafraid against kids upwards of twice their age, was a real joy. At a time when this game has drawn some form of controversy in public schools, here you had small children, voluntarily, playing, and enjoying being competitive against older children, not worried about getting bumps and bruises, but ready to deal with them if they happen. They got hit of course, and yes at times they cried as children often do, but not once, not once, did they ever want to stop playing. Amusingly enough, because at times the older children underestimated them, those same older children found themselves on the sidelines wondering how it was a kid twice their age could get them out of the game.
It was not a surprise that in front of the chess board those same stand out children were successful as well. Maybe not in the sense that they won all their games, at the moment I do not remember if they did, but because they played with a sense of comprehension regarding trying to learn from their mistakes, and even in losing trying to understand how not to make those same mistakes next time.
In that regard, the smaller kids, like Shane, like Dukkha, and like Liyan, who for his age has the attentive focus of an adult hawk, out did older, and more knowledgeable fellow campers. Fellow campers who may play better now, but will have a harder time reaching that next plateau because their approach has them believing that they already know everything about anything. It is always a bit more interesting to see the youngest of our campers develop through the years because of their upbringing, and individual character.
However, I must say there were also some older campers who left quiet an impression as well. An impression that ran contrary to the accepted, or popular social norm, where in older children think of nobody else but themselves. While I did see that from some campers, regardless of age, there were also those like David Shekhtman who made everyone’s life easier by helping both his fellow campers, as well as the counselors. I should say David was only a full time camper for part of the summer, and was promoted to a full-time coach because of his outstanding level of maturity a few weeks into this year’s camp. While with some children it is difficult to focus on the task at hand, whether it be exercising, or solving chess problems, David has always done what was asked of him with a soldier’s attitude, which is why it only became beneficial to have him as a coach.
Of note, I was also pleased with the continued success of the Koslowe twins Hillel, and Yehuda, who through diligent attendance, and immaculate behavior, and focus, have come to dominate their sections. I was surprised to learn that despite being very articulate, polite, and willing to participate, these two twin terrors were only nine years old. It was doubly surprising because while they seemed older based on their behavior, it was quite a shock since I have known them for roughly three summers straight.
All in all, even though there were also positive, in the end I would say overall the results of our efforts were somewhat mixed. While in general most children, some of whom I discussed above, came to the camp ready to learn, there were some children who either due to their own behavioral limitations, or due to the pressure put on them by their parents to go somewhere they didn’t know they should want to be, showed up with an attitude that was simply not receptive to anything. No matter how much we tried, and believe me we always do, it was just obvious that these kids were not ready to learn anything about chess, and some of those generic competitive skills I had mentioned. In no way was it their fault, but in the end they didn’t benefit from the experience at all, which is why they didn’t deserve to be forced to do anything.
It just shouldn’t be that way.
Parents! As you are the ones who will mostly be reading this, the last portion of this message is for you. There is a sound advantage from having your child learn chess, because it forces them to be mentally tough with regard to competitive thinking (a new term?), something they will have to do either in any athletic discipline against an opponent, either as a group, or individual, or in their academic studies where they will face off against themselves. However, the only way they will get something out of our program, is if you prepare them correctly. There are those camps that try to be fillers for your child while you are at work, or act just like glorified baby-sitting services. They may be fun but in most cases that fun doesn’t have a sense of purpose. Explain to your child that if they come to learn chess, they must do so with the utmost concentration and focus. Reason being that chess can only become “fun” once they fully understand the real concept of the game. That concept that makes them calculate three, to four moves ahead, and question what the opposing side is thinking. They must be able to listen carefully, question the coaches about anything and everything, and most of all not be afraid to lose, and learn from those losses.
I believe that will make them stronger, not only in chess, but more importantly in life.
It is up to all of you to make sure the experience will serve them.
See you next year!