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First-graders ‘absolutely’ learn to play chess in Aston’s classroom

Kacie Aston's first-grade students Peyton Williams, from left, Caroline Zemnes and Camarious White are all smiles about their classroom's "Chess Center" at Rainbow Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)
Kacie Aston’s first-grade students Peyton Williams, from left, Caroline Zemnes and Camarious White are all smiles about their classroom’s “Chess Center” at Rainbow Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Kacie Aston has proven “absolutely” that six-year-olds can learn the not-so-easy game of chess.

Aston has opened a “Chess Center” in her first-grade classroom at Rainbow Elementary School. “Learning has to be exciting for them, or they’re not very interested,” she said.

She chose chess for its challenge and spur to critical thinking for all of her 18 first-graders. Daily, students can play a quick game the “Reading Center” rotation or opt for chess in their 20-minute “Fun Center.”

“Chess encourages competition in a different way than typical sports,” Aston said. “You still (must) be aggressive but play solely with your brain — your most powerful muscle.”

First, Aston explained the chess pieces and game’s objective, which is to capture the opponent’s king. “The next couple of days, we focused on how the pieces move. I devoted three 20-minute lessons to teaching the rules,” she said.

Finally, the first-graders played a chess game, boys against girls. “They took turns making a move and strategized with their team,” Aston said.

She taught game rules as if they were all beginners, although one student had chess experience with his father. That student “helped build the excitement level for the rest of the class,” Aston said.

A six-year-old “absolutely” can learn to play chess, Aston said. “If they’re passionate about the game, they take time to learn the rules. If they forget, they ask me.” For moves, she prepared a ‘cheat sheet’, which they’re using less as they practice.

Students were “unsure why the queen could move any way she wanted, other than in an ‘L,’ when she wasn’t the true ruler. The king can only move one space each time. That didn’t seem fair to them,” Aston said.

Since the chess center opened, first-grade parents are asking about signing up their children for the Rainbow Chess Club.

Aston earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Alabama and a master’s degree from the University of West Alabama in elementary education and early childhood education.

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