Novato man teaches chess to students to help critical thinking By: Stephanie Weldy
POSTED: Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 – 12:24 p.m. UPDATED: A DAY AGO
Christopher Major, founder and president of the Novato Chess Club teaches chess strategy to 10-year-old Cooper McCollum of San Anselmo. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) Christopher Major believes in the power of chess.
The 55-year-old retired teacher believes the game puts the hearts and minds of youth on display. Chess can show whether a child is a risk-taker, brash, or more strategic, he says, and it also builds self-esteem.
The Novato resident is the founder and president of the Novato Chess Club, a nonprofit group that teaches chess to students through a nine-week program. Through the chess club, which he launched in 2014, Major teaches chess at San Anselmo’s Golden Gate Learning Center and Saint Raphael School.
He also created and heads the Hayward Youth Academy, which provides afterschool and outreach programs to youth.
Major hopes to one day see chess boards available, as well as strategy programs geared toward the game, offered in every elementary school across Marin.
Q Why did you start the Novato Chess Club?
A We want to make sure every kid has the opportunity to grow and find their true self. I don’t think you do that with electronics. Kids are being taken up with electronic games. I don’t think that’s building them up, or teaching them how to communicate effectively with kids across barriers. In society, it’s getting more and more important. Chess for us was inexpensive, every kid could do it. It’s an opportunity for children to learn about how they think.
Q What are the benefits of chess?
A It helps kids to focus. If you’re not paying attention to what the other person is doing, it affects you in the game. You can’t look away. Also, it looks at kid’s visualization. We want them to see two and three moves ahead. “If I do this, then this will happen.” “If the guy is drinking, will I step into the car or not step into the car? That’s not a move I want to make. I’m not going to make that move.” It’s about thinking ahead, considering options, making sold choices … These are developmental pieces kids go through and by sixth grade your child is pretty much who they are.
Q When did you first start play chess?
A (It was) ’97, ’98 at Skyline High School (in Oakland). I was teaching special ed fourth period … I could only have eight kids in the class, with two aides and we played chess. And the whole goal was not to get them. That was the idea of language. You teach language in chess – capture, we don’t kill.
Q Chess can be seen as a boring game by many. How do you get kids engaged?
A It’s funny, the natural competitive spirit in children engages them in any type of game. It’s quid pro quo. That’s how we start, with chess, it’s with the pawning, it’s the key component.
Q Tell me about your education background.
A I was a working professional in school for seven years, working every year and going to school and I finally achieved my credential in 2003 at the University of San Francisco. … I started teaching as a subsitute teacher at Tennyson High School in Hayward. And then I taught at Skyline High School in Oakland and I taught at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. And I taught in one of the more interesting positions at a Santa Clara office of education program with some really tough kids … My last assignment was at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary, third to fifth grades.
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