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3-Year-Olds Poised to Become Chess Grand Masters at UWS Preschool

By Emily Frost | July 8, 2013 8:54am
 Kindergarten programs are increasingly teaching chess and preschools are jumping on the bandwagon too. 
Chess Lessons Start Early on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Neighborhood moms and dads may soon be hearing "checkmate" — from their toddlers.

The private Goddard Preschool, on West 93rd Street and Broadway, is now teaching 3- and 4-year-olds how to play chess, said preschool director and owner Bill Swan — a move he believes distinguishes Goddard from competitors and teaches valuable skills. 

The ancient game is increasingly part of the kindergarten curricula in both private and public schools in New York City, said Swan, making lessons more appealing to parents anxious about the looming admissions process. 

Plus, chess teaches time management, strategy and thoughtfulness — "those are all skills that are very helpful in life and in testing," he said, adding that teaching chess at earlier and earlier ages is "a growing trend around the country." 

By the end of a program called Chess at Three, made up of 20 classes, each 30 to 40 minutes long and taught by the school's teachers, a toddler should be able to play chess, said Goddard teacher Amanda Snatchko. 

"The kids are in love with this program," said Snatchko, who confessed to not knowing how to play before she learned Chess at Three's teaching method, which revolves around stories about each piece. 

The pawns are thought of as the king's kids, for example, and the king is described as a heavy, lazy ruler to explain why he can only move one spot at a time, she explained. 

"The parents love it," Snatchko said. "They say it's incredible."

And so do the kids, she said: "It's like a fairy tale for them. They love listening and they have fun."

Goddard runs only one Upper West Side location, but it's part of a chain of 400 preschools across the country.

At its start in September 2011, the school had 25 students; it now has 96 and can accept up to 129, Swan said. Tuition for a 3-year-old ranges from $817 per month to $2,195 per month depending of the choice of half or full days, and the number of days attending per week, officials said.

The school has lots of bells and whistles to attract parents, including yoga, sign language, rock climbing, visits from opera singers and farmers alike, and an app called Tadpole that teachers use to snap photos of kids and send them to parents instantly and track attendance, activities and meals. 

With drop off hours between 7 and 9 a.m. and pickup hours that extend to 6 p.m., Goddard is trying to get an edge on nearby preschools. 

"We're committed to being parent-friendly and we're here when you need us," Swan said. 

The school is also open during summer and nearly every day during the school year, he said. 

"Not everybody can go to Florida. Some people have to work," he explained. 

In August, Goddard will open an infant and 1-year-old program for 18 babies. It's the only preschool catering to such young ages in the neighborhood, he said, because that kind of care is expensive. But, he said, the school thinks the costs are worth it if the children continue on with them. 

Swan said he's proud of the flagship chess program at his school. Still, he said he tries to temper parents' reactions.

"We don't want them to have grandiose expectations," he said.