A minute to learn, but a life-time to master

One of the great activities to be enjoyed at Kew Primary School is Chess! I know it doesn’t sound that cool but wait ‘til I tell you about it and how my child has benefitted.

My son, Will (now in Grade 4) is not dominantly right or left handed. It doesn’t sound that sinister but, at kinder and early primary school, it translated into learning problems (poor memory, trouble with reading and spelling) and also physical problems (lack of body awareness and hand/eye coordination).

Luckily for Will (or not!!) he had a mum with an A-Type personality who tracked down every specialist & exercise on earth that could help him, and the advice I found most helpful was “cross-pattern exercises” to increase the connections between the left and right side of the brain.

Most children will benefit from cross-pattern exercises which is why they’re incorporated into kinder activities and at school age they move on to things like piano, karate and chess. Each of these activities requires intense concentration and the use of body and brain at the same time, increasing the left/right brain connections in children and benefitting them for life.

So when Will showed an inclination to play chess and then turned out to be pretty good at it, I was excited. He started in late Prep and encouraged his friends to join along the way. At some point, I became involved because Chess Club looked close to folding at Kew Primary – only 5 or so members in a little room which, when I entered, knocked me flat with the smell of canteen pies (pre-Sally!) and B.O!

Chess 1

 June 2011 Inter-school tournament with Marcus, our KPS chess coach

Robin Grace and I talked about the benefits of chess and how the KPS club might be turned around and so now Chess Club is held in the library, a much nicer venue. I encouraged groups of children to go to competitive tournaments each term – it started with just Will and is now consistently a group of 10 or so (one of the largest contingents including from private schools). The children used to receive their awards and trophies with little fan-fare during club time but now their achievements and tournaments are acknowledged during assemblies. The membership is now 20 – 30 children and, of course, more would be very welcome.

Results of the new-improved Chess Club were showing last year when, for the first time ever, our team qualified for the State Finals – a great achievement.

Along the way, I have collected a bunch of fantastic “chess parents” who are all passionate about the benefits of chess and the logistics of keeping a healthy chess club at Kew Primary. They help with transport and supervision at tournaments. We occasionally meet for a Chess BBQ or a practice at the Canterbury Chess Club on weekends.

Chess 2

A bit of an un-sportsman-like checkmate in June 2012!

Best of all to date, we have instigated to host a tournament at Kew Primary, on 9th September in Term 3 this year. This is a great way to show off our school as “academically engaged”, give children at our school a chance to try a tournament (we’re encouraged to have as many possible attend the day, chess club members or not), and will hopefully promote the fun and benefits of playing chess within our school.

Chess has been around for about 1500 years but is currently on the rise because of its academic benefits. We sneaky parents are increasing our children’s brain-power by stealth. The kids think they are playing a fun board game where they are the General of their army ready to defeat the enemy soldiers. In actual fact, they are increasing their memory, logic, concentration, focus, creativity, strategic planning and problem-solving skills. The social benefits include good sportsmanship, consequence, standing up for themselves and playing against varying ages and abilities.

Chess 3

Will at the October 2012 State Semi-Finals

The logistics of getting your child to attend Chess Club? Just remind them on Fridays (usually with a note in their lunch box) to go to the library at lunch time. First lesson is free & Chess Ideas (the company who runs it) is pretty easy-going with payments – if your child starts half-way through the term, only pay for 5 sessions etc. Go to www.chessideas.com.au to make payments. Email me at andstevens@internode.net.au if you have any questions or would like to attend the inter-school tournaments. Probably buy a chess set. Practice on-line too. Sit back and watch their natural competiveness kick in.

Chess 4

March 2013 Inter-school tournament

So how has Will turned out? Well, I am consoled now by the disbelief I see in people’s faces when I mention Will’s issues – they are still there but so minimal that they don’t really affect his life any more. We continue with piano and karate and chess – he enjoys them all, and I enjoy the knowledge that they are all so great for him.

Andrea Stevens

Volunteer KPS Chess Club promoter

Mum to Will (Grade 4) and Lara and Hamish (twins in Grade 2)

The new kid on the block….

If you wander past the school office you will see a fresh face sitting in the office of the Assistant Principal (AP).


Andrew Searle has joined us from Mont Albert Primary School as acting AP, while Robin Grace has moved up the corridor to the Principal’s office. Both will be in their acting positions for Term 2, and who knows after that? DEECD will let us know.

This week I popped in to see Andrew to find out a little more about him, and thought it might be a good idea to introduce him to the school community via the blog.

Jacqui: Welcome Andrew, we’re very pleased to have you at KPS. I’m told you were ‘hand-picked’ to come over and help us out and I’m wondering what you were ‘hand-picked’ for?

Andrew: (laughing) Well I got a call from the regional coordinator at DEECD who explained the situation here and asked if I’d be available to act as Assistant Principal for the next term. I asked him why he’d called me and he said he knew about my ability to connect with the community – with parents and staff – and thought that was really important for Kew right now. I thought it would be a great opportunity and challenge for me and I was very happy to agree. I’ve only been here a day, but everyone’s been really friendly and welcoming.

Jacqui: We’ve had a few ups and downs here in the last eighteen months…

Andrew: Yes, I know, but I have no history with the school – or with anyone involved in that which I think is good – I’m a new face. Mont Albert has a similar demographic to Kew Primary so I’m familiar with some of the challenges of a school like this.

Jacqui: So what is the role of the Assistant Principal exactly and what will you be doing here?

Andrew: A large part of the AP’s job is to look after the welfare of the students; that includes discipline, but it’s much broader than that. I work with students with disabilities and special needs and their parents, and the aides who support them. I also look after professional development for staff and work on the curriculum.

Jacqui: It’s hard to step into a role when you’re only here for a term…

Andrew: Yes, it is, but I’ve already had a few conversations with Robin about what I can most effectively do while I’m here. Firstly, I need to make sure I fulfil the AP role and keep everything under control and running smoothly, but I’m also hoping to look around and see if there are other areas where I can make a contribution. I really just want to identify the real need of the school right now and see what’s the best way I can help.

At Mont Albert, I’m very involved with a number of committees – Education, Buildings and Grounds and the Fare – and I also run our classroom helpers course and information evenings on literacy. I don’t want to tread on any toes here, but I’ll just be looking for areas that might need some development and maybe I can get a few things started.

I’ll be meeting with the Leadership Team this week and see what ideas they have. I’ll also be supporting Robin as she finds her feet in her new role.

My first big challenge is to get to know everyone and learn some names.

Jacqui: So are you from Melbourne?

Andrew: I was born in Cohuna up on the Murray River, but we left there after a year. My father was a Uniting Church Minister so we moved a lot for his work in the early days. We lived in South Australia and different parts of Victoria, but I’ve lived in Melbourne for about thirty years now.

I trained at Deakin University and did Professional Development to become an Early Years Literacy Coordinator. I’ve been at Mont Albert for six years, three as Assistant Principal.

My fiancée is also a teacher – at Chatham Primary in Surrey Hills. Oh and I barrack for Hawthorn!

Jacqui: Thanks, Andrew. It’s great to have you here and we hope you enjoy your time at KPS.