Tag Archives: halma

Christmas Brain Camp is a success

John Foley

When schools break up for Christmas, parents can be forgiven for wanting to find some activity for their children, especially if it has some educational value. A new type of activity is a Brain Camp. The idea is to spend a few days of intensive game activities where the games have a special characteristic. All the games are strategy games. There are no dice or cards – there is no element of luck. The outcomes are down to the skill of the players, which increases gradually through practice and some theory.

The four-day Kingston Brain Camp was organised by John Foley through his chess teaching company ChessPlus, and ran from 18-21 December. It followed the same format as the Summer Camp in July. The children, aged 7-9, played under close supervision at the premises of a local school, Holy Cross Prep. The children were encouraged to learn and play several games. The camp was held in a friendly atmosphere where the emphasis was on learning and having fun. As well as chess and games equipment, we used software resources from LogiqBoard, ChessKid and Lichess. Alongside John were the highly experienced tutors Brigitta Peszleg and Dr John Upham.

Each game has its special characteristics and requires different strategies. The children feel as if they are all on the same level as they all have to learn to play games some of which may be unknown to them. The games included chess, the classic game which has been around for 1,600 years and which will never go out of fashion. A conventional chess camp focuses on chess only and revolves around lectures and competitions. This is appropriate when training talented children who want to get into competitive chess. However, when dealing with regular children it is important to provide a more varied diet than chess. 

Following years of research and practice, John has developed an approach to teaching games in which chess forms part of a continuum of games played on an 8×8 board. One of the drawbacks of focusing exclusively on chess is that children drop out too early. They are being introduced too rapidly to a game which takes a lot of effort to play well. Whilst children love competition, the joy of play can be lost if the stakes are too high. There is also a practical reason for playing other games: chess takes too long to play. Children do not like waiting for others to finish playing their games. We did not want to use game timers because these bring a different type of problem – children playing to the clock rather than focusing on the game strategy. If games are to be educational, children should not be under time pressure.

The games played included:

  • Loser’s Chess – the first player to lose all their pieces wins the game
  • Draughts – move diagonally on black squares, win by jump-capturing all your opponent’s pieces.
  • Halma – pieces jump over each other to reach the opposite corner of the board
  • Reversi – counters are reversed if they are caught between the opponent’s counters
  • Slimetrail – both players move the same piece and try to reach their corner, never visiting the same square twice

In addition to the games, there were several problem-solving challenges including:

  • 8 Safe Officers problem
  • 8 Queens problem
  • Knights Tour
  • Army power minimisation problem 

The children were fully engaged throughout and we never heard them say they were bored. The feedback from the children and parents has been very encouraging and we are planning to run another camp at Easter.