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On Chess: How a children’s exhibit went from idea to reality

Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis
Children can build the castle, as well as learn about chess.

The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum was honored when, several years ago, the World Chess Hall of Fame approached us with a partnership opportunity to create a nationally-traveling, interactive exhibit for children focused on the game of chess. With so many beneficial 21st century skills to be learned by playing chess, we were intrigued by this potential design challenge.

During our initial research stage, we surveyed our peers at children’s museums across the country.  While we knew there was a growing interest in the game of chess in our region, we wanted to be sure that this trend wasn’t localized to St.  Louis because we are have the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis here. The survey results indicated that interest from the other museums was quite strong, surpassing even Peter Pan and Mother Goose as other potential exhibit themes. The growing interest in chess and expansion of school-based chess clubs clearly show a national trend. Several museums immediately inquired about hosting the exhibit just based on the survey questions alone! 

With a solid foundation of interest, our design team set a goal to create an exhibit that would provide an engaging, age-appropriate introduction to the game of chess for children ages 3 to 11 years. The staff at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, who work with children on a regular basis, provided guidance on content and strategy. The result was a theme that capitalizes on children’s interest in medieval life; the exhibit takes place within a castle-themed environment complete with drawbridges, turrets and thrones.

This innovative, hands-on, family-friendly exhibit brings the game of chess to life. Kings, Queens & Castles provides an engaging introduction to individual chess pieces and game strategy.

Credit Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

  • The floor of the castle is a giant chess board where children can dress up as chess pieces to play a human size game of chess. They can climb into castle turrets and call out the plays to the people below.
  • Life-size chess pieces with cutouts for faces create great photo opportunities and are an integrated part of the custom smartphone app developed just for the exhibit.
  • Chess tables allow children and grownups alike to sit in thrones while they play a game of chess.
  • Educational content is found throughout the castle, displayed on colorful banners so families leave the exhibit with a better understanding of how to teach the game of chess to young children.

Kings, Queens & Castles runs through Sept. 11, 2016 at the World Chess Hall of Fame. The Magic House will host the exhibit from Oct. 1, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017. The exhibit will then begin its national tour with its first stop in Chattanooga, Tenn.. For more information, visit www.worldchesshof.org

Beth Fitzgerald has served more than 36 years as the president of The Magic House. With a master’s degree in early childhood education, Beth has directed the museum since it opened in 1979.