Balamory, sticky sweets and hurtling around playgrounds are well known preoccupations of pre-school children; ancient and infinitely complex games of mental dexterity rather less so.
Yet children as young as three in a Kirkintilloch nursery class have been learning to play chess. A pilot scheme in which 80 boys and girls at Holy Family Nursery were introduced to the game has been declared a huge success by East Dunbartonshire Council, and several headteachers across the region say they may bring the game into their own nurseries.
Chess was incorporated into learning at Holy Family in the last school year. No staff member initially knew how to play, but volunteers and pupils from Holy Family Primary's chess club spent time with the pre-school children, using a large chess set to explain the rules. The game's playing pieces have also become familiar learning tools throughout the curriculum: pupils have, for example, made model castles and painted pictures of themselves wearing crowns.
Holy Family Nursery teacher Audrey Hinton said the scheme's success meant chess would become be a permanent part of learning at the nursery. She said it had helped children with concentration, building friendships, problem-solving and spatial awareness.
It also encouraged parents to help in their children's learning - many have learned the game themselves - while Mrs Hinton felt that chess could both challenge gifted children and help the development of less able children.
She said: "Chess was a daunting prospect for staff, as we didn't know how to play, but it's definitely been worthwhile. We didn't realise it would have such an impact. If you ask anybody in the nursery if they can play chess, they will say 'Yes'. It might not always be by the rules, but they have the interest."
Other Scottish local authorities have used chess to help older pupils'
learning. Aberdeen's chess development project was launched in primary schools in the Northfield area in 2001. The game was found to be an important tool in improving attainment, and the project was extended to other schools. Some youngsters went on to compete in international chess tournaments.