Oak Hills | Team Champion

Teamwork in {YEL!} classes.

Yes! Your Child Can Play (and enjoy) Chess.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the ability to play chess.

  • Only smart kids play chess.

    – At {YEL!}, we believe that every child has certain gifts they are given.  We see enrichment as an opportunity to channel those gifts.  ALL kids are smart kids. While there have been numerous studies claiming that chess may improve intelligence, especially in young children (see 10 Big Brain Benefits of Playing Chess or Compilation of Chess and Education Research Studies), there is little doubt that chess will improve your child’s concentration, and she/he will learn to be less impulsive about their next move as well as the moves made by their competitor. This will, in all probability, transfer positively into their daily life. 

  • Chess is hard to learn.

    – Actually, our nearly two decades of experience working with all types of students from rural communities to wealthy suburbs and everything in between, tells us that many children pick up what chess is all about much quicker than even they anticipated. Once they learn the names of the pieces, the rules around how they travel the chess board, and some basic strategies, it almost becomes second nature to them. Our teachers at {YEL!} tell us regularly how even kindergarten and first graders can grasp the game quickly. And the more they play, the more they’ll be hooked on this fun activity, often challenging their parents to play against them at home. Get ready!  We hear from many parents how their child either gives them a run for their money or even gets a win after studying with {YEL!} for just a few months.

  • My child is too young to play chess.

    – Not true. Plain and simple. In fact, the earlier your son or daughter begins learning chess, the better they will play as they grow older. For me, I starting teaching my children the names of the pieces at age three using a Super Mario Chess Set.  At age four we started talking about how the pieces move.  At age five, how all of the pieces move, piece-capture and check.  Now, to be sure, there was a lot of “Space Chess” and Mario Kart chess mixed in, but starting early got them interested and they’ll have chess as a game to play for a lifetime.  NOTE: My middle child enjoyed it so much, he made up his own chess puzzles.

    • Chess is a life-long game where you learn something new every day. It’s like riding a bicycle. Each bike ride (or chess game) presents it’s own set of twists, turns, and bumps along the way. And it’s fun at the same time!
  • Competitive sports are where it’s at.

    – Well, you may personally like hockey, basketball, soccer or baseball, but these great “team” sports aren’t for everyone. Some kids prefer one-to-one competition, find team play confusing, or just don’t

    Play chess and battle minds!

    Chess is a battle of the minds!

    enjoy sports with a ball (See Benefits of Fencing with Ro Sobalvarro for additional ideas) … and no one can convince us that chess isn’t competitive. It’s a battle of the minds, and it will help to improve patience and focus. If your kid doesn’t exhibit either of these traits right now, they may develop them over time playing chess. And they’ll make new friends in a smaller group environment.

  • Can you play traditional sports and chess?

    – Absolutely.  NFL Running Back, Adrian Peterson, plays chess to relax during down time.  The Edina, MN girls high school hockey team actually employed {YEL!} coach, Igor Rybakov, to teach them chess and with the goal of helping their focus, concentration, and strategic thinking.  Personally, my classes have been filled with multi-sport athletes who enjoy making layups just as much as finding checkmate.

  • It promotes good sportsmanship.

    – Chess tournaments don’t have a referee who throws a flag or blows a whistle when there is a penalty.  Chess players have to follow the rules themselves and mostly referee their own play.  If an error or illegal move occurs and the players can’t rectify it themselves, they will call in the tournament director to make a judgement on the game.  If a player disagrees with the tournament director or doesn’t follow chess tournament etiquette, they may be asked to forfeit a game or even be removed from the tournament.

    • At {YEL!} Chess Tournaments and in our classes, we ask students to shake hands at the beginning of each game and at the end of each game.
  • But are there are real benefits to playing chess?

    – Absolutely, positively, YES! These days it seems like there’s a study about almost everything, and they all claim incredible benefits. Considering that chess has been around since 6th-century India, there’s hundreds of years of studies into the benefits of the game. There has been a proven strong correlation between chess and increasing your IQ. Chess is also known to improve your memory, stem

    Play chess as an adult or youth.

    Chess is for adults and youth.

    Alzheimer’s, and increase creativity, as it exercises both sides of the brain. 

  • As a parent, what’s in it for me?

    – Well, to begin with, chess doesn’t require expensive equipment, uniforms, or contributions to things such as practice ice time. Even better yet, your car and house won’t smell like a locker room, and chess doesn’t make for seemingly endless piles of laundry. But perhaps most importantly, chess is the same for girls and boys, and will improve their confidence as they learn more and more exciting strategies that will be potentially useful for many decades of playing the game. There no best size or shape to play chess. Just a willingness to learn and have fun at the same time.

Signing your child up to learn chess with {YEL!} may be one of the best decisions you make for them. One that they’ll be thankful for, for many years to come.

Click Here to read more about {YEL!} Chess programs and other {YEL!} programs.


What I Learned in Woodworking Summer Camp.

CCX News out of Blaine, MN showcased the {YEL!} Woodworking summer camp along with Osseo Community Education.



Four components of {YEL!} STEM classes using LEGO® bricks


A LEGO Story

There I am teaching the same YEL LEGO STEM pulleys class I’ve taught dozens of times before.  You know, the one with the rotating clown face.  The kids are doing great.  The projects are getting finished and this genius of a first grade girl comes up to me and shows me some modifications she has done. She comes up to me and says, “Super LEGO Dude (the moniker I use when teaching LEGO), look what I did.”YEL LEGO

She had taken the LEGO project, criss-crossed the pulley belts and adjusted the project so the clown face features were rotating in opposition rather than tandem!  Now, at this point I had taught this LEGO project to hundreds of students.  She was the first one to think completely outside the box and adjust the project to make that happen.

This is the type of exercise young, creative students can get out of LEGO STEM programming.  

YEL has been blessed to work with so many children throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado.  Our LEGO programs have introduced thousands of students to the six simple machines (gear, wheel and axle, lever, pulley, wedge and inclined plane) through building, exploring and playing with a variety of LEGO products.


Our teacher’s goal is the same no matter the LEGO project, the simple machine concept, the age range or the school.  That mission is to engage youth to THINK, LEARN and PLAY WELL.  To meet this mission, every LEGO class has four components:

Teach It!
Build It!
Explore It!
Play It!


The Teach It! time is highly interactive and engaging.  The teacher is posing questions and students are rifling answers right back at her.  Questions like: What is a gear?  Where are gears found in the world around us?  Can you think of anything you used today that has a gear in it?

Then the teacher introduces the project or projects for that day, taking note of when the students should stop and explore the project more closely.  

Once finished with the brief lecture and introduction, the students move on to…


Build It! time is when the students (wait for it…waaaaaiiiiittt for it…) build their project(s).  Our favorite part of this is the Build It! part of class essentially becomes a sewing circle for LEGO builders.

• “Did you see the latest Ninjago episode?”
• “Who’s better at flying, Jengo Fett or Boba Fett?”
• Eric: “What’s the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
    ° Jerry: “African or European?”

The teacher canvases the room helping students who are struggling with a specific step and making sure the students are working as a team and staying on track.  This leads us to…


The students have done it!  They’ve completed the challenging project.  They approach the teacher (or the teacher approaches them) with a smile and a proud, “We finished!”.  Now we explore the key concepts with a few questions every YEL teacher asks dozens of times each class, in this case pertaining to levers.

• Is this a first class, second class or third class lever?
• Point to the fulcrum.
• What is this part called (pointing to the load)?


The teacher has approved the project and the students receive their LEGO STICKER indicating they can move on to playing with their project, adjusting it, manipulating it or building something completely new.  We have found that this open ended, creative building time is a great exercise for kids and some students absolutely thrive during this portion of class.  

It’s amazing to see students who have the skill and creativity to take something that exists in their mind and translate that into a LEGO project.  

Once the student builds their free time project, the teacher might bring them to the front of the class for a little show and tell, then ask them three questions:

• How long did it take you to build?
• How does it work?
• What name did you give it?

Unfortunately, these LEGO projects are built for instruction and not for taking home.  Every student’s least favorite part of class is dismantling their LEGO project.  They all want to show it to mom and dad, play with it more, make it go faster, etc.  

•••••••••••PARENTS: ••••••••••
If you want to see your child’s LEGO project in action, come to pick up your child 10 minutes early and you should be able to take a picture or video of the project for posterity, Pinterest or Facebook.

STEM Pins!

Students earn their STEM pin any number of ways.

• Coolest Free Build project.
• Understanding more about Levers (or gears, wheels, etc.) today than they did three weeks ago.
• Best organized kit.
• Best teamwork.
• Helping the teacher.

Each student earns one pin over the course of each session.  Many kids love displaying their pins on their jackets, backpacks, even shoes.  Many students collect all four YEL LEGO pins.


  • Can our children keep their projects?
    • Each LEGO kit costs between $150-500.  Allowing children to keep the projects makes the kit unusable for future classes.  Sorry we can’t accommodate this.
  • Where do you get your materials?
    • All of our materials are purchased from the LEGO experts at LEGOeducation.com.  Their projects are all focused on STEM concepts and their materials are stellar.
  • Do you recommend my child purchasing a kit?
    • Certainly you can as I did for my son and my nephew.  What I found is that they really didn’t want to work with them outside of class.  Other parents have told me their children do enjoy the educational kits, though.
  • What are the different LEGO classes you offer (look for a future blog on this or visit the LEGO page of our website)?
    • Extreme LEGO – For kindergarten through third grades.  Easier projects.
    • LEGO X – A full two year’s worth of classes.  Designed for 1st-5th graders.
    • LEGO WeDo – LEGO projects combined with software programming.  For 1st-5th graders.
    • Forbidden LEGO – Completely unique and very challenging projects like a paper airplane launcher.  This class is designed for 2nd-5th graders.
    • EV3 – A great introduction to FIRST LEGO League, robotic design and programming.
  • Can my kindergartner sign up for a 1st-5th grade class?
    • We leave that up to the parent, with the caveat that we worry that the kindergartner will become overwhelmed and lose interest in LEGO classes.  That being said, we defer to the better judgement of the parent.  

CLICK HERE to visit our registration page and find a class near you.  Don’t see your school?  Call (800) 959-9261 or email us to get a program started.

LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this site or program.