My interest in chess was stirred again recently after reading an article in the on-line magazine Education Week. I learned to play the game as a young girl and have always found it to be a fascinating challenge in logical thinking and problem solving.
It turns out that chess is, indeed, it is an excellent way for children to begin to develop thinking skills that will serve them for life. The game provides opportunity for players to anticipate moves, to think ahead, and to begin to solve multi-step problems. The game can help children improve memory, increase their skill in planning and strategizing, and just generally improve cognition.
Salome Thomas-EL, a teacher and principal in the Philadelphia School District for many years, was also a chess coach to many students from schools in low socio-economic districts with great success. In one of the three schools he was hired as a “turn-around principal, 96% of students were living at or below the poverty level. Yet the students excelled, with much of the credit going to the after-school chess program that had a profound impact on how the children think. Not only did he have students go on to win local, state, and national chess championships, but many of these students from impoverished neighborhoods beat the odds and went on to university and graduate school.
El writes this about the impact chess can have on students: “So many young people are raised to question their intelligence. Chess helps shatter that doubt. Chess teaches our young people about rewards and consequences, both short- and long-term. It challenges young people to be responsible for their actions. It cuts across racial and economic lines and allows poor kids to excel at a game thought to be reserved for the affluent. It boosts self-confidence. It is the great equalizer. Students must learn that they are not born smart, but become smart through hard work and the process of growth.”
Some years back I ran a lunchtime chess club at a Duncan Cran Elementary School. I really did not know much about how to teach the game well (El contends that children as young as grades 1 and 2 can begin using a few pieces, or even all the pieces), but I opened my classroom and invited students to come and play each other and myself. Here in the northern Canada we often have “inside days” in the winter when it is deemed too cold for sending students out for recess and/or lunch, and chess club offered a great activity for those inside days. The group that met regularly to play the game was certainly focused on thinking strategies as they faced each other across the chessboards.
I hope you will consider teaching your students (or other children in your life) the game of chess. And to help you do that, you can download some ideas for teaching chess here. There are, of course, many resources available to help you out, many availale with the click of a mouse.
Don’t miss the opportunity to help students learn that they can become smart through hard work – and have some fun while they are at it.