The ancient game of chess is finding a new generation of fans in kids as young as five, and intent little players can be found in the classroom, in after-school programs and at summer day camp picnic tables. The motto of the U.S. Chess Federation is “Chess Makes You Smart” and a growing body of evidence is showing that the game improves youngsters’ problem solving skills as well as writing and math test scores. The only “luck” in chess is executing a clever strategy yourself or having your opponent make a bad move, so hard work and good “if/then” thinking is critical. Even kids in day camp will settle down in the shade on a hot day for a fine battle on the chess board.
The Perfect Age
Although kids as young as kindergarten can tackle chess, second and third grades are considered ideal for learning how to weigh options, figure out quadrants and coordinates and foresee the series of consequences that make up the game of chess. At this age critical thinking skills are advancing rapidly. Playing chess and being “smart” are considered connected, a big lure for elementary school students.
History of the Game
Chess was invented more than 1500 years ago in India, possibly as a way to teach the children of the royal family to better understand battlefield strategies and become higher level thinkers. The game we play today, however, is rooted in the middle ages, peopled by romantic figures like kings, queens and bishops. Since that time, chess has spread around the world, outliving nearly every other game and receiving countless endorsements and accolades from educators. A universal game with worldwide rule consistency, chess crosses all socio-economic, religious and language barriers to bond diverse people in a game of limitless skill and strategy.
Increases Concentration and Memory
In order to play chess well, you have to focus intensely on the objective of capturing your opponent’s king, visualizing the moves of various pieces, the board itself and any potential countermoves. Spatial reasoning, attention span and visual memory all play into this timeless game of strategy, and kids who play vastly improve in these areas by memorizing classic moves and successful maneuvers from previous games.
Boost to Reading and Math Skills
Kids who play chess tend to score higher on standardized reading and math tests. The game itself involves intense problem solving and memorization of complex moves, so it’s not surprising that the game boosts math skills. It also nurtures the same skill set as reading: decoding, comprehension, thinking and analysis.
Improves Critical Thinking and Creativity
The game of chess involves a lot of “if-then” thinking as players visualize possible moves and associated countermoves. Each player needs to figure out not only what moves they want to make, but what their opponents may do in response, utilizing lots of imagination and creativity. Originality grows as kids learn to visualize a long series of moves, imagining all possible counterattacks.
One of the great benefits of chess is that it can bring together people of all ages, races and genders. From kindergartners to octogenarians, chess helps build friendships among people who may not have otherwise become acquainted.
Builds Patience and Self-Restraint
A game of chess is a lesson in caution, patience and eternal hope even in the face of overwhelming odds. Hasty moves or following your first impulse are poor strategies, and the cautious, thoughtful player has a better chance of success. Much like the game of life, chess teaches us that no matter how bad things seem, there’s hope right up to the end. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Maybe he enjoyed the occasional game of chess!
Encourages Hard Work
To win at chess, you have to think hard, work hard, focus, practice and plan strategies, all activities that reward hard work. The harder you work at the game, learning classic moves, memorizing maneuvers that worked in previous games, keeping watch over the whole chess board and planning ahead, the more likely you are to say “check mate”!
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