Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chess Wars

"Then I'm gonna get you in jail!" Hunter says with a devious smile and a curved eyebrow. Sound effects follow with pows, blasts, cheers, and shouts. "Your turn!" He yells.

We're playing a game of chess for the first time in several months and he is anxiously excited about getting my king. To him, it is an epic battle of, [eh hem], knights, kings and castles. Ironic, isn't it?

I cannot help but laugh as I advance my pawn. He first learned how to play chess shortly after his third birthday but, with me being the not-so-chess-savvy player that I am, we have only played it a handful of games since then. I do, however, intend to change that. And this particular game was part of the reason.

He is still a bit hesitant about some of the rules. He didn't quite remember how some of them moved and, frankly, neither did I. But as we played together, advancing and capturing pieces in our not-so-strategic pattern (but nonetheless with a lot of noise and fun!), I began to see what a neat and beneficial game this would be, in terms of academics (where my mind always seems to wander). I began noticing that chess, unlike my much-played childhood game of checkers, is in many ways an art, a science, a battle of wit and skill.

So I did what I always do and got on Google. I, of course, wanted to know what the [perceived or studied] benefits of chess were. This is because otherwise the subject would be in my head for days as I over-analyzed every possible aspect of the academic benefits of this little game. So I just let Google make my life a little easier.

I didn't sit there are read every research insert for hours but, what I found (upon googling the benefits of chess) intrigued me.

Apparently, there have been a lot of studies on the effects of chess on school children and it seems to help them in pretty much all areas academic, among other things (social, personal self-esteem, etc.) I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of numbers and details (you can look it up yourself if your interested) but lets just say that chess has been shown to excell kids enormously in critical thinking and intelligence tests (more than any other activity, including critical thinking-oriented video games or special extracurriculars), boost their math scores and analyzing abilities and even improve their reading (improving it even more than the control group who actually got specific reading instruction during the time while the other kids were playing chess!)

Chess is also used widely in other countries as a required part of the curriculum (as it was hundreds of years ago for anyone wanting to be a knight) and even takes a special seat in many U.S. classrooms, though mostly as a part of their gifted and talented programs, like this legislation for New Jersey public schools in 1992:

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. The legislature finds and declares that:

   a. chess increases strategic thinking skills, stimulates intellectual creativity, and improves problem-solving ability while raising self-esteem;

   b. when youngsters play chess they must call upon higher-order thinking skills, analyze actions and consequences, and visualize future possibilities;

   c. in countries where chess is offered widely in the schools, students exhibit excellence in the ability to recognize complex patterns and consequently excel in math and science: and

   d. instruction in chess during the second grade will enable pupils to learn skills which will serve them throughout their lives.

2. Each board of education may offer instruction in chess during the second grade for pupils in gifted and talented and special education programs. The Department of Education may establish guidelines to be used by boards of the education which offer chess instruction in those programs.

3. This act shall take effect immediately.

After reading this stuff, it reminded me of why Doman always said that if parents do something with their children but don't completely understand why they are doing it, they will not do it well. I began teaching Hunter chess almost two years ago but with only a vague understanding of why it was a good idea. As such, I never really went through with consistency.

But let's just say that now that I understand a little more of the why of it all, I am extremely motivated to continue with this and make it a regular part of our school time experience. And, if you can't tell from my description of our game together, so is Hunter.

"As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom..."
Daniel 1:17
Hunter is 4 years, 11 months old


  1. Thats really interesting. I'm going to have to learn to play chess so I can teach Wesley. Thats amazing he's learned when he was 3!

  2. Yes, when he was three, I started teaching him by "playing chess" with just the pawns. Then when he seemed to be comfortable with the rules of how those moved, we added pieces gradually to our "war" until eventually we were playing with the whole set.

    This helped because I think if I would have just sat down with him and tried to teach him all at the same time, he would have become quite overwhelmed and lost interest, so this was a great way to teach a little kid that had a very short attention span!

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