Saturday, July 07, 2007


Chess is Child's Play

Chess is Child’s Play
By Deborah Mitchell, Issue 139, November/December 2006

Mothers are sometimes overwhelmed by all of the important things we believe we should teach our kids so that they will grow healthy minds, bodies, and spirits. Indeed, the worlds we create for our children—the activities we choose, the books we read to them, the experiences we expose them to, etc.—become the molds we pour our children into. Yet perhaps one of the most important things we can do for our kids is to teach them not what to think but how to think. Developing skills of analysis and critical thinking are vital to succeeding as an independent thinker in school and in life.
Even before my son was born, I, like most new mothers, bought an absurd number of books on parenting. I soon worked myself into a frenzy trying to determine how much advice I could actually pack into his life. But a suggestion buried in the last pages of one of those books caught my attention: teaching young children to play chess helps them learn to think critically, to concentrate, and to solve problems. Thus began a renewed love affair with one of my favorite games.

A Little History

Chess is a captivating battle of strategy and one of the oldest board games. Two players, with 16 pieces each, try to “capture” or checkmate each other’s king. No one is certain who created chess, but many sources suggest that it originated in India, about 1,500 years ago. Now considered a sport, the game has been played for hundreds of years in many cultures and is a great equalizer of nations, races, genders, and classes. There is some question as to whether chess makes kids smart or smart kids like chess, but some things are certain: learning to play the game helps children visualize, analyze, concentrate, recognize patterns, learn self-control, and understand the concepts of cause and effect. Unlike so many games played by younger children, chess is not a game of luck, but one that requires players to make purposeful, well-thought-out decisions. In many countries, the game is a standard part of school curricula, used to improve reasoning, math, and verbal skills.

In her book, Children and Chess: A Guide for Educators, Alexey W. Root, PhD, senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas, states that “Chess is a domain where one learns that one’s actions have consequences. Moreover, a teacher might illustrate for students the connections between making a difference at the chessboard and making a difference in the world.” Root, the US Women’s Chess Champion in 1989, was taught to play chess by her father at the age of five. She now teaches university-level courses that train educators and parents to use chess for educational purposes.

Benjamin Franklin played and revered chess, calling it “the most ancient and the most universal game known among men.” He compared the game to life and believed that several “very valuable qualities of the mind” were acquired and strengthened by playing chess.5 If you’ve ever played the game, you understand why.

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