Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chess in schools

FROM time to time The Chess Connoisseur will feature articles about the benefits of chess.

Previously the benefits of chess for children are only of the anecdotal variety and never documented. Nowadays, findings and researches, both formal and informal, abound attesting and supporting that chess is good for kids. Nations other than those of Europe and western countries like the United States of America and Canada have now included chess in their curriculum. The latest among them is the Philippines in Asia.

U.S. chess master Jerry Meyers believes that chess directly contibutes to kids' academic performance by teaching the following skills:
  • Focusing
  • Visualizing
  • Thinking ahead
  • Weighing options
  • Analyzing concretely
  • Thinking abstractly
  • Planning
  • Juggling multiple considerations simultaneously
Consequently these skills lead to:

  • Children are taught the benefits of observing carefully and concentrating. If they don't watch what is happening, they can't respond to it, no matter how smart they are.
  • Children are prompted to imagine a sequence of actions before it happens. We actually strengthen the ability to visualize by training them to shift the pieces in their mind, first one, then several moves ahead.
  • Children are taught to think first, then act. We teach them to ask themselves "If I do this, what might happen then, and how can I respond?" Over time, chess helps develop patience and thoughtfulness.
  • Children are taught that they don't have to do the first thing that pops into their mind. They learn to identify alternatives and consider the pros and cons of various actions.
  • Children learn to evaluate the results of specific actions and sequences. Does this sequence help me or hurt me? Decisions are better when guided by logic, rather than impulse.
  • Children are taught to step back periodically from details and consider the bigger picture. They also learn to take patterns used in one context and apply them to different, but related situations.
  • Children are taught to develop longer range goals and take steps toward bringing them about. They are also taught of the need to reevaluate their plans as new developments change the situation.
  • Children are encouraged not to become overly absorbed in any one consideration, but to try to weigh various factors all at once.

None of these skills are specific to chess, but they are all part of the game. The beauty of chess as a teaching tool is that it stimulates children's minds and helps them to build these skills while enjoying themselves. As a result, children become more critical thinkers, better problem solvers, and more independent decision makers.

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