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Can chess help children who are having trouble in school?
The relationship between chess and acquiring math, reading, and critical thinking skills is fairly strong. One study showed critical thinking skills improved by 17% in students in chess classes compared to 5% in other classes. Chess also teaches patience and courtesy while you wait for your opponent to make a move. I think one reason playing chess can enhance learning is that the child realizes chess, unlike other games dependent mostly on chance, demands skill and a plan to win. Winning such a game becomes so much fun that many kids want to translate skills and planning to other areas like schoolwork.
There are no real data but there are lots of anecdotes about chess improving concentration and focus in ADHD kids. And this can translate into better school performance. Indeed professional chess players in international tournaments are tested for Ritalin, a drug which improves focus, just as athletes are tested for body-building steroids. However some ADHD children become more distractible with the stress of competing so parents cannot think that chess is a panacea for all.
The best thing about chess is that it also provides attention from an adult and time away from TV! Both of these are beneficial to all children whether or not they have ADHD. When you think about it zoning out in front of a TV set is the direct opposite of focus. You just figuratively inhale what the network presents, commercials and all.
My father taught me and all his grandchildren how to play chess. For me it was very precious time. I knew my father played post card chess with a brother who lived across the country (these were the days before cheap cross-country flights and long distance calls so my father and uncle did not often meet). My dad kept one chess board set up for this cross-country game and looked forward to his brother’s next move. I knew this game was special for my father and it was a great honor when I was considered knowledgeable enough to move Uncle George’s men on the board. Playing a game of chess with my father was a great treat. Winning was like being awarded an Oscar.
I don’t play chess any more and neither do my children but it taught me a lot about thinking ahead and planning a strategy. Chess also taught me something about family ties and the importance and joy of imparting the skills you have learned, whether they be chess or cooking or fishing, to your child.
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