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The Game of Chess Teaches Children Important Life Skills

Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

According to Chess.com, “The origins of chess are not exactly clear, though most believe it evolved from earlier chess-like games played in India almost two thousand years ago. The game of chess we know today has been around since the 15th century where it became popular in Europe.

Chess is a game played between two opponents on opposite sides of a board containing 64 squares of alternating colors. Each player has 16 pieces: 1 king, 1 queen, 2 rooks, 2 bishops, 2 knights, and 8 pawns. The goal of the game is to checkmate the other king. Checkmate happens when the king is in a position to be captured (in check) and cannot escape from capture.”

Many kids play video games that are addictive in a negative way. Some of the downsides to video game playing are: the intense need for instant gratification, playing non-stop for hours taking away time for connecting with others, addiction withdrawal symptoms when asked to cut down or stop their playing-mood swings and agitation increase.

Chess is one of many great alternatives to video games. I have been playing chess with grade school children during therapy sessions and have observed the following:

  • Chess teaches strategy and this creates thinking about two or three moves in advance instead of focusing only on what the next move of your chess piece will be. This changes the usual concentration of only thinking about what is going to happen in the next five seconds. This instructs children to look beyond the first move and the immediate future. This is an enhancement to their planning skills.
  • Chess teaches patience. After a few games, the child learns that making moves without thoroughly looking at the whole board and noticing where important pieces are vulnerable will end up with her losing these important pieces. They will learn that the lack of patience will most likely cause them to end up in checkmate.
  • Chess will improve executive functioning. According to National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.” Chess allows children to practice all the facets of executive functioning and provides a motivation (winning) to engage in all these facets. Therefore kids who have difficulty with executive functioning will increase these skills.
  • Chess is a healthy distraction from present trauma that children may be experiencing. If her parents are going through a hostile divorce or if she has witnessed extreme violence, concentrating on chess will provide a meaningful respite from the pain that surrounds her life. Chess will teach them that they have a choice of distancing themselves from their agony through healthy means such as chess or unhealthy escapes like drugs and alcohol.
  • Chess is a great board game for parents to play with their children. The nuances of the game will improve your connection with your child as you teach him or he teaches you how to play effectively. This is a game when you can share and teach strategies, learn from mistakes and be with each other in a quiet, thoughtful way.
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