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  • Writer's pictureKathy

How the ancient game of chess creates 21st century thinkers

Chess at Mind Lab 21

The game of chess is over 1500 years old and may seem like an odd choice for Mind Lab 21. Aren't we supposed to be all about 21st century skills and abilities?

Despite its age and despite the basic nature of the object of the game - just capture the opponent's king! - chess offers an astounding smorgasbord of benefits to children.

In a nutshell, chess makes kids ... smarter. Objectively and measurably smarter.

But Mind Lab 21 is a proponent because the list of specific skills that chess enhances and the reasons why are particularly relevant to the special education field. Many of the tenets that serve as the foundation for Mind Lab 21 - creative and critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, hands-on learning - are the very same ones that are served so effectively by playing chess.

Chess at Mind Lab 21
Problem solving in action

Kids who play chess experience measurable improvements in:

  • critical thinking

  • creative thinking (especially original thinking)

  • IQ

  • verbal reasoning

  • reading

  • memory skills

  • problem solving

To be clear, these improvements are not anecdotal. These results are drawn from scientific studies and standardized tests. Kids don't just seem to have improved - there is empirical evidence of their improvement. For many of the children in these studies, the benefits begin to kick in after only a handful of hours devoted to chess.

In addition, teachers and parents notice an entire separate list of changes in children who tackle chess, such as the ability to:

  • focus

  • visualize

  • think ahead

  • weigh options and consider alternatives

  • analyze in a logical fashion

  • see the big picture, not just the pieces

  • recognize patterns

  • plan, reevaluate that plan, and change that plan on the fly

  • consider multiple factors at one time

  • be patient

  • socialize with peers

The stereotypical child who can't sit still? Lacks self-confidence? Doesn't think about consequences? Struggles socially? For many kids, chess seems to solve all of these issues.

Chess at Mind Lab 21
Planning an opening move and visualizing what happens as a result

How? How does one activity make all of this happen? Educators attribute the depth and breadth of chess's efficacy to seven key factors:

  1. Chess accommodates all learning modalities. No matter their strengths, or weaknesses, all kids can excel at chess. Unlike sports or art, chess can serve everyone.

  2. Chess has a nearly infinite number of problems to solve. No one is ever "done" chess. The set of practice problems to tackle is enormous.

  3. Chess also has a nearly infinite variety and quality of problems to solve. There is always a problem not seen before. Some are simple, some are complex.

  4. Chess provides immediate punishments and rewards for kids' choices.

  5. Chess causes children to develop a particular style of thinking, one in which they are always looking for more and different alternatives.

  6. Chess can be highly competitive but success is possible at all levels, fostering self-confidence and an enhanced sense of self-worth.

  7. Chess is a game. Kids love games. Chess-playing kids associate learning with fun.

Look at that last one - kids think chess is fun!

Still not convinced? Take a look at this video from the US Chess Federation. I promise it will make you smile and give you a whole new outlook on chess playing for kids.

Mind Lab 21 was created to provide children with 21st century competencies. One of the best way to help kids develop those is by learning a 6th century game.

Mind Lab 21 Kathy Denious

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