Power of Chess For Troubled Teens

Oct 26, 2008, 12:00 AM |
5 | Scholastics

Several years ago, I taught in a middle school behavior disorder middle school. One of the first things I implemented was chess training for my students. I did it because they were interested in the game and so I thought it would be a good way to teach them social skills, which it did, but they and I, learned so much more.

The way my program worked was that if students performed well, they could have fifteen minutes to play chess. That is, fifteen minutes so long as they displayed good social skills and sportsmanship. Often, when this skills were being modeled, the fifteen minutes would extend to a half hour.

But, as I said, the students developed other skills as well. For one thing, all of their behaviors improved and they attended to their studies more. When I first took the job, teachers would tell me, "If I had ot work with kids like that, I wouldn't be in teaching." By Christmas, I was hearing, "Oh, your job is easy. Those kids are so good."

Here is what my students learned from chess. First, they developed patience. Behavior disorder students tend to behave impulsively. So, practice in this area is important. Secondly, chess teaches students to think about the consequences of their actions. In chess, ones actions have immediately consequences and mistakes are immediately punished and good moves are rewarded. Again, troubled teens don't think about what will happen next. Thirdly, chess teaches students to plan and to carry out the plan. Also, it teaches students to reason logically and to problem solve. Students who play chess develop the ability to visualize, which is an important skill that is used in mathematics.  Lastly, it teaches students to think abstractly as well as algebraically because of the symbol manipulation.

Chess is a wonderful game that can provide us all with a lifetime of pleasure. And, for troubled teens it offers them an opportunity to develop skills that they desparately need to be successful in school and in life.