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Chess is the Gymnasium of the Mind

Jul 14, 2011, 7:04 PM 1

Chess is variously described as a science, an art and a sport. It has the virtue of being completely free of the element of luck: the result of each game depends entirely upon the skill of the players. A youngster who plays chess soon learns that he or she cannot blame failure on anyone else. Results are completely due to a child's own abilities and efforts and a child must take responsibility for his or her own actions. Victory is earned and can be savored as a personal accomplishment.

A youngster taking part in a chess program develops critical thinking; logic, reasoning and problem solving abilities; memory, concentration and visualization skills; confidence; patience; determination; poise; self‑expression; and good sportsmanship. And perhaps more importantly, children who participate in the program improve their self‑esteem.

Everyone associates a good chess player with a good mind. A child who can play a good game of chess has proof of his or her mental abilities‑ and no one can take that away! When an inner‑city youngster succeeds in intellectual competition, defeating his or her opponents, he or she begins to believe in him or herself.

Research Report‑Chess and reading:

In 1991, with funding from the IBM Corporation, we commissioned a study conducted by a leading educational psychologist looking at the effect learning and playing chess had on reading scores of children in the Chess‑in‑the‑Schools program in New York City Community School District 9. Located in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, Community School District 9 students have historically scored the lowest in reading and math of all 32 New York City school districts. The findings were significant. Children in the Chess‑in‑the‑Schools program showed an average year‑to‑year gain of 5.37 percentile points against the national average. The gains were particularly impressive among children who started with low or average initial scores. Non‑chess playing control groups showed no gain.

The same educational psychologist, who conducted the 1991 study, has recently completed a similar study in six U.S. cities conducted over two years. In the current study, two classrooms were selected in each of five schools. Students were given instruction in chess and reasoning in one classroom in each school. Reading scores of chess players and control classroom students were approximately equal at the beginning of the school year. Students in the chess program obtained significantly higher reading scores at the end of the year. It should be noted that while students in the chess group took chess lessons, the control group had additional classroom instruction in basic education. The control group teacher was free to use the "chess period" any way he or she wanted, but the period was usually used for reading, math or social studies instruction. The control groups thus had a little more reading instruction than the chess groups. Even so, the chess groups did better on the reading post‑test. So the gains in the chess groups were particularly impressive.

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