Chess traditionally has been a deep game that appeals to the adult intellect. But in three North County schools, the ancient board game of kings is beginning to be used in the classroom to teach young children skills in math graphing, critical thinking and reasoning.
The young students taking part are not advanced prodigies or even older children; rather, everyday youngsters who are more at home with Barney the Dinosaur and Candy Land than with a game most adults fear as being too complex. They are second- and third-graders attending the Coastal Academy and Pacific View schools in Oceanside and the new Heritage School in Escondido.
These 7- and 8-year-olds are learning the rudiments of a game that research shows can help them learn and master decision-making and spatial reasoning skills, while enhancing visual memory, attention span and the ability to predict and anticipate consequences.
The Chess in the Classroom program that debuted in five classrooms this school year is a pilot program organized locally by the Business Roundtable for Education under a grant from the America's Foundation for Chess, a Seattle-based organization that, among other things, promotes the game in schools and the community. It is the roundtable's plan to expand the program to other schools and districts in the next year or two.
Although the in-class program is new locally, it has been in practice in Seattle the past four years and elsewhere with impressive results.
What exactly does chess do to stimulate learning on the part of children?
Several educational research studies in recent years have demonstrated that the problem-solving skills that chess teaches can and do transfer to academic tasks, including reading comprehension and math. Students who learned chess at the elementary and middle school levels did significantly better overall on standardized tests.
One Yale University study in 2001 showed that even with only one year of chess instruction, a group of 7- to 14-year-old children scored much higher in nonverbal intelligence tests that demonstrated increased abilities in abstract reasoning and problem solving. And, knowing that they know how to play a complex game also boosts self-esteem and confidence on the part of participating students -- traits that help them tackle other topics in their education.
While playing chess impacts children of all ages, the sum total of the research, however, showed that second- and third-grade students were the most influenced by chess skills. That finding led us to introduce the program in San Diego County at those age levels.
This year, the grant pays for an outside chess instructor to visit the classrooms once a week to teach the rules and strategies of the game, beginning with the organization and graphing of the board and what moves each piece can do. Participating teachers in these classrooms also are attending workshops to learn the game so that they can teach the children next year with the outside instructor being there as a mentor.
Aside from being able to apply the skills learned in chess to other intellectual disciplines, the participating students will have the opportunity to observe and even take part in some way in the U.S. Chessmaster Championships, a 12-day tournament hosted by the AFC and held in La Jolla.
Chess in the Classroom is too valuable a program to be confined to three schools. We need to get it into the classroom curriculum of other elementary schools throughout the county. As one would guess, however, the major constraint is money.
AFC seeds the initial effort and looks to the school districts or other parties to finance the effort. School districts are cash-strapped these days with no prospect for additional funding for new programs. So businesses and community members interested in supporting efforts that produce better-prepared learners and higher academic achievement become appropriate sources of funding.
The cost for roughly 25-30 classroom sessions and teachers' workshops is $2,000 per year for each class, for up to five classes per school.
This is an outstanding value as an educational resource, given its impact on teaching young people the intellectual skills they need to master academic topics and become astute thinkers.
Chess is a game of war -- its object is to shut down the ability of the opponent's king to move out of harm's way. In school, chess is a game of learning and mastering skills with the object to teach young minds to reason and solve problems. Chess in schools bring different objectives together to produce winning results for our young learners.
Hovenic, Ed.D, is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. Comments regarding this column can be sent to email@example.com. All comments are forwarded to the author.
Editor's note: The Business Roundtable has put together a program through which companies and individuals can sponsor this program. For more information, call (619) 544-1392 or visit www.edroundtable.org.