Updated: Dec 12, 2019
We recently wrote an article on the benefits of playing chess. We concluded that the potential benefits for children learning the game are limitless. What parents are often interested in, however, is how chess benefits other areas of study. After all, chess is a game of the mind and so the notion that playing chess can correlate with academic performance is not absurd.
Mindful Chess lessons focus on enhancing concentration and general chess skills. All the while children are engaged with their learning and are mentally stimulated, they are gaining skills that can be applied to their classroom subjects. Here are some examples of how Mindful Chess lessons enhance overall learning.
Maths & Science
Playing chess engages the left side of the brain, which is responsible for performing logic tasks. This is the side of the brain that is used for solving mathematical puzzles. Learning chess thus improves a child’s ability to problem-solve, plan ahead, and think strategically. All of these skills are extremely useful in mathematics and the sciences.
What’s more, there are several aspects of chess which directly map on to the KS2 maths curriculum. For example, our students learn the value of each piece and must add and subtract these values when making exchanges. Is the value of a rook and two pawns greater than the value of two knights and a bishop? These are the kinds of mathematical challenges our students engage with on a regular basis. We also teach chess notation which requires students to be able to read a grid. This is typically taught in Year 5 classrooms but many of our Year 2s are already confident using notation.
English Literature & Language
Throughout history, chess has been a popular subject of fiction. From Harry Potter to Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, chess has a powerful presence in children’s literature. In modern literature, the chess metaphor is widely used by authors. Often, these metaphors are used in relation to the game as purely strategic and analytic. If this is the case, then why were many exceptional fiction writers also exceptional chess players? The creative element of chess should not be overlooked.
When writing stories in class, young children are taught the importance of structuring a story in terms of the beginning, middle, and end. This is precisely how we teach chess strategy. First, we teach the openings, then we discuss the challenges our pieces may face in the middle game, and finally, we move onto the endgame. Sometimes, there’s a “happy ending” and other times, the story ends in our opponent’s favour. Dividing up the game in this way is a skill that can be directly applied to story writing. To plan ahead, introduce characters (or “pieces”) to the story, and think outside the box are all talents of both the great writer and the great chess player.
The links between playing chess and the humanities are a little less obvious. We teach students a little bit about the history of chess but generally, the subjects of History, Geography and Religious Studies are absent from our lessons. That is not to say that the skills students learn in chess are not transferable to these subjects.
For starters, chess improves your child’s memory. They take new information home from their lessons every week and whenever they are playing chess, they are utilising what they have learned. There is also the simple fact that to play chess, you need to be able to remember your opponent’s moves. Improving memory aids all areas of study but when it comes to the humanities, the ability to retain large amounts of information is essential.
Furthermore, chess has been proven to increase the growth of dendrites in your child’s brain. These are braches that connect neural cells and larger branched dendrites have been associated with higher intelligence. Any activity that causes the growth of many dendrites is a bonus to your child’s education. Playing chess continuously grows these branches and increased growth makes acquiring and retaining other knowledge (e.g. the location of countries) easier.
Art & Music
In addition to stimulating the left side of the brain, chess stimulates the right side of the brain. This is the side that is engaged with creative thinking. The iconic artist Marcel Duchamp thus famously concluded that “all chess players are artists”. To play chess is to make art. Devising plans, creating traps, and inventing solutions to unique problems are all skills that engage your child’s creative side.
Furthermore, Mindful Chess lessons improve confidence levels in students. We foster an environment where it is OK to get things wrong. We reward taking risks and engaging with the task at hand over simply “getting it right”. We have observed this kind of environment to have a positive effect on children’s confidence. Playing and socialising with other children through gameplay also has significant positive effects in this respect. Confidence to experiment and try new things is essential for creative subjects like Music and Art.
Chess may not be a physical sport, but it is still a sport. When playing anything that has a competitive element, children must learn that sometimes they will win and other times they will lose. And that’s OK. In our classes, we encourage students to shake hands at the end of each game and be gracious in both their losses and their victories. This is a skill that can be applied to all physical sports in addition to board games.
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