The Importance of Chess for Children
What do children do?
Children spend a lot of their free time playing sports, organized or otherwise, and video games. The sports are great as it keeps them physically active, however, neither of the sports or video games do a great job of mental stimulation or growth. Some could argue (especially the kids) that they get their mental stimulation at school, so the rest of the time they can take it easy. Is it enough? The benefits of playing chess even just for an hour a week split up over two half-hours during the week can provide an enormous lift to the child who is playing/learning.
Reasons to choose Chess
Apart from the benefits of playing chess which I describe below, there are also other reasons why Chess is a good game to play. For one, it is an inexpensive game - a board with pieces can be had second hand for little or nothing. Chess can also be portable, as many versions of the board can be folded to hold the pieces inside during transport. It can be played anywhere - in a cafeteria, library, shopping mall, food court, cafe, picnic table, park bench and so on.
There are numerous benefits for children when they learn and play chess:
- Memory - The first thing to do when learning to play chess is to memorize each piece's allowed movements and the general rules of the game. This makes use of the memory. As a player gains experience, their memory is further tested by remembering plays that have worked well, or not so well in past games to help them in the current game. An additional memory test is to remember how an opponent plays, as each player may have a specific style.
- Foresight - By practicing the planning of the next move and subsequent moves, this engages a part of the brain that is used at very few other times during childhood. Developing this ability will help in many other areas as the child grows up.
- Math - At its basic, each Chess piece has a point value, so often as kids are learning to play chess, they will add up the point values of the pieces they have captured, and that their opponent has captured to evaluate who is in the lead. At a higher level there is logic and comparator operations taking place where piece tradeoffs or a decision among two possible moves would need to be evaluated.
- Attention Span - Most sports and video games are instantly gratifying in that when you kick the ball, the ball moves, or when you shoot the demon in the game, the reaction is immediate. In Chess, the player needs to pay attention to the game for longer and longer periods as they advance and increase their experience. This ability to grow the attention span has a tremendous effect on their ability to study for school.
- Grace - As the child plays there are some games where they will win and others where they will lose. If they do not show grace in either circumstance they will soon find they have no one to play with. Being graceful at losing or winning will help in all other areas of life where there is the potential to win or lose.
- Independence - When a child first learns they are taught the moves, and will receive suggestions as to what move to make next. As they progress, they will be offered choices as to what moves are available to them. Eventually they will be on their own to decide what moves to make. Making these decisions independently will start to give the child a sense of autonomy and proactvity that will translate to other areas of life.
There are a number of other benefits to playing Chess for children. In fact, even learning as an adult, many of the benefits listed here would apply also. I highly recommend teaching children the game of chess to as young as a 5 year old.