Checkmate! Chess Program Makes Kids Better Thinkers

Posted by Liz Dwyer

Looking for an inexpensive (and fun) way to teach students much needed critical thinking and analysis skills, as well as history, math, and reading? Introduce them to one of the world's oldest games: chess. First Move, a 6-year-old Seattle-based organization that has helped put chess in almost 20,000 second and third grade classrooms in 27 states, provides a two-year curriculum to make it easy for educators.

First Move's executive director, Wendi Fischer, takes on a persona called "The Chess Lady" to give students lessons in how to play the game. Students also learn the medieval origins of chess—everything from the role of the church and how bishops advised the kings and queens to how pawns represent the historical (and expendable) peasants. Actually playing the game then helps students develop the ability to focus and think ahead, and reinforces math concepts like coordinates and quadrants.

It turns out that almost 30 other countries—everywhere from Venezuela to Russia—already integrate chess into the academic curriculum. In a 2008 study of the benefits of the First Move program, 83.6 percent of students said that their new chess skills made them "feel smarter" and 64.2 percent said they could "think better in reading and math." The game can also teach much-needed sportsmanship skills. Nine-year-old third-grader Athena Postlewait told USA Today, "You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win." You can watch Fischer in action, and see the positive response from students, in the video above.