Smart Kids Play Chess or Chess Makes Kids Smart ?

In her article Brenda Dyck ponders this very question and brings up some very valid points. Below is the article in its entirety, it was published in Education World.

Brenda Dyck

Chess, Anyone? — Chess As an Essential Teaching Tool

Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education Worlds Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck contemplates whether smart kids play chess or chess makes kids smart. Dyck considers the integration of chess into classroom learning and ponders the thinking byproducts of playing chess.

Included: Links to resources and research about the impact of chess on students skills, thinking abilities, and self-esteem.

One of the things I’ve noticed while working with gifted and talented students is their love for the game of chess.

When I mention this to their teachers, they tell me that gifted students are intrigued by the analysis and strategizing that goes along with the game. They tell me that chess has been an ever-present part of their schooling from the very beginning; most classrooms have a number of chessboards, and the kids start up a game at any opportunity — even for 15 minutes!

Some students are more serious about chess than others, but most jump at the chance to play. A chess club for students ages 8 to 15 meets once a week in the library. To witness the club — with its 15 or 20 members engaged in thoughtful focus — is a sight to see! (Without a doubt, it is one of the quietest lunch hour clubs I’ve ever witnessed.) Some of the students are serious enough about the game to compete outside of school. In fact, one of my grade 7 students was a regional champion in our province.


After learning that the U.S. Chess Federation pledges that Chess Makes Kids Smart,” I found myself wondering if smart kids play chess or if chess really makes kids smart. Could this game be a key in our ongoing search to strengthen the thinking skills of 21st century learners?

Last summer, I did some reading about other schools where educators are asking the same questions. To my surprise, I learned that chess is being taught to more than 130,000 Canadian students — some as young as second grade — as part of their regular math program!

At Marina (California) Junior High School, teachers discovered that students academic performance improved dramatically after only 20 days of chess instruction. George L. Stephenson, chairman of the schools math department, reported that 55 percent of students showed significant improvement in academic performance after this brief smattering of chess instruction.

It seems that scheduling chess as part of a regular math program is about more than entertainment. The initiative is supported by studies that maintain chesss ability to improve the cognitive abilities, rational thinking, and reasoning abilities of even weak learners.


In Virginia, math teacher and chess-club sponsor Jan Brandt recently explained to me that chess is “probably the best game there is for developing logical, precise thinking.” Ms. Brandt believes that chess encourages patience, sharp memory, the ability to concentrate, problem solving skills, and the understanding that certain behaviors carry certain consequences.

In addition, chess:

demands both inductive and deductive reasoning.
requires students to look at a problem, break it down, and then put the whole thing back together.
involves recall, analysis, judgment, and abstract reasoning.
improves decision-making skills.
increases players self-confidence and improves organizational habits.
All this information got me thinking. If research shows a connection between chess skills and improved reading and math scores, problem-solving ability, concentration, courtesy, responsibility, and self-esteem, then why aren’t we all tapping into this multifaceted, cost-efficient critical thinking tool?

As we continue to look for ways to expand our students critical thinking ability, could it be that some of the secrets to pushing student thinking and improving academic ability reside in a game that dates back to 531 AD?

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