A Game Every Child Should Play

January 7, 2013  |  

“Chess is in many ways like life itself. It’s all condensed in a playful manner in a game format and it’s extremely fascinating because, first of all, I’m in control of my own destiny, I’m in charge. You have to be responsible for your actions, you make a move, you had better think ahead about what’s going to happen, not after it happens, because then it’s too late.” – Susan Polgar, four-time World Champion and founder of the Susan Polgar Foundation

We often will ourselves to be the perfect parents. Our babies gestating in our bellies, we envision the perfect nursery and imagine those first few weeks, months, years of motherhood. We plan with care, the way we talk to our children, the books we read, the songs we sing. We commit to raising them on healthy diets and religion, instill a sound sense of self and hope we do everything just right.

We should add chess to the mix, introducing it into our children’s lives as early as fours years old and allowing the game to take root in their minds for a good memory, intuition and creativity in a child. More often than not, life is a game of strategy. Visualize, plan, and then execute. That is true for many things—reaching goals in finances, careers, and relationships, yet individuals often don’t come to terms with this until adulthood. Children in their supple state are malleable, bending to the environment in which they are immersed. The challenge then, is in getting them to bend in the right direction.

Chess has been known as a game of kings. It is about protecting what you value with careful consideration. In learning the game early, even if just taking baby steps, children can develop a better concentration power, tolerance and determination. Chess being a mind game has the power to help a child to develop the ability to analyzing and deducing some general principles in life and solve complicated problems with agility.

Chess teaches foresight
As a mother to twin six-year-o.lds, I’m faced with the weekly peril of grocery shopping, and when I cannot avoid it, my twin boys tag along bouncing and playing through the aisles, stopping only to reach for a box of cereal or cookies, or cupcakes, grabbing from the middle and we all stand by to watch the multitude come tumbling down. I’m stern in saying “stop”, “no”, “don’t touch” dozens of times before leaving the store even though I realize that they, in fact, cannot stop.

It goes like this: one of the last parts of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. So children are scientifically immature until this part develops. Strategy games like chess can promote prefrontal cortex development and help them make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making a stupid, risky choice of the kind associated with being a child.

Chess can raise your child’s IQ.
Chess has always had a certain reputation that raises the chicken/egg conundrum. In this respect, the question is “Do smart children gravitate towards chess or does playing chess make one smart?” But several studies have shown that chess can boost IQ, thought process, and reading performance. Looking at how the brain works tells the whole story. Dendrites are the tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells into the neurons they are attached to. The more branches you have and the bigger they are, the more signals you’ll pick up. Learning a new skill like chess-playing causes dendrites to grow.

Chess improves concentration.
Children by nature are hyperactive, have short attention spans, and live in the moment. And while the moment is not always a bad place to reside, prolonged attention and delayed gratification is a skill which when mastered supplies many benefits one might otherwise never experience. The game of chess demands intense concentration. Momentary distractions can result in the loss of a match, as an opponent need not tell you how he moved if you didn’t pay attention. Numerous studies of students in the U.S., Russia, China, and elsewhere have proven time and again that young people’s ability to focus is sharpened with chess.

Charter schools and private schools nationwide have long ago implemented chess into their curricula and public schools are encouraged to follow suit. This could, after all, be a long sought-after remedy to the ills of inner city education. Judit Polgar, arguably the best female chess player in history says “chess is a game for everybody: rich, poor, girl, boy, old, young. It’s a fantastic game which can unite people and generations! It’s a language which you’ll find people ‘speak’ in every country.”

Words: Herina Ayot
Herina Ayot, freelance writer and contributor at Ebony.com, lives with her twin boys in Jersey City, NJ. She tweets at @ReeExperience.

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