Sean Marsh runs chess projects in Teesside in the north east of England bringing many children into chess. He reflects on the factors which inspire teachers to offer chess.
1) Concentration. To play chess well – or to solve chess problems – children must learn how to improve their concentration and to remain focused and ‘‘on task’’ throughout a full game. It is very noticeable how games between the children start to last longer as they progress through their weekly lessons. Generally speaking, children have a strong desire to win when they play games and they quickly understand how paying attention during the lesson input leads to improved results over-the-board.
2) Discipline. It is not always easy to maintain discipline during a game of chess, in which mistakes – large and small – will occur on a regular basis. Yet self-discipline is an important characteristic if one seeks success. Through chess, children learn to live with the responsibilities of their actions. One bad move can undo a lot of hard work, but children learn how to deal with disappointments and – even more importantly – how to recover and come back stronger next time.
3) Good sportsmanship. Fortunately, chess retains a certain degree of etiquette missing from various sports and games with a higher profile. Children are encouraged to shake hands before and after each game, regardless of result. Bad sportsmanship can lead to reduced opportunities (losing a place on the school team, for example) as children must, at all times, remain perfect ambassadors for their school.
4) Impact on Literacy and Numeracy. Chess in Schools and Communities recently collaborated with the Education Endowment Foundation (‘EEF’) to assess the impact of regular chess. The fact that the EEF should feel inclined to conduct a serious study on the impact of chess lessons should provide ample indication of the growing status our of our curriculum. Chess is traditionally linked with mathematics but I strongly feel the impact on other academic areas is consistently underrated. An easy example would be to highlight the creative and imaginative skill required to visualise a desired position a few moves down the line; such skills are transferable to other academic pursuits, such as writing stories, for instance.
5) General Learning Skills. Chess lessons offer a perfect combination of the three key types of learning: auditory (listening to the tutor), visual (watching the action on the tutor’s demonstration board), and kinesthetic (working in the pupil workbooks and playing games).
6) Opportunities. Chess is an absolutely ideal game for breaking down boundaries. Time and again it comes as a great surprise to teachers when they find particular pupils excelling in our lessons and tournaments. With everyone starting from the very beginning, previous classroom ‘‘pecking orders’’ and the like are rendered superfluous. Additionally, children who do not excel at sports have the opportunity to represent their school for the first time, thus boosting their confidence and pride.
7) Fun. Apart from the academic side of things, anyone who witnesses our chess lessons will develop the distinct impression that the children are having a lot of fun! Believe me, when children are having fun yet remain fully engaged by the tutor, the scope for even more learning grows considerably…
Sean, author of a recent Batsford book From Beginner to Winner will be speaking about chess in the Teeside community at the conference.