By Aaron Allen
Over the years, many parents have made significant investments in educational games for their children. They’ve invested in games that enhance vocabulary, reading, spelling and mathematics, but one game that has been around for years that some experts believe is underutilized by many families is chess.
According to chess experts and educators, chess has been found to enhance our mind’s all-around abilities. This can include the development of analytical thinking, the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective, elevate creativity, develop better planning skills, and make therapy more effective. It can also help improve patience, memory, and can, in some cases, symptoms of ADHD.
Anitra Jones, Principal of Rainier View Elementary School in Seattle, was the first educator to partner with Seattle Police Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin’s chess club. Bouldin, a forty-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, has used chess as a growth and intervention strategy in Southeast Seattle for many years and has been thrilled with the results.
“The kids I mentored decided they wanted to play chess,” says Bouldin. “I had tried to learn how to play chess as young child and I just couldn’t figure it out [because I had an inpatient teacher]. From that point on I thought I wasn’t smart enough to learn chess. I also thought chess was for really smart people, that this game is for white people, we [Black folks] don’t play that game, I had all of these negative thoughts going on in my head as a child.”
“So now I had my first group of kids who actually wanted to play chess, I said yes, we’ll make it happen and had a chess tournament. No one participated, except for two or three kids because no one knew how to play. And as I looked around the classroom, I thought I have to make something positive out of this, so I created the chess club,” Bouldin continued.
“I asked the kids to be honest with me and a kid raised their hand and said ‘I don’t play chess because I am not smart enough to play chess,’” she added. “They’re giving the answers that I gave to myself, and I realized I had to change this brainwashing.”
According to Jones, the introduction of chess to students at any age, but especially at a young age, can really help them with their academic achievement and social skills.
“One of the things that chess provides is a strategic approach similarly used in learning for mathematic achievement,” says Jones. “So, correlations that I have observed and extracted from participation in chess follows along the lines of understanding perseverance, being able to persevere through complex problem solving as well as patience.”
“Chess is a great skill builder of patience and thinking as well as the overall general principles to persevere through the unknown paths,” added Jones. “There is definitely a strong correlation of understanding the principles of chess and how a young student can apply those principles to learning whether that is in mathematics or reading.”
Although chess is not a game that is commonly played by African Americans, Bouldin says that introducing chess into the education system has been instrumental in breaking down stereotypes and building confidence and self-esteem in the students that allows them to be creative and achieve anything that the set out to do.
“Chess is powerful, and it can be used in many different ways and in the schools, it requires the kids to think and analyze and that carries on into their reading abilities, it carries on into their mathematics, it increases critical thinking skills, logic rather than impulse,” says Bouldin. “It helps to learn the consequences of actions and it teaches children to look at the bigger picture and this also carries into life.”
Jabril Hassen, a professor of criminal justice at Seattle University, met Detective Bouldin at the age of 15. At the time, Hassen was searching for answers to many of life’s questions at that age and joined the chess club. As a result, Hassen credits his involvement with the chess club as helping to change the trajectory of his future, and he is now an advocate for the impact chess can have on students, particularly younger students, and enhancing their capabilities and learning.
“The chess club I was involved in with Detective Cookie was huge,” says Hassen. “Because it really changed how I perceived myself as far as what I could accomplish. It also allowed me to be more creative and plan ahead. All of those things that are involved in chess.”
“Particularly with young Black students’ chess can provide a significant edge in their development,” says Hassen. “One thing mostly white institutions don’t provide us [Black students] with is support in confidence, the ability to take risks and to be empowered in that way. Being a part of Detective Cookies Chess Club was able to provide that for me.”
As many people look for solutions that can increase the academic achievement of students, Jones believes that introducing students to the game of chess at school or at home will benefit them in the long run.
“As an educator I am always interested in research and researched some of the best practices to introduce to young students,” says Jones. “Chess is a researched-based practice for building those principle discussed earlier that ultimately lead to life-long learning experiences and achievement. It was not just about learning but also achievement and performance as well.”
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