Caleb Johnson doesn't realize it, but he's setting himself up for success at an early age.While he's flopped on his belly in the Pitts School Road Elementary media center, with a chessboard between him and a fellow student, he's actually training his brain to perform more efficiently.Months from now, there's a good chance the 7-year-old first-grader's reading and math scores will be noticeably higher, and his ability to concentrate and strategize even better.Thanks in part to a centuries-old game that the school, along with others in the Cabarrus County School District, teaches after hours.Few would disagree with chess's ability to strengthen critical thinking skills. Countless studies over the years show the rise in kids' test scores after they learn the game versus before they knew how to play.In Pennsylvania's Bradford Area School District, children who were taught chess after school for eight months improved their scores on The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal by 17.3 percent, while those who participated in other extracurricular activities saw gains of only 4.6 percent. The test is a widely-known assessment tool in education.Even brief introductions to the game have been known to show dramatic growth. Students in Marina, Calif., increased their math performances by 55 percent after just 20 days of chess instruction.And while some would assume only math skills reap the benefits, studies of students in New York City and Los Angeles show considerable improvement in reading skills as well."Yeah, it can help you with your smarts," said Smith Green, a freshman with a 4.0 GPA at Northwest Cabarrus High School. Smith learned the game as a sixth-grader in Northwest Cabarrus Middle School's chess club. "It definitely teaches you a sense of strategy."But it's more than just that, said Nicholas Nostro. Nostro has started chess clubs all over North Carolina, including the one at Pitts School Road, which he began four years earlier and serves as coach to its 80 members."Patience. Behavior. The socialization. The academics. Chess can play a pivotal role in all those factors," he said. "It's just how the child uses those skills."Gary Newsom, president of the North Carolina Chess Association, applauds Nostro's efforts. "Kids these days play video games and surf the web," he said. "I find that that really lowers your ability to concentrate." Chess can stretch out those shrunken attention spans.Both Nostro and Newsom agree age 6 is the best time to introduce a child to the game.Teaching young children such a complicated game calls for a strategy all of its own. "I try to do it slow and steadily," said Nostro, who presents one piece at a time, careful not to frustrate the youngsters.His method has worked so far with Johnson."It's fun," said Johnson. "I learned about pawns and I learned about queens. They can go anywhere."And with the skills he's learning, someday so can he.
Wednesday, Mar. 09, 2011
Board game exercises students' minds
Studies show rise in test scores for chess players
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer who lives in West Concord. Have a story idea for Lisa? E-mail her at email@example.com.
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