Chess and Executive Functioning Skills

By Ari Braverman, Academic Liaison at Thinking Caps Group

It is no secret that playing chess is a healthy activity for everybody–but it has particularly positive effects on school-age kids. It’s a social outlet and an excellent way to spend time that doesn’t require a device or any expensive equipment. One of its chief benefits is that it encourages the development of executive functioning skills, which are defined by Merriam-Webster as “the group of complex mental processes and cognitive abilities…that control the skills…required for goal-directed behavior.” Here are some specific examples of chess-related executive functioning skills–and how they’re essential components of school performance

  • Planning – We could also call this one “strategy,” and it’s one of the most important things a kid can learn how to do. It’s no secret that good chess players map out their games several moves in advance. Well, good students do the same with their schedules, mapping out daily homework, long-term projects, extracurricular activities, and events. Tip: Encourage the learner in your life to use a planner that works for them, whether it’s an app or old-fashioned wall calendar.
  • Time Management In chess, hasty decisions could cost someone the whole game, and the same is true in homework and on tests. While it’s important not to waste time, learning how to move mindfully through a math problem, for example, or taking the time to close-read a short story or an essay is a necessary part of engaging with school work. Details are important–and often mean the difference between the right answer and the wrong one, and the grades that result. Tip: Help your student develop a step-by-step process for going through their assignments thoroughly but efficiently. 
  • Organization – A good chess player has to be able to keep track of lots of moving parts using just their brain. The older students get, the more important this skill becomes: ideas–and assignments–get more complex. Kids must be able to understand how to scaffold concepts and how to relate them to one another in order to build a comprehensive knowledge base. Tip: Make sure your kids understand the connections and throughlines present in everything they’re learning. For example, use a graphic organizer or outline for essay planning.

Being a good student requires a lot more than memorizing facts and writing some good sentences. It takes time, attention, and well-developed executive functioning skills. Chess is an excellent way to encourage that kind of growth in your kids.