The Joys & Benefits of Chess for Kids

When choosing an extracurricular activity for children, many parents look for programs that their child will not only enjoy, but which will hopefully uncover an innate talent or passion.  There’s a litany of activities for kids to choose from these days—music, robotics, art, karate, dance—all utilizing parts of the brain that aren’t necessarily exercised during regular school hours. The best after-school curriculums complement what children are already learning in school.

Many people consider chess to be an excellent course of study to promote essential life skills. Chess is a systematic learning process—just like learning a language or mathematics—but it also cultivates social aptitude, solidifies friendships, and fosters creativity, memory, and problem-solving skills. Most importantly, though, it is a lot of fun.

“The first intention I ever have is that my students fall in love with the game,” says Saudin Robovic, owner of NYChessKids in Manhattan, one of the largest youth chess programs in the New York City area that offers after-school chess classes in Manhattan and Queens, holiday and summer camps, and private lessons. “Once I accomplish that, then I know I can ask them to study more.”

Robovic’s philosophy is that the optimal way to learn is to love what you’re doing—and that can’t be forced.  If a child has passion for a particular activity, if he is emotionally involved, he will have an innate desire to learn and improve.

Chess may be one of the best ways to strengthen social skills in children—kids that study the same activity connect on new levels. “There’s a strong mind connection” between players, according to Robovic, and he has seen friendships made in his program grow into long relationships between students.  “Chess is a beautiful game, very challenging, very interesting.  By studying it, you definitely improve yourself—emotionally, intellectually—you become a better person.”    

Robovic suggests children begin to learn the basics of the game around age 4 or 5. The further students advance in chess, the more individual study time is needed to master checkmates and tactical moves such as forks and pins, he said. Chess students nowadays have a great advantage with the proliferation of online gaming.  In the bygone days of great chess masters, such as Bobby Fisher in 1972, players would need whole teams of people to study games and prepare moves, Robovic says.  Now, players can check and test ideas on their own, against a computer. This makes learning faster and more fun for kids.

Personality and mindset are important parts of chess as well, and they play a role at all levels, even if younger kids aren’t aware of it yet.  This is especially true at chess competitions, which is why Robovic advises his best, most competitive students to just maintain a positive attitude. 

“Winning is not the primary goal,” says Robovic, despite the fact that he’s brought winning-teams to the national championships, and has made a career for himself out of playing professionally.  “The goal is to study and have fun, and because of this, in the end we prevail, we succeed. That’s the way I teach kids.”