Alan Seymour, a sports-loving 16-year-old student at Mile End School, didn’t care for chess when his math teacher, Geoff Saunders, first taught him how to play.
“I thought it was a game for nerds,” he said. “Now I understand how to play and it’s a good brain-teaser.” Surprising himself by winning a tournament against kids from another school last year didn’t hurt his opinion of the game, either. He’s now got all his friends into chess and plays daily.
Saunders says chess has many benefits such as developing good decision-making and analytical skills to improving concentration and learning self-discipline.
He introduced the board game to his classroom when he started teaching at the alternative school in Mile End last year. “I started putting chess sets out, and kids started playing,” he said. “They like it. It’s become part of the culture here.”
Chess is also very much part of the culture at Willingdon School. The N.D.G. elementary school brings in a chess instructor twice a week during lunchtime to teach students at all levels. With about 60-90 children enrolled at any one time, according to school administration, it’s an extracurricular activity parents seem happy to pay for.
The school also pays for an instructor to teach chess in the classroom, one term for each of the three cycles (that’s once a week for a full school year.) Many of the teachers and school administrators past and present believe chess helps students tremendously with their math skills, especially in logical thinking and problem solving.
The investment had a nice payoff: last spring at the Quebec school championships where the school won the Scholar’s Chess Team Championship in the Kindergarten to Grade 6 division, section B.
Sam Hachem was one of the four members of that team. Just 10 years old, he’s already spent half his life playing chess and enjoys competing in tournaments. “I like games with strategy because no one can say it was a bad roll of the dice.” he said. “And chess is really fun, too.”
Sam estimates that he’s lost about 10 games in his life, and half of those were to school chess instructor Nicolas Metivier, who has been teaching at Willingdon for about eight years. “I think I bring a different angle to math,” he says. “Chess is more interactive. It’s more interesting to kids.”
He derives particular pleasure from being able to help a child who may be struggling to gain confidence by doing well in chess. “I feel I’m making a difference,’ he says.
Metivier is one of about 70 teachers who are part of the Quebec branch of the Chess ‘n’ Math Association, a national organization dedicated to bringing chess into schools across the country. Headquartered in Montreal and with offices in Ottawa and Toronto, the association has a network of instructors who go to approximately 150 schools throughout the Montreal area to teach chess in extracurricular programs at lunchtime and after school. About 10 of these schools pay for instructors to teach in classrooms.
Georges Fournier, the Chess ‘n’ Math’s regional director for Quebec, says there is no luck in chess so it encourages kids to think logically. The game also fosters creativity, self-control, patience and motivation for self-improvement, he adds.
And it seems that children receiving special education services benefit greatly from chess. One Texas study published in the International Journal of Special Education (2011), for example, found that substituting chess for one math class a week noticeably improved the participants’ math aptitude in four of eight key areas.
Chess is part of the regular primary school curriculum in many countries; Metivier says many European nations bring the board game into the classroom. In the U.S., the American Foundation for Chess initiated First Move, an in-classroom curriculum using chess as a learning tool in Grades 2 and 3.
The staff at the Chess ‘n’ Math Association continues with its mission in Canada and, if Alan and Sam are anything to go by, having chess in schools has clearly been a good move.
Is chess a sport?
The World Chess Federation (known by its French acronym, Federation Internationale des Echecs) FIDE was recognized by the International Olympic Committee as an International Sport Federation. According to its site, with 170 member federations, FIDE is among the world’s largest sports organizations. It offers championships for young people, men, women and seniors, making it truly inclusive. For more information, visit www.fide.com.
Chess clubs/lessons around Montreal
Chess ‘n’ Math Association
3423 St. Denis St.
Chess club • Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
$12/visit, $60/6 visits, $100/12 visits.
One hour chess lessons • Sundays at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. (depending on level)
John A. Simms Community Centre (Montreal West)
8 Westminster Ave. S.
Chess and brain games • Fridays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., ages 6 and up
$80 residents or $90 non-residents/12-weeks
Montreal Children’s Library – Atwater
Atwater branch under renovation; temporary address is Centre Greene, 1090 Greene Ave.
After-school chess club • Fridays at 4:30 p.m.
Free, ages 6-12
Montreal Children’s Library – Polaris Jean Rivard
4121 42nd St., Montreal
Wednesdays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Free, ages 5 and up