My 6 year old son learned chess two days ago from his dad. Not only did he understand what all the pieces roles’ were, but he actually beat me in his first ever game. What started out as an attempt to spend a TV-less weekend- a consequence for my son acting out in gymnastics earlier in the week (jumping on coach’s back, distracting other kids so they started giggling and falling off the balance beams)-ended up being a weekend filled with mind challenging chess.
I couldn’t believe it. Here was a 6 year old whose mind I thought couldn’t possibly handle the intricacies of chess, but he was actually strategizing, attacking and retreating. There was of course marked difference between our playing strategies. He was willing to take huge risks, sometimes losing quite a few of his pieces but his objective was clear, he was going to take out my King one way of another. I on the other hand, was reluctant to make sacrifices and would attempt to win with as few casualties as possible. A habit that I think is a product of maturity. I am by no means a great player so I had assumed that my older, far superior mind would outsmart my 6 year old son’s mind. So you can very well imagine my chagrin when he seemed to come out of nowhere and check mated me.
What was even more surprising, was when I found him whispering to his dad in the bedroom apparently asking for some chess tricks so he could ensure future victories against me!???!!!
Later, and even as I write this piece, I can’t help but wonder how a 6 year old could master enough focus to think logically while all the research shows that the 6 year old mind is still developing, not able to process complexities. Chess is a game requiring logical thinking plans, spatial reasoning, numerical ability, sacrifice, benefits, the list is endless. All skills that fall into three categories: analysis, problem solving and logic.
Not only does playing chess improve your mind, it forces you to think originally in a manner that will challenge and exert your brain. Study after study that has been done, like this one done by a Dr. Ferguson on chess in education, show the correlation between students involved in playing chess and better performance in math and reading. Some countries, after observing results, resorted to incorporating it into their curriculum. Why aren’t we doing this here in the US? Perhaps a discussion for another day huh?
So what is it that makes a person perform better when playing chess?
It’s all in the brain. The brain, like any other muscle in your body needs its daily dose of exercise for it to perform better. Just like any other part of your body, if you exercise the brain, then you are bound to see better results. And just like any other muscle, once a skill is mastered, the exercise has to either get progressively difficult or varied to keep it stimulated and engaged.
Chess is really just one way to engage your brain and get it to exert itself so that it can realize new potential. There are numerous ways to engage your brain and increase its potential, some ways are to:
1. Listen to music
Music helps to influence your mind to release neurons that help your body either relax of activate to dancing. Some studies like one done by the University of California have even shown increase in I.Q (by 9 points) following extended listening of music such as listening to Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. Music affects your mind and body in varying degrees which is probably why you will never find any children’s lullaby tunes tracked in heavy metal but is effective when used in crowds to get them riled up.
2. Reading books
I am pretty sure you know that books expand your mind. What most people don’t do however is vary their reading material. It is not enough to read on your favorite topic. Reading a variety of topics increases your minds’ awareness on a plethora of subject matter. Your mind can handle any amount of information you throw at it, so why not engage in an activity that might make you that favorite guest at a the party who can handle any conversation that comes their way?
3. Diversifying your friends/environment
One of the most common questions people ask when invited somewhere is, “Who will be there?” People who tend to want to be around certain people or specific environments deny their brain the opportunity to create mechanisms to function and thrive in unfamiliar surroundings. Constant exposure to the same set of people and the same environment only results in having the same conversation over and over. This is why you find that when you are around a particular group you will only talk about a particular subject matter. Deliberately meeting different people or traveling to different places will give your mind a fresh batch of information to process thereby giving you more experiences to draw from.
It is in this spirit of challenging my mind and body that I finally stopped hiding behind the excuse that I didn’t like swimming and finally signed up for adult swimming classes. Yes, I know terrible right? But I have never really learned how to swim and the more we continue taking vacations involving water, the more concerning its becoming. Unfortunately, my husband was there to watch me drink up half the pool, but I developed neurons in my brain that helped me ignore his chiding later.
What are you going to do to challenge your brain and by extension your body?
- Get Your Kids Playing Chess Quickly With These Great Training Books (wired.com)
- Chess Experts’ Brains Work Differently (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Skilled object recognition uses both our left and right hemispheres (mindblog.dericbownds.net)
- Chess grandmasters use twice the brain (newscientist.com)
- Chess players get brain ‘boost’ (newscientist.com)
- Chess Grandmasters Use Both Sides Of Their Brains In Solving Problems (lockergnome.com)
- Chess players get brain ‘boost’ (newscientist.com)