Playing Chess Helps Develop Critical Skills

How does playing chess help children who are dealing with behavioral health issues? At Great Circle, staff and children are seeing that the benefits go well beyond just learning the game’s rules, and help to develop important social and critical thinking skills that can last a lifetime.

Across Missouri, there’s been renewed interest in the “game of kings,” in part because of the World Chess Hall of Fame’s move to St. Louis in 2011. The St. Louis Chess Club, which actively seeks partnerships with child-focused organizations to expand knowledge of the game, reached out to Great Circle about a year ago.

So, last summer, chess clubs began forming on campuses. Joshua Reeves, a therapist on Great Circle’s Springfield campus, was an early convert. “We talk to our children a lot about needing to think ahead about how they will react or act in various situations. So I saw chess as a way to give them an opportunity to build their planning skills in a fun way.”

The campuses use chess in differing ways – as an extracurricular school activity, incorporated into a part of the curriculum or as evening/weekend therapeutic activity for children who reside at Great Circle. On the St. Louis campus, there’s even discussion about arranging matches with children from other facilities. “Our children are anxious to play more,” says club coordinator and teacher’s assistant Ben Rayle.

Great Circle’s chess efforts are still growing. But staff already feels there are benefits for the at-risk children we serve, especially in building important life skills, such as planning, goal setting, sportsmanship and critical thinking.

“All you need is a chess set, and you can play and play and play,” says Rebecca Nowlin, Great Circle’s assistant vice president of residential services who met early on with the Chess Club. She acknowledges that not every child will want to play chess, but for those who have interest, “we now have another tool in our toolbox to help them develop important skills.”

The Chess Club’s goal to build classroom and community champions dovetails nicely with Great Circle’s focus to strengthen children and families. Each day on our campuses, our staff works courageously to help children become productive, mentally healthy, successful people. On some days, it all could be happening on a chessboard.