Archive for the ‘Helping Kids Do Better’ Category

K-5 Readling Selections for Complexity, Quality and Students’ Range

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, and Range of Student Reading K–5

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have identified the texts below as representative of a wide range of topics and genres at each grade level relative to complexity and quality.



  • Over in the Meadow – John Langstaff
  • Boy, a Dog, and a Frog – Mercer Mayer
  • Pancakes for Breakfast – Tomie DePaola
  • A Story, A Story – Gail E. Haley
  • Kitten’s First Full Moon – Kevin Henkes

 Informational Text

  • My Five Senses – Aliki
  • Truck – Donald Crews
  • I Read Signs – Tana Hoban
  • What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? – Steve Jenkinsk, Robin Page
  • Amazing Whales! – Sarah L. Thomson

 1st Grade


  • Mix a Pancake – Christina G. Rossetti
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Richard Atwater
  • Little Bear – Else Holmelund Minarik, Maurice Sendak
  • Frog and Toad Together – Arnold Lobel
  • Hi! Fly Guy – Tedd Arnold

 Informational Text

  • A Tree Is a Plant – Clyde Robert Bulla, Stacey Schuett
  • Starfish – Edith Thacher Hurd
  • Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean – Arthur Dorros
  • From Seed to Pumpkin – Wendy Pfeffer, James Graham Hale
  • How People Learned to Fly – Fran Hodgkins, True Kelley

 2nd – 3rd Grade


  • Who Has Seen the Wind? – Christina G. Rossetti
  • Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
  • Tops and Bottoms – Janet Stevens
  • Poppleton in Winter – Cynthia Rylant, illustrated – Mark Teague

 Informational Text

  • A Medieval Feast – Aliki
  • From Seed to Plant – Gail Gibbons
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges – Robert Coles
  • A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder – Walter Wick
  • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 – Brian Floca

 4th – 5th Grade


  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  • Casey at the Bat – Ernest Lawrence Thayer
  • The Black Stallion – Walter Farley
  • Zlateh the Goat – Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Grace Lin

 Informational Text

  • Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet – Melvin Berger
  • Hurricanes: Earth’s Mightiest Storms – Patricia Lauber
  • A History of US – Joy Hakim
  • Horses – Seymour Simon
  • Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery

Why Students Should Practice Taking Tests

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Why is testing important for K-12 students?

Most importantly, testing is most valuable as an education tool that helps parents, teachers and students themselves determine what students know and identify those areas where students need additional work.

With this knowledge, precious time and effort can be focused on these areas, enabling students to “catch up” and ensure learning foundation blocks are strong. This is critical because most education builds on prior learning blocks and weak foundations always impedes subsequent learning.

Did You Know?

Did you know the average student will take over 1,000 tests and quizzes during their K-12 years? And then the tests become really important – ACT, SAT, College Exams, law school, medical school, professional certifications (e.g., lawyers, doctors, accounts, physical therapists, project managers, engineers). And don’t forget about tests you have to take to get a job – civil service exams, computer technology exams, police and fire academy entrance exams, etc.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that tests can bring a lot of pressure and anxiety to students and adults. It may be personal pressure to do well, pressure from parents to perform or life-changing tests that cause the internal pressure and anxiety. There is even a clinical term called “Testing Anxiety” that addresses the paralyzing effect the pressure of taking a test can have on an individual.

And students need to become familiar with taking college courses and associated testing over the Internet. Over 5 million college students (more than 20% of all college students) took at least one online course in 2010 – an increase of more than 17% over the preceding year.

Overcoming the Pressure of Taking Tests

Like anything else, however, you can learn to improve your skills how to take tests and develop this as a valuable skill that will give both students and adults self-confidence, reducing the anxiety and self-doubt that may exist today.

It is important to note that successful test-takers tend to be students with good attendance, homework, and study habits. And parents who are involved with their child’s homework have the biggest impact on a child’s performance. Be aware, however, that it is best not to place too much emphasis on a single test result.

Here are several key factors that can influence how students perform on a test:

Prepare for the test and know what to expect — Know the name of the test and what it will measure; Study the material; Know the format (e.g., multiple choice, essay, short answer)

Get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast.

Have the proper tools for the test – pencils, erasers, paper, calculators, etc.

Bring a watch to the test with you so that you can better pace yourself.

Relax and remain positive.

Developing Good Test-taking Skills

If you are nervous, take a few deep breaths to relax.

Don’t rush but pace yourself.

Make sure that you put your first and last name on the test.

When you first receive the test, look at the entire test so that you know how to efficiently budget your time.

Read the entire question carefully and look for keywords. Don’t make assumptions about what the question might be.

Do the easiest problems first.

If you don’t know an answer, skip it. Go on with the rest of the test and come back to it later.

Don’t stay on a problem that you are stuck on especially when time is a factor.

Write legibly. If your teacher can’t read what you wrote, they’ll most likely mark it wrong.

Ask your teacher for clarification if you don’t understand what they are asking for on the test.

Don’t worry if others finish before you. Focus on the test in front of you.

If you have time left when you are finished, look over your test. Make sure that you have answered all the questions, only change an answer if you misread or misinterpreted the question because the first answer that you put is usually the correct one. Proofread your essay and/or short answer questions.

Practice, Practice, Practice

You can get practice tests from your child’s teacher or use education web sites like Be sure to time any practice tests so that the child is not surprised by time constraints on test day.

Make certain your child follows up on any incorrect answers on the practice tests. These are obviously the questions/problems they don’t know yet.

In Closing

The best test-takers are prepared, confident and at ease. Even if you are nervous about your child’s performance, be wary of transferring that concern to your child.

Why Boys and Girls Need to Be in Competitive Activities

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

More than ever before, it is important for our children to be well prepared to meet the challenges of life. This includes their health (physical and mental), education, social skills – and their ability to compete in this world.

Like it or not, competition is an integral part of everyday life and the society in which we live. Our children compete in high school so they can get into college. They compete for jobs through skill-based tests and interviews. They compete for promotions through job performance.

Competition is a fact of life – and so it is important for us to prepare our children for this competitive world.

As caring parents, we appropriately focus on ensuring the basic necessities for health and education, providing a protective home and ensuring academic and social development. But we must not neglect the development of competitive skills. Competition is a key factor that can help bring out the best qualities and efforts of a person – and spur them to reach goals that might otherwise seem unattainable. Competition can also help enhance the creativity of a person and motivate them to be innovative and resourceful. With the nurturing attitudes, competition is a positive, character-building experience.

Competition can help develop self-discipline, focus, patience and perseverance, particularly when pursuing goals.

Competition provides one of the best opportunities for children to come in contact with rules and social values.

Competition develops the need to get along well and respect others and be accepted as part of a team.

Competition can play a prime role in promoting values such as tolerance, fairness and responsibility.

Competition can help develop the ability to set and achieve goals and perform long term planning.

Competition provides life-lessons relative to managing success and dealing with disappointment and dealing with stress.

Competition can help teach responsibility and develop time management skills.

Competition can help build confidence and improve their self esteem.

As we look to prepare our children, we must not forget that “winning” is not the real objective any competition, it is the life-lessons and life-shaping values that they learn along the way that ultimately prepares them for the challenges of life.

Here are some insightful books that further explore the role of competition in the development of our children:

Your Kids & Sports: Everything You Need to Know from Grade School to College by Mike Koehler — Your Kids & Sports: Everything You Need To Know From Grade School To College by educator, coach and parent Michael Koehler is an impressively written parental guide which is packed cover to cover with a wealth of practical advice and information concerning everything from helping a child find the right sport for him or her; to learning to accept and teach one’s child to accept losing; to the physical conditioning needs of young athletes; to the warning signs of drug use including alcohol, tobacco, and steroids, and so much more.

Academic Competitions for Gifted Students: A Resource Book for Teachers and Parents by Mary K. Tallent-Runnels and Ann C. Candler-Lotven — Academic Competitions for Gifted Students: A Resource Book for Teachers and Parents is a key resource perfect for any who would understand academic competitions for grades K-12 from their impact and potential problems to selecting events to match student strengths,

Raising Our Athletic Daughters by Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill — Raising Our Athletic Daughters discusses girls’ sports, what girls bring to the sports and what the sports gives to the girls. It is an enlightening look into the world of girls’ sports.

Go Girl! Raising Healthy, Confident and Successful Girls through Sports by Hannah Storm — Go Girl! Raising Health, Confident and Successful Girls through Sports by Hannah Storm is the resource for parents who have sports-minded daughters. It is a must read for those who want to make sports a positive experience for their girls.

Get With It, Girls! Life Is Competition by Teri Clemens — Get With It, Girls! Life is Competition by Teri Clemens is a great book for female coaches and athletes. It is motivating, quick and easy-to-read book full of personal stories and examples.

Summer Learning Loss is Real – Protecting Your Child

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. Specifically, research concludes:

On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in math skills over the summer months, regardless of socioeconomic status (Dr. Harris Cooper, Duke University).

Summer learning loss is cumulative – by the end of fifth grade students who did not read during the summer were behind their peers by two years, on average. And summer learning loss contributes to the problem of achievement gap not only in elementary school years but also through middle school and into high school (Dr. Karl Alexander, Dr. Doris Entwisle, Linda Steffel Olson, Johns Hopkins University).

So the message is that you must be proactive to protect your child from potential learning loss. With a little planning by the end of May, you can ensure your child keeps what they’ve learned in the past school year. A typical summer plan would include the following elements:

Ensure your child reads every day – select 4 to 5 books to read over the summer and have them read a certain number of pages each day. And you can mix in some age-appropriate magazines. Be sure to let your child be involved in the selection of reading materials. As an incentive, allow your kids to stay up a half hour later at night as long as they’re reading. And don’t forget, your local library is a great free resource!

Use math skills every day – every day activities provide opportunities to do this. For example, ask your kids to make change at the store or drive-thru. Or practice addition, subtraction or multiplication skills shooting basketball hoops but changing the number of points each basket is worth (you can do this with soccer or any game). You can make up a couple of math word problems in the car or at the dinner table. And online resources such as provide study cards, practice tests and games across all kinds of math topics and problems.

Write every week – it can be a letter to a grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin or friend. They can write a few letters to people them admire, such as a politician, sports star or other celebrity. A daily journal describing what they did each day can also help to keep their skills honed. You can even have them add items to the family’s weekly grocery list.

Make sure they get outside and play – research has shown that physical activity has positive effects on academic achievement, including increased concentration; improved mathematics, reading, and writing test scores; and reduced disruptive behavior (Journal of School Health, 1997). Have your child walk the neighbor’s dog, go swimming, play badminton or soccer, take walks with the family or go on family bike rides. Look for safe, fun ways to play outside.

Plan some special activities – this can be summer camps, vacation bible schools, trips to museums, parks, and libraries.

To succeed in school and life, our children need us to provide (or have access to) ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. This is especially true during the summer months. Many of us view summer as a carefree, happy time when “kids can be kids”, but don’t hurt your kids’ future – protect them against summer learning loss.

Scrabble and Other Great Vocabulary Games

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Fun word games are very effective learning tools. By having fun, players don’t realize they’ve been learning until long after they figure out who has won! Good word games, whether traditional board games or online games, disguise their educational benefits in their use of vocabulary lists, definitions, and etymology. Importantly, games may also provide a unique way to help those students who otherwise may have difficulty with traditional techniques.

Always remember, games are not a substitute for traditional learning methods – spelling lists, studying definitions, using words in a sentence, comprehension exercises, etc. However, they can be a fun way to review and ingrain words, helping students to master new words in a unique way.

To be educationally effective, though, it is important to keep word games fun – remember it is a game first, an educational tool second. It should be fun, relaxing and played in a “positive” atmosphere. And don’t be afraid to add a little competitive spice to a “family game night” by offering prizes or treats to winners.

Here is a list of great word games that provide family fun and secretly, support the educational process. These games are exceptional tools for vocabulary lessons because each of these games relies heavily on words, definitions, and word associations for strategic play. Individuals interested in winning the game have no choice but to expand their vocabulary while they challenge their opponents.


Scrabble is one of the oldest word games. It has been a family favorite for generations and Scrabble can provide challenges at many competitive levels. To provide the most fun and be the most effective educationally, Scrabble is best when the players have similar educational levels. While online versions of Scrabble can provide individual fun or competitive challenge against others in an online Scrabble community, a family playing a Scrabble board game is still tough to beat. Scrabble: A quick tip: To level the Scrabble playing field between students and adults, try limiting adults to words with a minimum number of letters.

Recommended Age for Scrabble: 8 years old and up (Scrabble Junior for Ages 5 to 7)


Each Bananagrams player works with their own letters, making words at their own level. What makes Bananagrams especially fun is that it is a fast-paced game suitable for various age levels. It doesn’t involve mathematical scoring and players get to yell – it’s part of the game!!! This makes Bananagrams one of the most popular family word-games (In 2007 and 2009, Bananagrams was a “Toy of the Year” winner. A quick tip: To level the Bananagrams playing field between students and adults, try limiting adults to words with three or more letters.

Recommended Age for Bananagrams: 7 years old and up


Boggle is another game where players make words from adjacent letters in a four-by-four grid of letter cubes. Boggle differs from Perquacky in that the letters cannot be physically rearranged to generate ideas. Boggle also uses a small number of letters that makes it a more difficult game.

Recommended Age for Boggle: 8 years old and up


Perquacky is a good game for students in Grade 4 and beyond. Perquacky requires players to race to form words from letters rolled by letter cubes. The element of speed is what makes Perquacky different from other games as the pressure of time helps to develop a student’s quick thinking skills. A quick tip: To level the Perquacky playing field between students and adults, try limiting adults to words with six or more letters.

Recommended Age for Perquacky: 7 and up


Razzle is kind of a cross between Boggle and “Tug-of-War” where players compete to be the first to find a four-letter word from six letters shown on the letter cubes. The process of winning a race results in the automatic re-scrambling of the letter cubes. Each Razzle round goes quickly and there’s a lot of back-and-forth between evenly matched Razzle players.

Recommended Age for Razzle: 8 years old and up


Password is a word association game inspires creativity as players race to guess the secret word based on a series of one-word clues. Players need to intimately understand the secret word in order to effectively offer clues related to it. The object of Password is for one teammate to get the other teammate to say the password given a series of clues. Each time a clue is given, the other player can guess the password. If they get it right the team scores. If they get it wrong, the other team gets to try a clue word. It goes back and forth: the score you get is higher if you guess it on the first clue, reduced by one point for each incorrect guess.

Recommended Age for Password: 12 years old and up


Pictionary requires players to draw a series of related words instead of the word itself. Pictionary focuses attention on word relationships and definitions rather than guessing. Other ways to make these Pictionary more challenging as an educational tool include adding time limits, creating smaller teams, requiring individual play, or adding other related tasks.

The team chooses one person to begin drawing; this position rotates with each word. The drawer chooses a card out of a deck of special Pictionary cards and tries to draw pictures which suggest the word printed on the card. The pictures cannot contain any numbers or letters. The teammates try to guess the word the drawing is intended to represent.

Recommended Age for Pictionary: 7 years old and up


Taboo is a word guessing game. The object of Taboo is for a player to have his/her partner(s) guess the word on his/her card without using the word itself or five additional words listed on the card. Taboo can be quite challenging and is sometimes used in the classroom as part of an introduction to materials for teaching English.

Recommended Age for Taboo: 12 years old and up


Balderdash is a game about making sense of what seems to be nonsense. That is, players invent phony definitions for each word in play that could be mistaken by the other players as the correct definition.
In fact, Balderdash players are not expected to know the real answers to any of the questions in the game as the primary objective is to make up answers that will bluff other players. Balderdash points are awarded for fooling other players, as well as for choosing the real and often unbelievable answer.

Recommended Age for Balderdash: 9 years old and up


Upwords is Scrabble with a twist, that is, Upwords is similar to Scrabble except that letters can be stacked on top of other words to create new words. The higher the stack of letters, the more points are scored. This often makes words built in later turns of the game more valuable than earlier words, increasing play intensity.

Recommended Age for Upwords: 8 years old and up

How to Help Your Child with Their Homework

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

We want our children to do well in school and it’s no secret that the more involved parents are in each child’s academic activities, the better the child will perform in school.
Homework can be a challenging area for parental involvement. Do I understand the new ways subjects are taught (e.g., new math)? How do I know if I’m crossing the line and doing the homework rather than helping them learn themselves?

First, it is important to have an understanding of each teacher’s objectives and expectations regarding homework. Accordingly, it is critical to begin a dialogue with each teacher at the beginning of each school year. This dialogue will help create an atmosphere of understanding and support that will enable each parent to better communicate with their child and help them to work with their child throughout the year.

Secondly, children need to know that their parents think homework is important. If they know their parents care, children will perform homework assignments better and turn them in on time. And you can demonstrate the importance of homework most effectively by the things you do rather than what you say.

Here are some important keys to helping your child with their homework.

Set a regular time – consistency is key to establishing focus and teaching good work habits that will serve them throughout their school years and adult life. This doesn’t have to be a specific time of day as this can be challenging with all of the activities that our children have today, But you can tie it to events, e.g., after soccer practice on Mondays and Thursdays, after dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc.

Pick a study area – one that has lots of light, supplies close by, and is fairly quiet. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many youngsters the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine. It doesn’t have to be fancy but if you can personalize the area (e.g., with pictures or decorated pencil holders), you can make it “their area” making it a comfortable, positive place.

Eliminate Distractions – creating a relatively quiet environment will help concentration, improve performance and get the homework done more quickly. If it is difficult to find an accommodating environment, you may want to look to your local library.

Provide Supplies and Necessary Resources – obviously, pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper, an assignment book, and a dictionary are basic requirements. Other things that might be helpful include glue, a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, scissors, a ruler, index cards, etc. And in absence of a computer, a thesaurus, and an almanac.

Show an Interest – initiating conversations about what they did in class each day goes a long way towards impressing the importance of school to your child. A good way to get the whole family involved in the conversation is to make it a regular part of the dinner table discussions. Another way to show your interest is to attend school activities, such as parent-teacher meetings, shows, and sports events.

Monitor Assignments – following up on completed assignments with your child underscores its importance. It is important to be focused on the process or the teacher’s comments, rather than the grade. Spend most of your time discussing how they can improve, reinforcing the positive elements of their completed homework.

Provide Guidance – but don’t do their homework for them. Remember, it’s not your homework – it’s your child’s homework. Doing their homework for them won’t help them understand and use information. And it won’t help them develop confidence and self-esteem. Direct your efforts on helping them to organize their thought process – and of course, answering any questions they may have while doing the homework assignment. If you’re reviewing a written assignment, don’t rewrite it for them but challenge the thoughts they are presenting or the manner in which they are presenting those thoughts.

Give practice tests – this can really help you understand what your child is struggling with and where your efforts need to spent. Performing well on your practice tests can also help the child develop confidence in their own abilities. You can also talk with your child about how to take a test, emphasizing the importance of reading the instructions carefully, keeping track of the time and avoiding too much time on any one question.

Talk with the teacher – they can try alternative teaching strategies if your child is struggling with a particular subject or topic. And of course, if you are unfamiliar with subject (e.g., new math), the teacher can help direct you accordingly. But it is critical to contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a homework problem so you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.

Remember, helping your child with homework gives you an important opportunity to them learn important life-lessons about discipline and responsibility. Parents can talk with their children and communicate positive behaviors, values, and character traits that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

Are Academic Competitions Good for Kids?

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

If left unchecked, competitions can create an atmosphere of winners and losers with students using the results to “slot” themselves into their perceived place in the world. And over the past twenty years, that thinking has greatly influenced teaching, as classroom work has become more collaborative and team-based, especially in math and science.

But does self-esteem create better academic performance or does better academic performance create higher self-esteem?

Eliminating many of the measures that show students and parents where they stand academically may make them feel a lot better about themselves, but are students being challenged enough to maximize their potential?

Academic competitions such as spelling bees, math bowls, geography bees, history and writing competitions can provide a nurturing, learning environment that is difficult to create in a single classroom or school. Academic competitions can offer the types of experiences that foster the development of productive attitudes and work habits and provide many life-lessons including:

–How to set goals and develop plans to attain those goals
–How to focus, manage time and organize work
–How to handle stress, dealing with success and failure.

Academic competitions can develop a sense of hard work and commitment that will serve students well later in life. Academic competitions give students opportunities to provide themselves with significant challenges and the self-satisfaction that can come from the competition itself.

And of course, academic competitions can spur the knowledge/skills in a given discipline. Just look at the purpose of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

“To help students improve spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives.”

To be sure, it is important to focus on the process and inherent academic improvement that comes with the significant preparation that accompanies any academic completion. While there is only one winner in most competitions, every competitor’s preparation, sacrifices and knowledge gain needs to be celebrated by the people who matter most – parents, teachers and peers.

It is important that competitors receive abundant meaningful, positive feedback throughout the competitive process. It is important to remember that students constantly engage in self-evaluations and draw conclusions about their abilities. Self-esteem and self-respect are, in part, the result of accomplishments.

You can help your student develop a healthy perspective about themselves and their fellow competitors through ongoing discussions about the competitive process, their goals, successes and failures, learning from their experiences. In this way, they form and affirm their identity

Which competitions should my student pursue? It is important to ensure that the competition nurtures a student’s interest in the given discipline, serving to help motivate competitors to pursue long-term achievement in similar activities or fields.

To summarize, no one can deny that competition is an inevitable and integral part of life in our society. It exists at every level of education and every stage of adult life. While competition can be harmful at times, it is our job to educate our children to prepare for it and practice the inherent skills of competition, maximizing its intrinsic benefits while minimizing its harm.

Below are some of academic competitions you may want to investigate for your student:

Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee
The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee’s purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

National Geographic Bee
The National Geographic Bee is an educational program of the National Geographic Society. It is a nationwide geography competition for U.S. schools with any grades four through eight, designed to encourage the teaching and study of geography.

MathCounts is a national enrichment, club and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory.

Science Olympiad
The Science Olympiad fosters a passion for learning science by supporting elementary and secondary Science Olympiad tournaments at building, district, county, state and national levels with an emphasis on teamwork and a commitment to excellence.

National History Day
National History Day is a national competition for elementary and secondary school students who choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and its Regional Affiliates annually recognize more then 30,000 young artists and writers with Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Certificates. More than 150,000 works are currently under review by our panels of arts professionals.

Chess Improves Academic Performance

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

The game of Chess has long been recognized throughout the world as a builder of strong intellects. But only recently have educators begun to recognize its ability to improve the cognitive abilities, rational thinking and reasoning of even the least promising children.

Many studies have confirmed that game of chess promotes logical thinking, instills a sense of self-confidence and self-worth, and improves communication and pattern recognition skills. It also teaches the values of hard work, concentration, objectivity, and commitment.

In Marina, California, an experiment with the game of chess indicated that after only 20 days of instruction, students’ academic performance improved dramatically. George L Stephenson, chairman of the Marina JHS math department, reported that 55% of students showed significant improvement in academic performance after this brief smattering of learning how to play the game of chess.

Similarly, a 5-year study of 7th and 8th graders by Robert Ferguson of the Bradford, PA showed that test scores improved 173% for students regularly engaged in Chess classes, compared with only 4.56% for children participating in other forms of “enrichment activities” including Future Problem Solving, games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Problem Solving with Computers, independent study, and creative writing. And a Watson-Glaser Thinking Appraisal evaluation showed overwhelmingly that the game of chess improved critical thinking skills more than the other methods of enrichment.

The Roberto Clemente School in New York report that the game of chess has improved not only academic scores, but social performance as well. In 1988, Joyce Brown, an assistant principal and supervisor of the school’s Special Education department, and teacher Florence Mirin began studying the effect of the game of chess on their Special Education students. When the study began, they had 15 children enrolled in chess classes; two years later they had 398. “The effects have been remarkable,” Brown says. “Not only have the reading and math skills of these children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our studies have shown that incidents of suspension. and outside altercations have decreased by at least 60% since these children became interested in the game of chess.”

64 Squares to Academic Success

Jody Braswell writes (April, 2008): “During the past few years I have had the opportunity to introduce the game of chess on our elementary campus. I am a firm believer that all students need to be provided the opportunity to learn the game. Initially, however, I was not convinced whether or not I believed the “boast” that a thorough understanding of the game of chess would boost academic grades and test scores.  I decided to do a little study of my own. What I found was that three correlations could be attributed to those students who received consistent chess instruction.

  • The first, demonstrates how students gain self-confidence as they learn the game fo chess. This self-confidence is not just in playing the game of chess, but also is evident in their everyday life.
  • The second, is related but goes much deeper. Students who participate in chess tend to build a sense of intrinsic motivation. This motivation gives them the strength and courage to reach out, to participate in more programs whether school related or extracurricular. Shy students tend to become leaders.
  • The third correlation proved that student test scores and academic progress was enhanced due to the critical thinking skills they learned from the game of chess.”

The Case for the Game of Chess as a Tool to Develop Our Children’s Minds

In July, 2000, Dr Peter Dauvergne from the University of Sydney, wrote a research paper based upon educational and psychological studies examining the benefits for children of studying and playing the game of chess. His paper concluded that chess can:

  • Raise intelligence quotient (IQ) scores
  • Strengthen problem solving skills, teaching how to make difficult and abstract decisions independently
  • Enhance reading, memory, language, and mathematical abilities
  • Foster critical, creative, and original thinking
  • Provide practice at making accurate and fast decisions under time pressure, a skill that can help improve exam scores
  • Teach how to think logically and efficiently, learning to select the ‘best’ choice from a large number of options
  • Challenge gifted children while potentially helping underachieving gifted students learn how to study and strive for excellence
  • Demonstrate the importance of flexible planning, concentration, and the consequences of decisions
  • Reach boys and girls regardless of their natural abilities or socio-economic backgrounds

Given these educational benefits, Dr. Dauvergne concludes that the game of chess is one of the most effective teaching tools to prepare children for a world increasingly swamped by information and ever tougher decisions.

How to get students started in the game of chess?

There are a variety of ways to get started – chess books for students learning the game of chess, chess magazines, chess organizations and chess clubs (many are free).  Getting a teacher to start a chess club at school is another way to get students involved in learning and playing the game of chess.  You can play against computers or dedicated chess games and you can even play online against real competition – though this needs to be monitored for obvious reasons.

So get started – buy a book that teaches you how to play the game of chess, buy a chess computer program, subscribe to a chess magazine, join a chess organization. And watch your academic performance improve!!!

Sources for most of the above:  New York City Schools Chess Program by Christine Palm, copyright 1990, the Chess in Education web site and Dr. Dayvergbe’s artcile