Last month I started teaching chess at an elementary school in Fairfax County as a way to connect to kids and their parents in a non-traditional church setting as well as passing along love for a game I’ve played since I was six. USA Today has an article on the growing movement to teach chess to children, and the difference that can make in young lives:

SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. — Quiet, please The second- and third-graders at McGinn Elementary School are playing chess, which means they’re concentrating, which means they shouldn’t be interrupted.

Even so, Wendi Fischer can’t resist giving a compliment. “You’re really using your brain to think instead of your mouths,” she tells students as she walks from class to class.

Fischer, executive director of America’s Foundation for Chess, has become a celebrity among the elementary school set. Kids know her as the Chess Lady, the tiara-wearing medieval queen who hosts the chess lessons they watch each week on DVD. Although chess has long been a staple of after-school programs, the foundation aspires to bring chess into more classrooms through First Move.

The foundation, based in Bellevue, Wash., aims to expand First Move nationally and beyond. Launched in the 2004-05 academic year in 11 Seattle-area schools, the program last year reached more than 50,000 students in nearly 2,000 classrooms across 27 states, mostly by word of mouth. In 2008, Idaho became the first state to encourage public schools statewide to use the game as part of their curricula in second and third grades, and Maryland’s Senate education committee this month considered a similar proposal for its public schools. First Move can be found in Antigua, Kenya, Canada and Mexico, and Fischer’s group has been in talks with the education ministries of Norway and Denmark.

While First Move doesn’t claim to improve students’ test scores, some researchers have found chess can improve academic performance. A 1993 study, for example, found that a group of students in the New York program scored significantly higher on reading tests than a control group.

Fischer is not related to Bobby Fischer (nor am I, for those of you wondering–I used to get that all the time from opponents at tournaments), but has an obvious love for the game and for kids that shows up in this video:


Have chess in your local schools? No? Then how about contacting America’s Foundation for Chess here, and see what the Chess Lady can do for you.