Campers 'Check' Out Parallels in Game, Life

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Published on August 04, 2010 with No Comments

Centuries ago, the game of chess could decide the fate of kingdoms.

 There are plenty of stories about monarchs on the brink of war who agreed to settle their arguments bloodlessly by playing a game of chess. Their armies of tiny figures moved with the next 100 or more strategies in mind, and it was the strategy of a general, rather than the might of a brute, that settled conflicts.

While it may or may not be true, the allegory of chess being used as a way to teach people to look ahead and to develop strategy and problem-solving skills for life is an old one. It’s also effective today, as the Indiana National Guard has proven with a group of summer camp kids at Rogers-Lakewood Park in Valparaiso.

“Several years ago the Indiana National Guard started teaching younger kids how to play chess as part of the Drug Demand Reduction Program,” noted Megan Owens, recreation program coordinator for the Valparaiso Department of Parks and Recreation. “Last year was the first year where the Guards(men) started teaching some of our kids how to play, and we’ve carried it through to this year.”

Last summer, during the Discovery Ranger Camp run at Rogers-Lakewood Park, the directors split the middle school-aged campers off from the rest and added programs for the seventh- and eighth-graders in hopes of broadening their world views.  In additional to the chess lessons, they interacted with residents at retirement homes.

“We wanted to…try and teach them how to handle more responsibility,” Owens said. “And so far the kids have been responding by exceeding all of our expectations.”

This year’s crop of chess players included rank neophytes, but even the campers who hadn’t played before picked up the basics quickly. Given the nature of chess, it was easy to impress the lesson that what you do now may mean your success or failure later, even if your downfall was one of your very first moves.

“Playing chess teaches you a lot of decision-making skills,” Corey Sanders, an eighth-grade camper in the program said.

“The game really teaches you how to think,” agreed Corey Gardner. Gardner was one of the campers who’d played chess before and is now a regular at the tables the camp boasts.

The rest of the seven players in this year’s crop of the ancient game’s students agreed with their co-players’ statements. All of the players admitted that, while many of them had played chess before, none of them had been regulars until they’d become a part of this program. Additionally, while chess games used to only take place once every two weeks, there’s now a game session every week.

“We’re extremely pleased with the results that we’ve gotten so far,” Owens said. “The kids are having fun, lessons are getting taught, and, for the second year the program is doing better than we expected.”

Though only two of this year’s players will be staying for next year due to age restrictions, everyone who’s participated feels good about their experience.

“After this year we expect to expand the program to include even more activities for our middle school-aged campers,” Owens said.

For more information on the Discovery Camps, call the Valparaiso Department of Parks and Recreation at  462-5144.

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