Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Chess Is Transforming My Son

2nd Place Winner at the Homeschool Education Association of Virginia Conference

Kingman has been playing chess since he was 4 years old.  His father taught him the game purely for pleasure.  But when Dr. Quito Swan began teaching chess at the Sankofa Homeschool Collective in 2011, he stirred up a dormant volcano.  As KingMan's chess study continued, his passion and seriousness about the game grew.  Fast forward 4 years later and he is now a member of the Bravo Zulu Chess Club.  Thanks to the mentoring and leadership of his chess coach, Mr. Shaka Greene, KingMan is now a competitive chess player.  He has traveled to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to attend the national championships twice.  But what is most pleasing to me are the things that are happening in the process.  

Male Mentorship

Because my boys lost their father in 2013, I am so very grateful for their male teachers.  My deep thinking son pays very close attention to what people say and especially what they do.  This is a time in his life when he is formulating ideas about manhood.  So when I ask, "how was chess?" and he starts with, "Mom, do you know what Mr. Greene said?" Well, I know it's going to be something that made him think, something that inspired him, or something that made him laugh.  This regular and consistent relationship is so crucial at this time in his life.

Goal Setting

KingMan's chess coach knows how to inspire his team to set personal goals.  When KingMan announced that he was going to fast from video games for the next 21 days while he participates in a chess challenge, I was stunned. I could have nagged or confiscated the video game controllers, which I am known to do from time to time.  But it would not have had the same impact as this self-imposed sacrifice he is making to reach his goal.  He has a goal chess rating posted on his bedroom door that he wants to achieve by June 2016.  I almost cried when I saw this display of self-affirmation.


I can't count the number of events KingMan has missed because of chess tournaments.  The social calendar of teens is one of the  most important aspects of their lives.  Yet, he is willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of a tournament.  Recently, I told him about an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia and visit several colleges with friends and eat at several famous Philadelphia eateries, including Ishkabibbiles, his father's favorite Philly Cheese steak spot.  He looked at me with a stern face and said, "Mom I can't miss this tournament."  Unbelievable! He is showing me how serious he is about reaching his goal. 


KingMan attends chess practice four days a week.  After my van was totaled in a car accident, I was not able to drive him.  So he learned how to get there on his own. He is out of the door by 3 p.m., each day for the 90 minute commute that includes two buses and 15 minute walk.  It pained me to not be able to drive him and show my support.  Yet I am so proud of  KingMan for not allowing transportation to be an excuse or an impediment to him pursuing a passion.

Teamwork and Camaraderie

One afternoon I had the pleasure of attending chess practice with KingMan. I sat outside the door planning to catch up on some reading, while waiting for practice to end.  I couldn't help but eavesdrop.  It sounded like one big happy family.  There was lots of analysis, strategy and concentration going on, but they were still having fun.  Most impressive were the "team generals" who had been given the responsibility of not only setting a good example for the rest of the team, but also maintaining order during practice.  I felt so much good energy and leadership development emanating from the room that day.  I understood why KingMan didn't want to miss practice.

Neurological Benefits

Before I did a Google search, I didn't realize the neurological impact of chess! Chess study grows dendrites, the tree-like branches in the brain that receives signals.  Playing chess develops the prefrontal cortex and helps them make better decisions.  We all know how important that skill is during the teenage years! Chess also improves concentration, reading, memory and problem-solving skills.  I wouldn't think chess would improve creative thinking, but studies say, yes that's a benefit too.  Finally, and most impressive, chess study helps develop both sides of the brain.  As a mother of a left-brain dominant learner and a right-brain dominant learner, I find this to be fascinating and useful!


This ancient game is shaping and molding KingMan.  Becoming an International Chess Grand Master, his goal, will be the cherry on top.  But all the things that will have happened along the way are what I am and will be most grateful for.


  1. This was an absolutely beautiful story. It warmed my heart from beginning to end. I am very proud of this young gentleman and scholar. He never ceases to amaze and he epitomizes what our program is about. I am honored and privileged to work with this young brother. There is no limit to his potential and to his ability to excel.

  2. Wonderful and inspiring! Your sharing is helping my family to navigate the home school and rights of passage talk. Please keep sharing!

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  4. Love this inspirational.

  5. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

  6. Your passion and commitment to your kids has always inspired me. You make sure the boys grounded in what's really important in life. Congrats to Kingman for winning, but also for leaning to commute!! And I'll have to look into chess now for my guys.

  7. Love this so much and it is such an inspiration to have witnessed Kingman's development. I also think it would be interesting to interview Mr. Greene for a more complete dissection of his motivational techniques as he inspires a level of internalized commitment that does not require parental "nagging" from his students.

  8. Wow! I really need to foster this in my son and daughter. They both had interest in chess (then came video games - ugh!). Not only that, but their dad plays. Glad you shared all the benefits of the game and put that on my planning list for their future activities. Great job mom!

  9. Thank you Nita! He's doing all the things that I would normally nag him about because of chess. I would like to see him read more for pleasure and now he's reading chess tactic books. It's not African American Literature (Lol!), but it's still reading. He's managing him time, setting goals, and amazingly, if he has a friend over and it's time for chess - bye, bye!

  10. Delight-driven learning is the learning that sticks and that propels an individual forward. Kingman has true meaning to his learning that's tangible to him, unlike a prescribed curriculum. He can see the effects quite quickly if his diligence but he also is developing patients for the rewards that will come with time. I have seen this time and time again with my older children, and see them reap the rewards of their own sacrifice & diligence because of the areas that they choose to grow in their lives is a fulfillment they own. It comes back to you, too, Mama!

  11. Beautiful post Sis Monica, you almost had me cryin'....shoot. My 11 yr old Naa Anyele plays chess and she loves it. She's always trying to get me to play with her but, I never learned. I've made it my business to expose her to everything but, truthfully I neglect my own learning sometimes b/c I have a laundry list of things to take care of. I've decided I'm gonna let her teach me. Bless it up, Sis. Monica! You are a fearless Mama!

  12. Thank you Viviana. I was to learn how to play chess too and what better teachers than my sons.

  13. That is amazing! I used to play with my dad when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I haven't played in 20 yrs. I want my kids to learn now that you have inspired me. Trying to figure out how to fit it in their schedule, lol!