TORONTO — When chess maven Ted Winick read an article about a day camp program that helps children with emotional challenges learn to control their anger, he immediately volunteered to teach them chess.
He said the article resonated with him, because he felt that the strategies utilized in chess, which basically boil down to “think before you act,” would complement the skills the children were acquiring through a behaviour management program called SNAP.
He explained that SNAP, an acronym for Stop Now And Plan, was devised by the Child Development Institute, a Toronto-based mental health agency that serves 4,000 children under 12 and their families each year through a variety of programs.
The agency, which runs the camp where Winick has been volunteering, recently honoured him by naming him volunteer of the year, in appreciation of the services he has provided over the course of three summers.
He recalled making the connection with the agency in 2005, shortly after registering the Chess Institute of Canada, which he founded, as a charitable organization. “Our mission is basically a form of tikun olam, improving or repairing the world.
“I use chess to help the kids improve their life skills. Part of it incorporates the premise of thinking before you act and taking responsibility for helping others,” he said. “My guideline or what I call my fundamental principal of chess, is consider the consequence of your actions before you do them, or think before you move.”
Winick is now heading into his fourth summer at the camp, which has seen some 300 children with a variety of emotional and behavioural problems learn chess skills over the past three years.
The camp can handle 48 kids a month, he said. They are split into two groups of 24 each month – a younger group in grades 1 to 3 and another for grades 4 to 6.
“I go in twice a week and work with each age group to teach them principles of chess that can be adapted to life,” Winick said. “I want to get these kids thinking so they can make better choices and start exhibiting better behaviour.”
These are only a portion of the children, who have benefited from Winick’s volunteerism. He offers chess to elementary school kids in the inner city through teenage mentors or by running classes himself.
“I’m training kids through their community service hours to be mentors and role models for the younger children,” he said. “I am always looking for mentors. You don’t have to be good in math. You have to be interested in the kids.”
Winick noted that chess is becoming increasingly recognized as an educational tool.
“A number of countries and provinces are considering including chess in the curriculum, because of the academic benefits. It helps the children improve their math and reading skills, their concentration and their critical thinking skills.”
He noted that when he first established the chess institute four years ago, most of the classes were after school and at lunchtime. “Now we’re in 30 schools and the majority of classes are part of the curriculum.
“At the Paul Penna [Downtown Jewish] Day School, I run chess classes for every student as part of their curriculum.”
Winick said that for centuries, rabbis have valued the skills developed through chess. “Ever since Abraham Ibn Ezra, one of the great medieval Jewish scholars, championed the game, Jewish scholars have long recognized chess as way of focusing the intellect.”
On Aug. 1, Winick will be launching a new chess centre at Brunswick Avenue and Bloor Street, where he will be hosting a day that will incorporate chess and other games of strategy with sports and culture.
“The centre’s chess education program will be for all age groups from four to 104.”
He also runs the National Chess Camp at the end of the summer at Camp Wahanowin in partnership with the National Music Camp and the Nashman family.
Winick said he was honoured to be named volunteer of the year by the Child Development Institute. “It felt great. But more than that was the deeper satisfaction that my program is recognized as making a positive difference in the lives of these children.”
For more information about the chess camps, chess education or the mentorship program, contact Winick at [email protected].