No idle hands at weekly Dillingham Elementary chess club

Apr 14, 2017

Chess strategies and life lessons as youth tackle the game of kings every Wednesday in Dillingham.

Tim Sands and Nick Tweet help guide students through the king's game.
Credit KDLG/Lawrence Hamilton

On Wednesday afternoons the quiet confines of the Dillingham Elementary School library are filled with eager children and adult coaches.

Boxes filled with pawns, rooks, knights, kings and queens are emptied and boards laid out.

“Remember! White on right,” a man bellows.

With instructions disseminated, kids ponder what to do with their plastic armies. Some wave their pieces in the air before placing them on the board. Others sit in meditative contemplation, their brows dutifully furrowed.

The spring breakup season gives ample opportunity for the Dillingham School Chess Club participants to practice their bishop opening or queen’s gambit, and as with many after school activities, pick up a few life lessons and skills along the way.

“We feel pretty strongly that chess is good for kids,” said Nick Tweet, the Social Skills and RTI coordinator at DES.  “Chess is problem solving, responding to what your opponent does and paying attention. It is just the right thing for elementary kids.”

Depending on the weather outside and what the sports calendar holds, Dillingham chess club can see 30 or more kids attend, including occasionally from the middle and high school. Most of the kids are from the elementary school.

“It is hard for them to see more than one move ahead,” Tweet said of the younger players. “They also have an idea of what they want to do and don’t always pay attention to what their opponent is doing.”

In "The Morals of Chess", Benjamin Franklin said that chess is "not merely an idle amusement," but offers competitors a chance to develop foresight, circumspection and caution.

Tim Sands, another volunteer who helped found the club, couldn’t agree more.

“Kids like games and it is a thinking game,” he said. “Studies definitely show that chess really helps with and linear thinking and those things are good skills to have in life.

He has been working with chess clubs for over 15 years. He calls himself more aficionado than expert.

“I am not great at chess by any stretch of the imagination, but I like the game, and think it is a really good thing for the kids,” he said.

Elementary school teacher John Eller has been volunteering with the club all year and is impressed by the proficiency on display.

“It helps to have an extra adult around who knows a little bit, even though some of these kids are better than me,” Eller jokes. “Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

The Dillingham School Chess club meets every Wednesday afternoon at the Elementary School. Community members are welcome to attend and watch or play a game or two.

Reach the author at or 907.842.5281.