Early Learning Chess Initiative

Kids playing ChessHelp Us Get All Children Ready  for Kindergarten!


On their first day of kindergarten, fewer than 50 percent of low income children in Washington State are prepared to learn. This means that many of these children cannot count to 20, write their name, or sit still long enough to learn. For our most at risk children, the situation is even more dire. Fewer than 33 percent of children living in deep poverty arrive ready. What can be done?


Last year, Joel Ryan, the Executive Director of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (WSA) and Elliott Neff, Founder and CEO of Chess4Life met at a Rotary Club in Bellevue. Through their mutual interest in the game of chess and in helping kids, an idea was sparked. What if the current trajectory of preschoolers could be changed through an innovative approach using chess? The Early Learning Chess Initiative was born.


The Early Learning Chess Initiative is a public/private partnership between the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (WSA) and Chess4Life. Our mission is to use the fun, engaging, and strategic game of chess to boost the kindergarten readiness of at risk preschoolers. Over the past year we have tested our customized curriculum within two Seattle based Head Start programs with incredible results. Susan Yang, Executive Director of Denise Louie Early Learning Center says:

““The Early Learning Chess Initiative is a simple, innovative, and creative way to integrate math, logic, and reasoning into our curriculum, while promoting positive social emotional skills.”


Thanks to the support of the Boeing Company we are now embarking on a large scale study to test our approach with 500 children across the state of Washington. We need the help of friends, supporters, early learning champions, and chess enthusiasts to expand our work to children beyond the pilot sites. Right now there are 25,000 children being served within Head Start and ECEAP classrooms, so the pilot is only reaching fewer than 5% of the total population. We have estimated that it costs as little as $50 per child to provide that child with the early learning chess experience or about $1,000 per classroom. We hope you will consider making a contribution and investing your dollars with us. Your donation is tax deductible.   


Please consider saying Yes to Chess!  You can make a secure on-line donation here


More About The Co-Founders


Washington State Association (WSA) of Head Start and Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) is a non-profit organization representing 25,000 low-income children served by Head Start and ECEAP providers in Washington State. WSA advocates for high quality early education and provides professional development on topics ranging from early literacy, STEM, and social emotional development.  Each year, WSA trains more than 1,500 teachers, directors, and parents at 10 training events. WSA has successfully worked with lawmakers to expand access to early learning programs for at risk children.


Joel Ryan has served as the Executive Director of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (WSA) for 10 years.  


Chess4Life is a for-profit social enterprise with a mission of teaching life skills through chess, by providing chess instruction to children in 70 elementary schools throughout King County and working with after school programs including the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County. 

Elliott Neff, the founder of Chess4Life is well known for his work bringing the benefits of chess to K-12 students as well as developing tools enabling teachers with no prior chess knowledge to bring these benefits to their students.

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