Using JENGA to Grow

Jenga can be used to help develop your child’s gross motor, fine motor, social, emotional and cognitive skills. Check out some ideas on how to support your child's development below:

Gross motor skills

You don’t have to be limited to only following the rules when playing a board game. You can always integrate different challenges into the game to help work on gross motor skills.

  • Encourage your child to sit cross legged, kneel on their hands and knees or lie on their stomach while playing to increase their core strength.
  • After collecting a block, have your child use a scooter board or perform animal walks to bring their block across the room to build a pile of blocks they’ve collected.
  • When building up the tower before you play, have your child use their right hand to pick up blocks placed to the left side of their body and their left hand to pick up blocks placed to the right side of their body. This develops a skill called midline crossing which is important for hand dominance and is necessary for tasks such as dressing.
  • Pick some gross motor skills you would like your child to work on (e.g. star jumps, skipping, standing on 1 leg etc.) and write these skills on the side of some of the Jenga blocks (if you use washable markers, you could wash them out and write different skills in the future). Then, each time a player collect a blocks with a skills written on it, they need to perform that skills (e.g. do 10 star jumps).

Fine motor skills

  • Ensure your child uses a pincer grasp (using the thumb and index finger with other fingers tucked away) when picking up and placing the blocks (both when building the tower and when removing blocks).
  • You can make this game easier by allowing your child to tap different blocks until they find a loose block that is easy to pull out and allowing your child to use both hands to pull out blocks.
  • You can challenge your child by setting the rule that you can only use one hand to remove the blocks and you have to remove the first block you touch.
  • Jenga is a great game for helping your child develop steadiness and control with their fingers as the tower is likely to fall if they are not careful and steady.

Cognitive skills

  • If your child is too young to understand the concept of how to play Jenga, you can use the blocks to make shapes (E.g. square, triangle etc.) or letters (e.g. T, F etc.).
  • When building the tower, ensure your child understands that they need to alternate placing the blocks horizontally and vertically for each layer. If your child is finding this confusing, it may be helpful to give them verbal prompts and to use gestures.
  • Jenga involves some strategy and forward planning as your child needs to consider which blocks are likely to be removed easily and how much each block they remove makes the tower less steady.
  • Count the number of blocks each player has removed to work on counting skills.

Social skills

  • Prompt your child to find a fair way to decide who goes first. Playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’ can be a useful way to prevent arguing. Practice turn taking skills and if your child requires the support, give verbal prompts such as ‘who is next?’, ‘your turn, my turn’.
  • You can also focus on developing your child’s winning and losing skills. Often when children become fixated on winning, they can have difficulty regulating their emotions if they lose. It is often helpful to role model good winning and losing behaviour. Also emphasize at the start of the game that it is more important to have fun and play fairly than to win. Similalry, before starting the game, brainstorm friendly things to say to one when someone wins (e.g. “You played really well”) or when someone loses (e.g. “Good game. Do you want to play again?”.

Emotional regulation skills

  • If your child gets frustrated, angry or upset when they lose or because it is challenging to practice the skills listed above, encourage them to identify what emotion they are feeling. Then help them identify and use strategies (such as taking deep breaths or using a movement break) to calm down before refocusing back on the task. Also emphasize the importance of practicing so we can get better.
  • You can write different emotion words on some of the blocks and each time a player removes a block with an emotion on it, they need to give an example of a time they have felt that emotion or a strategy that makes them feel better when feeling the emotion.
  • Similarly, you could write social-emotional questions (based on the areas your child needs support with) on the blocks (e.g. How can you tell if someone is feeling annoyed? What should you do if someone is calling you names?) that each player needs to answer when they pull that block out.

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