Jenga: Using Classic Toys to Target Speech and Language Goals

Finding fun ways to work with your young ones on their speech and language goals, outside of therapy, can be challenging. While many of our activities revolve around SLP-specific materials, it’s even more rewarding when we can find highly motivating toys to use to target our goals in creative ways. Back-to-school time can be costly, filled with necessary expenses for your children, so if you can repurpose an old dust-covered game lying in the basement, by all means! Feel free to ask your speech therapist how you can modify the ones you have, or just adapt the rules to fit the needs of your child. On the Speakable website, we have, and will continue to feature different classic toys and how to use them in educational ways. This week, I’ll talk about one of my favourites, the classic game of Jenga, and how you can use it with your kiddos- beyond the instructions described on the box. My set is actually not a real Jenga, but a no-name brand purchased at Target years ago!

Listed below are a few goals that can be targeted using Jenga blocks:

Prepositions: Ask your child to paint all the blocks (pick 6-8 colours). This is just the prep work but it can be fun nonetheless. If you play with coloured Jenga pieces that look different, it makes it easier to talk about location words such as in/on/under. If your child is working on expressive prepositions, then you can have them tell you which block is wiggly (‘the one under the blue block’, or ‘the piece between the red and the green’). If they’re working on receptive prepositions, you can have them find a wiggly block by instructing them where it is (‘find a wiggly block beside a pink block’).

Concepts: Now that your blocks are coloured, colours are of course a great goal to work on, receptively and expressively! If your child is learning to identify numbers, you can put one on the side of each block too. You can talk about long vs. short when describing the sides of the rectangle.

Social skills: I’m sure your child will be at the edge of their seat waiting for their turn, but it’s also important to learn to wait patiently for you to take yours. Turn taking is a great goal for a fast-pace game such as this one. Remember to give lots of positive reinforcement (‘nice job waiting your turn’ or ‘you’re sitting so nicely!’) instead of letting them know when they are being impatient.

Articulation: For the Jenga game pictured here, I wrote words with target sounds on each block. Did you paint your blocks? No problem! Now you can work on speech AND language in this game. Simply use a black Sharpie to write your child’s words over the paint. Because I work with many kids, each side of the block has a different target sound. If your child is working on /S/ for instance, divide the blocks in three piles and write S-initial words on a third of them, S-medial on the other third, and S-final on the rest. When your child pulls out a block, they must say the target word on that block with their correct sound before placing it back on top. On your turn, try pronouncing the target sound incorrectly, and see if they can identify your mistake and correct you. To motivate them to do this, tell them that if they find your mistakes, they can place your block on top of the structure for you. If your child masters their speech sound, but other speech errors develop in the future, you can always use the other sides of the blocks to add more/new words.

I hope you enjoyed this blog and get creative with your own block sets! If you have created your own speech therapy Jenga masterpieces, I would love nothing more than to see them. Please feel free to send photos to info@speakableslp.com

Tamara Paull M.Sc. Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
Founder and Director of SpeakAble Speech Therapy Services