What do you think or feel when you hear the word Jenga, perhaps if you understand Kiswahili, you might say ‘Kujenga’, Build, or if you are my 3-year-old son, you would say ‘Fun times with Mummy’ or if you are me, you might quietly feel determined.
Over the last week, I have been reflecting on object play, which is basically exactly that, playing with objects. The object could be a toy banana, a football, a piece of string, a recycled bottle with rice in it, or a rectangular wooden piece of Jenga. Object play promotes role-play, creativity, teamwork, and much much more, but what I like most about object play is how inclusive it is. Literally, anything can become an object to play. When an object is duplicated, stacked together, and build up it can become Jenga. Jenga is the destination of the play but actually play is found in the 7.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 1.5 cm wood blocks.
So when playful members of the Dream Networks team said she loved Jenga, that she often saw people playing it in restaurants in Kenya, and that itKujenga was a Kiswahili word. I was excited to find out that a toy that had been launched in London was inspired by the creator’s experiences playing with wood from saw mills in Ghana. I recalled how much I liked playing Jenga as a child in southeast London. I thought about how simple and yet complex it is to play, how it is easy to carry along to sociable gatherings, that people across the world have experienced construction through Jenga, and indeed how much I also loved Jenga.
When my son recently played with me and decided to put pack pieces instead of staking them higher, I laughed and then remembered he was still completing the destination of play, building it up and not letting it fall down. When he decided to push one precarious piece, we watched as it tumbled down and then exclaimed as the pieces hit the polished mahogany table. The destination of play had changed, but the experience my son affords to playing Jenga (fun times with Mummy) was still realised as it plundered to the floor.
Jenga can be great for developing fine motor skills, concentration, logical thinking, and even understanding physics. When transformed into Giant Jenga, where you build pieces taller than a 7ft basketball player, it becomes an experience that is more social, demands more of your motor skills, and transforms simple spaces, into a place of fun, determination, and often laughter.
So here’s to Kujenga, the Swahili word for build, a toy that has lasted over 40 years, a game that has existed for generations.
Here’s to also remembering Kujenga can be recreated, with wood blocks, sticks, cardboard, or even hardened playdough.