Tumbling Tower available either in Natural wood or Coloured. The coloured variant provides a unique extension as a coloured dice can be rolled to challenge the child to select a specific piece!
Most people are familiar with the Tumbling Tower game (often known by one of its specific brand names - 'Jenga') but many don't notice all of the benefits that it offers. So here is my Montessori interpretation of the value of the 'Tumbling Tower' game:
- This is a challenging fine motor experience for fingertips of any age! Even adults find it tricky to remove a piece without disturbing the tower, and children can benefit from practising the careful, controlled movements required to gently nudge a piece out of place.
- The Tumbling Tower game provides the players with a strong motivation to employ 'self-control'. Rushed or rough movements are likely to cause the tower to topple, whereas smooth and controlled motions provide more chance of the continuation of the game. Each player is intrinsically motivated, both as an individual and as part of a team, to inhibit their impulses and be self-controlled so that the game can move forward rather than end.
- The game requires a great deal of strategy and problem-solving. It involves looking at a structure with a critical eye and using skills from various areas to make an informed strategy. There is an element of mathematics and sensory awareness to this task and I love that it combines these various areas into one cognitive challenge.
- Whether it is played with a partner, or in a group, the Tumbling Tower game requires responsive thinking. A child might have picked out a particular piece to remove on his/her turn (because it looked loose and not fundamental to the structural integrity) but if another player removes it first then the child has to quickly adapt to the new circumstances. This responsive and adaptive reasoning is an important and useful life skill.
- The Tumbling Tower game requires a child to plan ahead and consider potential outcomes based on past experience and logical deductions. Children first learn 'cause and effect' by taking an action and observing an outcome; but in this game the child is trying to anticipate the effect prior to taking the action. It requires a level of abstract thinking that is cognitively stimulating and also applicable in a range of different contexts in learning and in life. We all want children to 'think before they act', and to consider the consequences before (not just after!) they do something, and this game promotes that style of thinking.
- This particular set promotes organisation through its beautifully presentation in a wooden box with a clear lid. The clear lid allows the game to remain visible (and therefore appealing!) to children when it is on the shelf. The dimensions of the box (just big enough to fit the complete tower) promote careful and orderly habits as it needs to be packed away in its 4 by 4 pattern. A child who tries to rush the pack up will encounter the self-correcting mechanism of discovering that the pieces don't fit if they are hastily thrown in! This style of storage also makes it immediately apparent if even a single piece is missing - this allows it to be searched for and recovered straight away, allowing the material to remain complete for longer.
For Pre-school age children I recommend presenting half of the tower by dividing the pieces so that it builds only to approximately half-height. The half-height tower is more stable, and less likely to topple. This allows the younger child to learn the structure of the game, and practice the fine motor movements and cognitive problem-solving, with more chance of success.
So, there are all these wonderful benefits of the game, but I still haven't mentioned my very favourite thing about the Tumbling Tower - turning it into an amazing game of open discussion and revelation for older children (even teenagers!).
In 2012 I was lucky enough to attend a workshop presented by Dr Richard Rose, a highly respected therapist who works with children who have been affected by trauma. Dr Rose's workshop, and my further reading of his book Life Story Therapy With Traumatised Children (you can buy a copy here), provided many inspiring insights and ideas to support and engage with children who have experienced trauma. I also found that many of his ideas were equally useful for my work with children who (thankfully) have not been affected by these difficult experiences. A lot of his suggestions relating to ways of addressing, interacting with and engaging with children could be considered 'best practice' ideals for any parent or educator. Of all his ideas my favourite was his take on 'Jenga'.
Dr Rose's version of 'Jenga' is a game intended to promote positive bonding, honest interaction, breaking down of barriers, family communication and group interaction. He uses it with his therapy patients but I used it with my niece (who is happy and healthy, although like many children she has certainly endured some challenging moments in her life). I discovered that it was a wonderful game which provided a fun, non-confrontational way to address some new topics and inspire open dialogue. It would be equally useful for parents wishing to engage with their child(ren), for educators working with older children, for school counsellors or in a classroom setting where a group of children need to engage in 'team-building'.
Here is the basic outline of the 'Rose' version of Tumbling Tower:
- On each of the Tower pieces write a question. The adult can do this alone, to guide the discussions in a particular direction, or the child(ren) can be involved in the process of coming up with questions. In my case I got Emily to help me write the questions - because I thought it would be just as revealing to discover what kind of questions are important to her.
- When a player takes out a Tower piece he/she reads the question aloud and answers. The game can be played with only that player answering, or with all players answering the question. I prefer the latter - Emily was interested in my answers too and I found that by role-modelling honesty and openness she was more likely to respond in the same manner. The game continues in the normal fashion - with the removed piece being replaced to the top.
A couple of notes:
The questions should be based on the context. If it is a classroom game for a group of children then it is best to keep the tone light but still engaging - "What is your favourite song and why?" allows a child to express his/her personality and tastes without needing to reveal anything too personal. In a family you might like to push the envelope a little with deeper, more delving questions - "What is your biggest fear?" for example. I personally found that a balance of probing and light-hearted questions was ideal for us as it allowed for honest discussion without becoming too 'heavy'.
You can 'colour-code' the tower pieces. If you choose to include a mixture of questions as I did (such as 'light-hearted' and 'personal') then you might choose to identify these by colouring in the ends of the pieces. Yellow might represent the light-hearted questions, with green representing the more personal ones. This empowers the child to be able to make conscious choices about the kinds of question that he/she feels ready and willing to answer.
The game can be played more than once - even with the same child. This is partly because not all of the pieces will be removed in a single game - so there are more questions waiting for you next time. It is also because a child's answers will change over time. Several months passed between the first and second time that I played this with Emily and I learned a lot by taking note of how her answers evolved. It has been particularly interesting to keep track of which answers remain constant for her and which things are more dynamic.
Please note: I do not condone forcing a child to answer the questions. Regardless of the context (whether it is at home, in the classroom, in a one-on-one dynamic or within a group) I don't think it is healthy or appropriate for a child to feel compelled to reveal information. Even if you think it is a 'light-hearted' question there might be a reason why a particular child does not feel ready to reveal his/her answer (particularly in a classroom setting). The 'Montessori adult' who facilitates this game should be sure to make it clear to all players that answering is a choice. I suggest making a rule that a player who chooses not to answer is allowed to hold onto his/her piece in case he/she is ready to answer the question later in the game.