Game Night in the Clinic

Who says therapy has to be boring?

Jenga is a game by Parker Brothers that came onto the scene back in the 1980s. The game requires players to remove a small rectangular block from a tower of 54 blocks, each stacked three across in perpendicular rows. Once removed, the player has to place the block on the top of the tower without knocking it over.

Jenga requires manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, precision and strategy (problem solving). Jenga is a fun game when played on a Friday night with friends and family, but did you know that it can be used as a tool for several activities in the OT clinic? I use a Jenga-style game with blocks in primary colors (red, blue, yellow).

Here are just a few activities for which I use my stacking blocks:

Sequencing and matching. Take 5-6 blocks and set them in a pattern. Give the same amount and same color of blocks to the patient. Have them make the same sequence.

Fine-motor coordination. Patients that have decreased fine-motor control will be asked to either play the actual game or downgrade it to just picking the blocks up and stacking them, placing them in a pattern, or building something.

Adaptive equipment use. Patients will play the game on the corner of a table while standing or sitting. When the tower falls down on the floor, hand them a reacher and have them pick up the blocks.

Problem solving. Have the patient think about cause and effect. What happens when you remove one block from the stack?

Postural example. Show patients how not having their bodies “stacked” effects their ability to stand and remain standing. Show them that if they don’t have their feet, knees, hips and shoulders in line, it could cause them to tumble, much like the tower. When walking, standing or transferring, say “Remember, you have to be like the blocks and stand tall, with one part stacked on top of the other.” This seems to click because they have seen on a smaller scale what could happen.

Occupational therapy’s roots trace back to simply having a patient do what they love, and be able to do it to the best of their abilities. Many games go through an activity analysis during which researchers see what each game requires for player participation.

We all have patients who are opposed to therapeutic activities, but many have no problem playing a game. Why not take a look in your game closet and see what might cover a wide range of treatment goals? You may be surprised how many uses you can get from one game.

Whether used for school-based treatments or in a geriatric rehab facility, games are fun for people of all ages. You can be the “fun therapist that plays games,” and your patients will never know that they are actually working on their goals. Who says therapy has to be boring?

Good luck, get moving, and set yourself apart!

About The Author