An Eco-Active Imagination

Many of you probably played Jenga as a child, but it is possible to redefine the game for children and adults and turn it into something new and exciting. I'm talking about something called “Lawn Jenga” or, if you don't want to step on Hasbro's proverbial toes, we will call it “Lawn Blocks.” Following the themes of An Eco-Active Imagination, I will describe how this craft and game can fit the three themes of artistic expression, sustainability, and health and wellness. Lawn Blocks

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Hasbro's version of the game or variations, the rules are straightforward. You use 54 blocks and create 22 levels of three blocks. You place the first row thusly | | | and then proceed to create the next row by placing three more blocks atop and perpendicular to the first (level one would be north-south, level two east-west, and repeat). Each block is three times as long as it is wide, which means that, if you follow the pattern, you will end up with a neat tower.

The rules of the game are varied depending on how or who you play, but basically each player takes a turn pulling out a block. The player who knocks over the tower loses. Depending on the integrity of the tower, sometimes pulling blocks closer to the bottom are harder, sometimes not. Players can strategically weaken the tower by removing important blocks so that opponents lose on the next turn. This game is extremely popular with children, because it is fun even when the tower topples over and spreads the blocks across the table.

A great way to play is to create your own version of the game to play outside on the lawn, using blocks that are much bigger than for a typical game of Jenga. The process that I am going to describe in the sections below will show you how to go about constructing blocks with the correct dimensions and then how to decorate them (or add challenges to them) to add new elements to the game.

Artistic Expression

Creating the blocks for this game, whether you want to call it “Jenga” like the commercial version or not, is more of a craft than “high” or conceptual art.

Image from The Daily Delight

In order to create the tower, you will need some wood blocks. This page explains how to go about taking larger pieces of wood and turning them into uniform blocks. The article describes how to use metric measurements, but one of the contributors explained the process using inches and wood cuts that the typical American could easily pick out at Lowe’s. Keep in mind that you are scaling up 54 blocks to make the type of blocks that are show in the picture above:

[Use] regular 2x4 wall studs [and] cut 54 of those suckers at 10.5 inches . . . With "spf" 2x4's these blocks are heavy enough, so I would not recommend a hardwood for safety and convenience reasons. If you could find an "s4s"(sanded 4 sides) pine 2x4 that would help with finishing work but it is not likely you will. You can do it with 7 @ 8' 2x4's but you should get 8 so that you can pick the best pieces.

The contributor sanded the pieces himself, using a 220 grit on a rubber sanding block so that the pieces were nice and smooth. Of course, it is possible to find the 2x4's already sanded, so that, when you cut the pieces to get your 54 blocks, you only have to hand the edges that were cut. Sanding is not necessary, but it is recommended. Afterward your pieces are smooth, you can use a wax from a hardware store to apply to each piece, let dry for at least 30 minutes, and then buff the block pieces so that they shine.

The reason sanding and waxing is recommended is so there will not be unnecessary friction when you play and try to pull out the blocks. A certain amount of friction is necessary, but extra friction may change the game a bit.

Instead of waxing, you can always paint the blocks and add additional elements, depending upon how you want to blocks to look or the game to be played. For example, you can decorate the blocks with your own unique designs using paint, markers, or whatever will stay on the wood. But if you ask me, the best way to play is to take a sharpie and write challenges on the blocks. I played this game a few times at a friends house, and he had different hilarious dares written on each block. When you pulled out the block, you had to do the what it said. My personal favorite was “Act like a pterodactyl.” Few things are more hilarious than watching a friend wave her arms around and screech like a prehistoric creature.

One late note, if you want to use wood for this project, be aware that these blocks have larger dimensions than commercial Jenga blocks. Therefore, a heavy wood or other material can be dangerous if it falls on a small child.


Sustainability is, in part, about limiting consumption and carefully managing resources. The mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” can be applied here if you avoid going out to purchase wood specifically for this project. Instead, you can choose to reuse pieces of “scrap” wood lying, though you may have trouble finding enough wood to create 54 blocks that are uniform in shape and size. If you have enough cardboard (maybe from old cereal, appliance, or storage boxes), you could cut each side of a block and then fasten them together with some adhesive you have lying around in order to create uniform rectangular pieces. If you do not use wood, however, be aware that the game may be affected. Wood is obviously easier to stack and the dynamics of the game, from playing with friction and making the tower wobbly for the next player, will certainly be changed if you use cardboard or another material. The blocks will not carry the same weight, either, so be aware of this. Again, the point is to avoid going out to purchase new materials for this project. If you can find something around your home that can be repurposed for this project, then you are being eco-friendly in a small but significant way.

If you are resolved to purchase wood so that you can cut uniform blocks that are the “right” size and dimensions, then you can make some choices

Health and Wellness

Jenga seems like a simple game, but there are multiple strategies that can be utilized to win, as explained in-depth in this article by Jason Ziglar of Carnegie Melon University. Ziglar analyzes the various moves available to a player in Jenga, categorizing the moves based upon the position of the block on a row (left, middle, or right) versus position in a column and factoring in friction versus the looseness of a block. This is not an attempt to overcomplicate the game; this is merely an attempt to expound upon players’ preexisting strategies. Are you the type of player who makes safe moves using loose blocks closer to the top of the Jenga tower, or do you take risks by trying to pull out a foundational block in order to weaken the tower?

This game is not very physical, but you can choose to incorporate exercise into it. Earlier I suggested writing down tasks on each block so that a player has to do what is written when she pulls it out. Since this is the outdoor version of the game and on a much larger scale than the table-top version, you can write down physical tasks like “Do 20 jumping jacks” or “Do a lap around the house.” These challenges can get pretty intense, if you choose to make them that way.