Games that support language:

Barrier Games


Have you ever played Battleship?

Do you know that the idea behind this game is also used in some games that can support children’s receptive language, vocabulary and social skills?

Today I’d like to tell you about these games, which are called “Barrier Games”.

Barrier Games are super adaptable to children’s language skills, so you can use them with children of all ages.



What you need to play:

  • A Barrier, which can be formed by a board, a folder or even an open book placed vertically.
  • Two completely identical playsets: for example, two copies of a picture to colour with two sets of markers of the same colour, or the same pieces of Duplo or Lego.
  • A little imagination!


How to play:

The two players sit at the table and place the barrier between them, one of the players says what to do, and both players have to do it.

For example, if you have a picture to colour, the first player might say: “Let’s colour the roof of the house red!”. When both players have finished carrying out the action, they will have to raise the sheet to check if they have done the same thing.

In our case, especially at the beginning, we parents can take the role of the player who gives the instructions, and our child will have to follow them.

However, as they learn the rules of this game, we can also switch roles and allow the child to give us instructions.



Useful tips for playing:


# 1: Adapt the game to your child’s language level.

This is a tip that can be used for each and every game, but it is relevant to barrier games in particular. Before we begin, we need to understand at what level our child’s language is.

If our child knows the colours but does not remember the names of the animals, we can structure the game on that, for example ask them to colour certain animals a certain colour (“Colour the fish yellow”). It would be different, however, if our child doesn’t know colours well, and in that case, we should choose something easier.



# 2: Follow your child’s interest.

Make sure that the game is always interesting and fun for your child. Change the turns, once you are the one giving the instructions, the next time it will be them, so that the game remains varied and motivating. Decide with them which picture to colour or if they want to use Playdoh, Lego or Duplo.



# 3: What if there is no barrier?

If there is no barrier, do not despair, you can still play the barrier games in alternative ways.

For example, you and your baby can sit in two distant parts of the room (be careful that communication is not affected by distance – it is important that your child hears all the words of your instructions) or sit back to back.

Or you can use your phone or iPad, with which you can watch an already coloured drawing or an already built Lego model, and you can tell your child what to do.



What skills do we support with these games?


  • Attention and Memory: the child needs to be attentive to what you say and keep it in their memory in order to carry it out.
  • Receptive Language: the child will have to understand what you say to them.
  • Social skills: the child will have the opportunity to ask to repeat, or to say that they could not hear or understand the instruction; in this way they will be able to acquire the social skills that will be important for them also in the school context.


These are the characteristics of one of the games I play the most with my patients of all ages, because it is so flexible that it can be adapted to various levels.


Hope you enjoyed it and let me know if you’d like some more practical Barrier Games ideas to use with your children.