Barrier Activity: Fun Games with Limited Supplies Needed

One thing I love about working so closely with other disciplines at KidSense is how easily we bounce ideas off of each other. My fellow co-worker, Ms. Katharine, told me about a “barrier activity” she had tried with some of her speech therapy clients. We then adjusted the game to work towards my client’s occupational therapy goals and realized how many different senses/skills we can target.

A barrier activity can be described as a game where there is an occlusion between players. The most commonly played way is when there is a physical barrier (i.e. an easel) that blocks a player’s view, requiring them to use their verbal communication skills to complete a task. Barrier activities have become an engaging tool I’ve been incorporating into my sessions that target a variety of skills as you will see outlined below. The best part is you can easily adjust the game to target different skills using different senses! The following segments outline the various versions and how they focus on different senses of the body. 


Auditory Version

Targets following information filtered through the auditory system, by giving instructions verbally.  

Supplies Needed: Paper, pencil, a barrier between players (if needed), 2+ players

How to Play:  All players must sit with vision occluded from each other (i.e. placing something between them, backs facing each other) so that players cannot see each other’s drawings. Each player takes a turn giving an instruction (i.e. “draw a semi-circle in the middle of the page, draw 3 lines under the semi-circle, draw 5 stars on the left side of the page”). There is a limited amount of talking allowed between turns (no clarification questions) as it makes it more fun at the end during the reveal. At the end of the game, players reveal their drawings and compare the similarities and differences. The results often include lots of laughs as well as opportunities to analyze how the directions were provided/interpreted. Players are able to give each other feedback and apply strategies to increase accuracy in subsequent trials. 

Depending on how specific the instruction is (i.e. giving spatial concepts of “above” “below”, “to the right of”, etc.) it will likely affect how alike or different the drawings are. Therapists will often play as well to show how silly the picture can look by taking every instruction literally. The group then discusses how we all may interpret instruction differently, and how important it is to be specific when giving instruction.

Grade Up/Down: You can adjust this game for younger children by allowing clarification questions, showing samples of how to draw the shapes on another sheet of paper, and giving 1 step directions. You can grade this game up by giving multi-step instructions (“draw an arrow to the heart and then draw 3 circles under the heart”) and using more advanced spatial terms and inclusionary language ( “above the heart but below the square”).

Tactile Version: Targets following information filtered through tactile (light touch) input

Supplies Needed: Paper, pencil, 2 players

How to Play:  Player 1 uses their finger to “draw” on Player 2’s back. Player 2 uses pencil and paper to draw what they visualize is being drawn on their back.

Grade Up/Down: You can grade this activity down by drawing one shape at a time, or grade it up by drawing multiple shapes to create a picture or scene.


Vision Version

Targets following information filtered through visual input

Supplies Needed: Copy of pre-written instructions, pencil, and paper for each player

How to Play: Player 1 writes directions out for other players and the remaining players use the written instruction to complete the picture.

Two options:

  1. An adult can write instructions first and make some very specific, and others vague to adjust the game.
  2. Kids can play it themselves and practice using spatial terms, letter formation, spelling, and more.

Grade Up/Down: You can grade this activity down by giving them one instruction at a time and covering the other steps. You can grade this activity up by having the players follow multi-step directions (i.e. draw a line next to the circle and two stars next to the line).


OT Skill Areas Addressed During Barrier Games

  • Visual Motor Skills
    • Integrating the visual and motor systems to draw a variety of shapes
  • Fine Motor Skills
    • Practicing holding the pencil correctly when drawing
  • Executive Functioning
    • Visual planning & organization (verbalizing what you want the other players to draw)
    • Making visualizations (picturing in head before writing it down)
    • Sequencing (multiple steps being given at once)
    • Working memory (being able to hold onto the instructions)
    • Long term memory (remember right versus left, how to draw certain shapes)
  • Social Cognition
    • Taking turns
    • Interpreting information being given by peer
    • Verbalizing instruction to peers

If you look at the pictures below you may be wondering why some share similar features while others look completely different. Although each person was following the same set of instructions the way they interpreted the instruction affected the outcome of their drawing, which is part of what makes this activity so much fun! 

Game Samples:

GAME 1
GAME 2

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