Key Strengths assessment for gross & fine motor skills
Use this assessment to find out if a child has the appropriate strengths to write comfortably and correctly.
The assessment has been designed to help you identify, and support, a child’s individual needs.
Print off the Assessment Sheet, then click on the sections below for the assessment activities.
Having assessed a child, if they need to improve, there are Physical Ability Activity Programs you can use to help develop their skills.
Physical ability assessment sheet
Check the child’s physical strength by observing them doing our simple activities. The activities have been grouped by Key Strength.
You then only have to work on the Key Strength they need to improve. Use one of our activity programs if they need to work on more than one.
This refers to the muscle groups that support the pelvis, trunk, shoulders and arms that provide a stable base so that a good sitting position can be maintained allowing the hands and fingers to move freely. These gross motor skills help a child’s sitting position, making handwriting more comfortable.
Sensory perception assessment
Sensory perception is the ability to send accurate messages to the brain when holding and touching objects. The games and activities are suitable for pre and primary school children and help to improve their sensory perception skills, enabling them to hold a pencil correctly and to use the correct pressure when handwriting and therefore helping to improve handwriting.
Bilateral coordination assessment
This refers to the use of the left and right sides of the body, needed for coordination, well balanced movement, including those that require movements such as the left arm moving across the body to the right hand side. These gross motor skills let a child handwrite freely across the width of the paper.
Hand and finger muscle assessment
This relates to the strength and agility of the hands and fingers so that a child can manipulate, coordinate and have the correct muscle tone for activities such as handwriting and using scissors. These fine motor skills help a child manipulate a pencil and thus form letter shapes.
Key Strengths assessment record sheet
Posture base assessment for handwriting
For good posture the large muscle groups that support the pelvis, trunk, shoulders and arms need to work in a coordinated way (gross motor skills). Strong and well developed gross motor skills gives the body a stable base (core strength) required for balance and stability, supporting coordination skills.
Once a child has developed their core strength they will need to retrain the brain to communicate more effectively with the muscle groups to further improve balance, stability and coordination.
The three activities below assess these key areas. Following the assessment, if a child needs to improve any of these skills, use the “Games to improve posture base” or look at the Physical Ability Activity Programs.
Curl-ups (Core Strength)
Ask the child to lie on their back with their knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Get them to hold a bean bag or small fluffy toy between the knees to keep them together. Then to place their hands on their thighs.
Ask them to try to curl up so that their head and shoulders lift up from the floor and that their hands slide further up their legs towards their knees.
Make it clear they are only to lift as far as is comfortable and not to lift their feet off the floor.
Tightrope Walking (Balance and Stability)
Lay a piece of rope 5 - 10 metres in length or chalk a line on a path.
Ask the child to walk along the line slowly.
If the child is under the age of 5, just walking is appropriate, if you have an older child and they can walk the line quite well, maintaining their balance, ask them to walk heel-to-toe (Pigeon Steps).
Stairs (Balance and Coordination)
Ask the child to walk up and down the stairs.
Sensory perception base assessment for handwriting
The ability to send accurate messages to the brain when holding and touching objects (sensory perception) is an important developmental stage. It enables children to identify objects and textures through touch as well as being able to judge the appropriate pressure required to hold and release them safely.
The three activities below assess these key areas. Following the assessment, if the child needs to improve any of these skills, use the “Games toimprove sensory perception” or look at the Physical Ability Activity Programs.
Guess the Object (Tactile Perception)
Secretly place a familiar object into a bag or box that the child cannot see into.
Ask them to feel the object in the bag with both hands and tell you what they think it is. Try this a couple of times with different objects the child is familiar with. You go first to show how the game is played if they seem reluctant to try.
To make the game more difficult put several objects into the bag. Ask them to find a specific item or just to identify all the objects.
Tactile Play (Tactile Defensive)
Ask the child to touch and move their hands through finger paints, sand, dirt or corn flour mixed with water. Ask the child to draw patterns or retrieve items from materials. Try using more resistant materials such as plasticine, play dough, clay or play putty.
How Much Pressure (Tactile Perception - Pressure)
Place a large ball of modelling material such as play dough onto a flat surface and ask the child to use one finger at a time to push down into the dough gently.
Reshape the dough and ask them to press as hard as they can with each finger.
Bilateral coordination base assessment for handwriting
A key developmental bilateral skill for children is being able to move their left arm across their chest to their right side and visa versa (crossing the mid-line).
It is important for a child to develop their body awareness, knowing their left side from their right side, being able to locate the various points of the body and be aware of how they move and relate to each other.
Good bilateral coordination allows the body to move in an easy and well coordinated way, as both the left and right hand sides of the body are working in unison.
The three activities below assess these key areas. Following the assessment, if a child needs to improve any of these skills, use the “Games to improve bilateral coordination” or look at the Physical Ability Activity Programs.
Hands and Knees (Mid-line)
Ask the child to stand in front of you and to place their right hand on their left knee. Then ask them to place their left hand on their right knee. If necessary show them how to do this and then get them to try it on their own.
To vary the game you can ask them to raise the left knee as high as possible as the right hand comes across the body to touch the knee. Or get them to do this, but touching their toes not knees.
Simon Says (Left / Right Body Awareness)
Play a game of Simon Says focusing on encouraging the child to think about using the left and then right side of the body.
Get them to put their left hand in the air, and then down and then do the same with the right hand.
See if the child can touch their left knee with their left hand and then the same on their right side.
Ball Skills (Coordination)
Use a medium sized soft ball.
Start by rolling the ball to the child.
If they have difficulty at this stage do not move to the throwing stage.
Throw the ball gently using an underarm throw.
Hand and finger muscle base assessment for handwriting
Dexterity of the hands and fingers is necessary to hold and manipulate objects; this should improve as a child develops.
In-hand manipulation is the coordination of the hand and fingers moving and working together enabling them to pick up small items and hold several in the palm at the same time.
Strengthening the arches of the hands and bringing the fingers together at the same time helps to improve the ability to cup and release the hands as one fluid movement. This allows children to pick up larger objects and place them accurately.
Fine manipulation of objects requires good individual finger movements of both hands.
Good hand strength and agility is a combination of the three skills above.
The four activities below assess these key areas. Following the assessment, if a child needs to improve any of these skills, use the “Games to improve hand & finger muscles” or look at the Physical Ability Activity Programs.
How Many Can You Hold? (In-hand Manipulation)
Use small objects such as pieces of lego, small marbles, beads or dried peas or pasta, so that a child can hold several in their hand at a time.
See how many they can pick up and hold in the same hand in one go without dropping them. Do this with each hand in turn.
Finger Tap Dancing (Individual Finger Movements)
With their hands out in front of them ask the child to try to tap each finger in turn against their thumb, one hand at a time. To make this more fun try to change the speed, order and pressure so that it seems as if the fingers are tap dancing.
Shake the Dice (Arches of Hands & Grip Release)
The aim is to see if a child can shake the dice cupped inside two hands and release it. You may need to show them this first.
Watch carefully to see if they release the dice quickly from the shaking movement or do they stop shaking and seem over hesitant in releasing the dice.
Crazy Scissors (Hand Strength)
Use appropriately sized and handedness scissors if possible and scrap pieces of paper for this activity.
Start with thin paper types such as newspaper and gradually move to thicker paper such as scrap pages from a magazine.
Ask the child to just cut into the paper or around a simple shape drawn on the paper or a simple picture already on the paper.
Tips on assessing a child’s strength for handwriting
- If you already know the child finds some things difficult, or alternatively can competently do a task, then just tick the assessment sheet appropriately.
- Do not make a child do a task you know they cannot manage, or will find very hard to do.
- If the child starts a task and quickly becomes frustrated, or looks like they are getting upset, then stop the activity as it is a clear sign something is wrong. It may be they are just not in the mood and trying another time may be better. It may be that they really can’t do the task and so just tick the “No” column as it is an area that needs further support.
- Try not to do the assessment all in one go. The best way to start is to watch the child when they are playing and see which areas of the assessment you can tick off. This way the child is unaware of what you are doing and they are behaving naturally; a much better way of seeing what they can really do!
- Some activities will have to be set up and done with you, model the action or activity you would like them to try and see if they can copy you successfully, or find it tricky, this will give you all the information you need.
- Do not spend too long on an activity as the child will become bored and not want to try others.
- Do not worry if a child cannot manage a task, it may be that they have not learnt the skill required as yet, or that they are not developmentally ready (still a little too young). For some it may be that they need to specifically build up these key strength areas. Whatever the reason the games and activities are designed to support children of all ages and stages of their development, pick the appropriate level for the child and have fun!
Learning and developing new strengths and skills takes time, patience, praise and encouragement. After 6 months it can be really helpful to do the assessment again to see how the child has improved and which areas may still need your support.