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.

Posture assessment

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.

Tips on assessing a child

Use our tips on running the assessments to make it as stress free as possible for the child.

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.

  • Can they do this quite easily?
  • 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).

  • Can they walk the rope and maintain their balance?
  • Stairs (Balance and Coordination)

    Ask the child to walk up and down the stairs.

  • Can they manage independently?
  • Are they using alternating feet?
  • 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.

  • Can they identify the object?
  • Do the same activity again but this time ask the child to use one hand at a time to feel the object.
  • Can they identify the object using the left and right hand?
  • 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.

  • Did they find the second game more difficult?
  • 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.

  • Are they happy to play or touch the wet, cold, smooth, slimy textures?
  • Are they happy to play or touch the larger more gritty, rough textures?
  • Are they happy to touch and mould resistant modelling type materials?
  • 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.

  • Can they make shallow indentations with the fingers from both hands?
  • Reshape the dough and ask them to press as hard as they can with each finger.

  • Can they make deep indentations with the fingers from both hands?
  • 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.

  • Can they do both sides easily?
  • Do they struggle with one side?
  • 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.

  • Can they do this easily?
  • Can they accurately point to the body parts mentioned in the game?
  • Ball Skills (Coordination)

    Use a medium sized soft ball.

    Start by rolling the ball to the child.

  • Can they stop / catch the ball?
  • Can they roll the ball back to you fairly accurately?
  • If they have difficulty at this stage do not move to the throwing stage.

    Throw the ball gently using an underarm throw.

  • Can they catch the ball?
  • Can they throw the ball back to you fairly accurately, preferably 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.

  • Can they hold one or two items in the palm of their right hand while picking up another piece with this hand?
  • Can they hold one or two items in the palm of their left hand while picking up another piece with this hand?
  • 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.

  • Can they touch each finger to thumb on their right hand?
  • Can they touch each finger to thumb on their left hand?
  • Can they change speed, order and pressure?
  • 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.

  • Can they cup their hands?
  • Do they release the dice easily?
  • 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.

  • Can they cut thin and thick paper?
  • Can they cut fairly accurately around shapes or pictures?
  • Tips on assessing a child’s strength for handwriting

    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.