Handwriting Expectations for 4th Grade and Beyond

Marina Scott, MS, OTR/L

October 1, 2019

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Question

What are 4th grade and beyond expectations for handwriting?

Answer

Here are some of the things that should be solidified by fourth grade.

  • The grip is established.
  • Letter memory is well established.
  • Some students have developed a handwriting style.
  • Cursive has been or is being taught.

Most kids have a grip established. When somebody says a child has "a poor grip," it is unlikely that it is going to change. While it is certainly something that you could work on, but think about how long these kids had been writers. They have learned how to hold on to their pencils by this time. Letter memories are also well established. They should have no problem recalling how to form letters. Some students have developed a handwriting style, while some students have not. Cursive is usually taught in 3rd or 4th grade. Many places that still teach it starting in third grade and sharpen it up in fourth grade. 

  • Printing fluency is well established.
  • Cursive fluency is established (by the end of 4th grade).
  • Students can easily write a paragraph.
  • Habits (good or bad) are established.

Again, printing and cursive fluency should both be established by the end of fourth grade or should be. Students can easily write a paragraph, and whatever habits they have, good or bad, are also set by this grade.

Students should also be more focused on the content than on the mechanics. There are many kids who still struggle with mechanics. And by mechanics, I mean letter formation, sizing, spacing, and baseline orientation. These things should come pretty quickly and easily to students in fourth grade, but as I am sure you may have seen in your practice, it is not always the case. Mechanics should be secondary to what they are writing by this point. Once a child has learned incorrectly or has established bad habits,  this can be very difficult to change. If you are seeing a child for handwriting, you have to adjust your priorities for a fourth-grade level and move on. Speaking about habits, 2009 research from the College of London says it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days, on average 66 days, to change a habit. That is a little less than half of the school year, and that would be practicing handwriting consistently every single solitary day.


marina scott

Marina Scott, MS, OTR/L

Marina Scott, MS, OTRL/L, has been an occupational therapist for 17 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. She has spent her career in school districts both private and public, early intervention and private pediatric clinics. She has a daughter, and her hobbies include reading and knitting. 


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