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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

How young is too young for cursive?

October 21, 2008

My friend Cathy called to talk about her daughter's first grade teacher. Lilly, her six year old, started complaining about school a few weeks ago, and over the past two weeks the situation has gotten steadily worse. Cathy finally coaxed it out of Lilly that the problem is all about handwriting. Lilly's teacher requires that all school assignments, including spelling tests, be written in cursive. In cursive! In first grade! Lilly's handwriting is apparently not up to par, and she's had to do lots of extra practice sheets to work on her cursive writing. No wonder she hates school!

When I taught third grade, I taught cursive. My students had handwriting workbooks, and right after recess we'd come in and do a page or two of handwriting. The students LOVED handwriting time; it was definitely the quietest part of our day! I still remember looking across the room to see my students, usually with their tongue stuck out the side of their mouth, really concentrating on those loopy lines and "letter shields."

Third grade seemed like a reasonable age to teach cursive; their fine motor skills were fairly good, and their understanding of locatives (words used for spatial and temporal concepts such as "up" or "next to") was solid. But first grade? C'mon! My first-grader is still working on her letter and word spacing. I can't imagine her trying to link two letters together to write in cursive.

Some folks question whether we should teach cursive at all, given that most students will do most of their writing assignments on the computer anyways. Others suggest that maybe kids' interest in learning cursive should be the deciding factor as to whether and when to teach cursive.

What's your opinion? Should we still teach cursive to kids? And if so, at what age should we begin?

Comments

I agree with you on the timing. I have taught second and third graders for many years. I usually introduce cursive writing towards the end of second grade and they are thrilled to be learning how to write like their parents and older siblings. Handwriting becomes a very exciting part of the day!I have been teaching in international schools for the past 17 years. It's curious that many students from other national school systems, especially European students, come to me already reading and writing in cursive. It has become a challenge as our non-European students in first and second grade try to use texts and workbooks from France in their French classes. For my international students we still need to teach cursive, both the reading and writing of cursive. I think eliminating cursive writing from elementary curriculum would be a mistake; however, building on students' interests is always ideal in teaching anything.

I read your post and thought it made perfect sense. Then I read this from your link out:"The Montessori school teaches the primary children cursive writing because it develops fine motor skills and is easier to learn than print."What the heck?!

I have been teaching third grade for eight years now.The second grade teachers begin teaching the students a few of the lowercase letters in cursive toward the end of the year. In third grade, we review the letters they were taught and teach the rest. However, during the first half of the year I cannot read many of my students' printing. Letters are formed incorrectly or extremely large. It is difficult to get all of their printing straightened out so that I can teach cursive. I cannot even begin to imagine teaching cursive before third grade! Also, they seem to be excited and interested in learning cursive while I have them. This definitely makes it easier to teach.

When I was in elementary school, we learned cursive during second grade, but we weren't allowed to use it outside of handwriting and spelling time until late in the year. In third grade, however, it was all cursive, all the time, and especially on spelling tests. I remember having some trouble with the cursive letter combinations and getting my spelling words marked wrong because of it- as if spelling tests weren't bad enough! At this school, no matter how horrible your handwriting was, you wrote in cursive until middle school. Although many things have changed since I attended, the handwriting rule is still in place (it was a private school). I can't imagine requiring first graders to learn and use cursive just a few months into their formal schooling career (not that kindergarten doesn't count!). There are enough issues for these kids just getting their thoughts onto the paper, I don't see why it's necessary to add another barrier in the process. I didn't have too many issues with cursive in second grade, but I quickly dumped it once I was able to in middle school. Maybe I would have better feelings toward cursive if we started later?

I think first grade is far too early for cursive. I was just in a first grade class last week and these students were just learning how to write letters in print. They were confused as it was, I couldn't imagine adding cursive to the mix. I also have a friend who is teaching third grade and is just starting to introduce cursive, which is the age that I think it should happen. I agree that students need to be excited to write in cursive, not coming home complaining about their handwriting in first grade. They have enough to adjust to at that age as it is.

The ABeka curriculum teaches cursive handwriting in K4; no manuscript is taught. The school changed last year so K4-2nd teaches manuscript; 2nd semester of Grade 2, cursive is introduced.

My daughter is learning cursive writing in pre-school, and she is doing great. She has no problem with it at all. She is 5.

My son is in 2nd grade and already know cursive.. But the handwriting/curvise was in the D'nealian style. He didn't really have a problem with it though.

I began homeschooling my daughter this past year. She is in 1st grade and using the ABeka Homeschooling system. She learned cursive the first half of her 1st grade year and had no problems at all. Her cursive is much neater and prettier than her print. When my second daughter reaches K4, I want to homeschool her as well and I will begin the cursive curriculum with her. Because of the individualized attention and instruction that my daughter is getting, cursive was very easy for me to teach to her and we do not spend more than 15 minutes per day on Writing.

Research shows, in any case, that the fastest and clearest handwriters avoid cursive. Highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters tend to use print-like letter-shapes wherever printed and cursive letters "disagree" -- these fastest, clearest handwriters also join only some of the letters, making the easiest joins and skipping the rest. Even signatures do not legally require cursive, and never have required it -- simply ask your attorney! (Yes -- anyone telling you that "signatures require cursive" has misrepresented the law of the land.) Kate Gladstone Founder and CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works handwriting improvement service Director, World Handwriting Contest

Kate's spamming - she's posted that EVERYWHERE where they talk about cursive writing.I was under the impression that cursive was taught first in most other countries, including in the Montessori system (which, of course, isn't a trademarked term), and that it used to be taught first in the US as well, up until the 30s or 40s.

Cursive is the most natural and is the easiest for students. Need to use a cursive style as in UK that is easily recognized with manuscript. UK is the only country in Europe that does not begin with cursive but is changing do to clear evidence from the other European countries it is better. Previous post was uninformed regarding the UK. Cursive follows natural movement (watch preschoolers draw); clearly delineates the concept of a word; aids writing fluency; no chance of reversals; less brain time wasted on mechanical aspects for it is quickly learned (unless child has some processing problem other than learning disability).

I began using the "Cursive First" curriculum with my twins when they were five years old (we were home schooling K5). They already knew how to print their upper and lower case letters, and now--at age 6 and beginning first grade--they are equally comfortable writing cursive or print.

I was forced to learn cursive when I started school at 4, when I could barely write in print. Because of this I really dislike writing cursive and have not written in it since elementary school (except for my signature).

I home school my six year old son. He has learned almost all of the lowercase letters in cursive and is well on his way to learning the uppercase letters in cursive as well. I did a query to find out what age he should be learning cursive( I like to be ahead of what public schools require.) In my opinion, if the child is ready then go ahead and teach cursive at any age and in any grade. I believe that is what the problem is with public schools, they make curriculums based on the lowest denominator not the highest. Children should be expected to learn at their highest potential not at some other child's potential which may be lower.

My son is using ABeka for 1st grade.....uhg!!! What a mess!! He is super creative (as are his mother and me) ABeka stinks, is BORING and we can't wait to put him into a program that does not feel like a long, outdated, boring, Sunday school class...CURSIVE in 1st grade come on!! When do any of you even use cursive in everyday life anymore? Answer. Never. ABeka needs a complete remake. Start with less boring, boring, boring....looooonnnnggggggg classes! My thoughts, forgive the tone! Hate ABeka!

I am American but lived in England for some time with my husband and two kids. My kids were taught cursive at age 5 (kinder equivalent) and the teachers told me that the new research stated it helped with muscle memory for spelling. My kids did fine with this and so did their English friends.

I don't know what Abeka program you guys were using, but my son did Abeka the last two years for kindergarten and frist grade and they teach d'nealian printing, not cursive in kindergarten and first grade.

i think that they should atleast start at fourth grade so that their brains arent jammed up with more advanced things they dont need to know at a young age.

I am going to chime in here with the other Europeans. I am an American living in France. I was shocked when I saw that cursive was being introduced in grade K. However my concerns quickly turned to amazement when I saw that my kids, and all the other kids in the class, did not seem to mind one bit. My daughter is half- way through first grade now and has beautiful cursive writing and great (print) reading skills.

my daughter is 5 yrs old and is currently using the abeka curriculum in school. However i don't think that a 4 or 5 year old child should be focusing on cursive writing until they reach the 3rd grade. What they should be doing is identifying letters,learning letter formation and letter sounds. There are other methods that can be used to develop their finer muscles at this age than cursive writing.

I am Bulgarian and in Bulgaria children start first grade when they are 6 or 7 year old. Cursive writing is taught in 1st grade. Children are never taught to write in print in Bulgaria, as it is not necessary. This seems normal to me. In fact I was very shocked when I went to the USA and a 9 year old child told me, that he wasn't taught cursive writing yet! To get an idea how shocked I really was, imagine that a child in third grade tells you that he hasn't been taught how to read! Actually I don't get the point of teaching children to write in print first. Print is for typewriters and computers, not for handwriting.

My grandson is using Abeka in 1st grade and I think he is doing great. He is left handed and his letters are very very legible BUT he is getting a D because his letters are an eighth of an inch from touching the line-or if a circle is a tiny bit from being closed it is marked wrong. Am I wrong-I feel the teacher is being too picky considering it's first grade and the words are truly legible. My niece got out her 5th graders papers and the handwriting was virtually identical to my grandson's handwriting. We all just dropped our jaws in shock. Also, if you do feel I am right- how do a broach this to a first year 1st grade teacher who thinks everything is BY THE BOOK always and forever or-it's wrong.

Hi Confused - thanks for sharing your confusion! I'm not sure why the author stuck that part in there either - and I'm not sure that cursive is predominant in Montessori philosophy. Both my girls went through Montessori toddler and primary classrooms, and I never heard a peep about cursive there.

My kid learned cursive in kindergarten and it's much better than her print.

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