Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When and How Should Kids Learn to Type?

The only useful class I remember taking in school was typing. I was 13 and I took the class from  Miss Web, long before the Web was anything more than what spiders wove.  Back then, typing meant taking something written somewhere else and then typing it on your own paper complete with erase tape, that you used on mistakes, and that bar that you hit to put the typing carriage back to where you started.  Years later, I was very excited about the electric typewriter, then selectric typewriter which was faster with its typeball instead of those long long bars each with a letter hitting the page.  I haven’t typed someone else’s words in more than a decade.  Today, that’s replaced with a simple file download or cut and paste.  Now the words I put on the page come from my head to my fingers on a keyboard.

I’m often asked, what about today?  When should kids learn to type?  

As someone who learned to use an iTouch/iPhone from a three-year-old and an iPad from a six-year old, I’m keenly aware that kids can start using technology well enough to teach an innovation specialist very early. Teaching children to touch type is a great skill to have early on that will save a tremendous amount of time later.  Also, typing can be fun!  It’s like a race.  

Perhaps the most important reason to get kids typing is it helps get to the thinking faster.  In academic terms this is called cognitive automaticity. With typing we are freed from the slowness of handwriting, finally allowing us to get our ideas down at the speed of thought.  If you’re hung up on the lost art of handwriting, here’s some food for thought.  I haven’t written by hand in more than five years, except for my signature and at the annoying doctors offices that are stuck in the past having me write the same information 500 times over and over.  If I was smart, I’d type it up on sticky labels and paste it on the sheet. 

When it comes to reproducing thoughts, keyboarding is a more efficient and effective way to produce information that is easily sharable allowing the expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage.  

If you like hard facts, here’s what this looks like broken down by words per minute with  handwriting speed. 

GradeHandwriting Speed (Words Per Minute)
1 - 3 5 - 7
4 - 68 - 12
7 - 914 - 17
Source(Amundson, 1995)

With a one-semester typing program a student will usually be able to type about 30 words per minute and a second semester can as much as double the speed.  

So, when should kids learn to type?  

Why not now?  It’s great for hand-eye coordination, letter recognition, and it’s an effective way to share your thoughts and ideas in an authentic medium.  Learning to touch type not only saves time, but it enables one to type while maintaining eye contact.  Additionally, you’ll find that when you learn to touch type on the keyboard, touch typing with your thumbs transfers naturally.  

But what age is best to start?

A kid can learn to type as soon as they have access to a device with a keyboard though it’s generally believed that they may not have the motor coordination or finger span to truly touch type until about seven or 8 years of age.  If you don’t have a device with a keyboard, you can find a picture of one, print it out and they can still practice the basic drills like these. Fold it up and bring it on the go.  This can be an activity children can do in the car, bus, subway, or waiting room.  

How to Start Kids Typing on Keyboards Even if They’re To Young to Touch Type
This video has some useful tips, tricks, and ideas to get children started keyboarding who may not be ready to touch type.

What is a good age to start a child using a typing software program?

There are several free and paid for typing programs.  They suggest that they are generally for children 7 and up.  The nice thing about typing programs is that they provide a fun learning environment for children.  The paid for programs generally start at around $20, with most hovering around the $30 range, and the highest end programs coming in around $50.  Here is a nice comparison of some popular kids typing programs.  Strangely, it is missing the one I’m most familiar with for children which is Mavis Beacon for Kids which comes in at $19.95.  

My favorite speedbuilder game is TypeRacer and it’s FREE! What I love about TypeRacer from a pedagogical perspective is that it provides literary passages for typing which is a nice way to expose players to a variety of writing.  The other thing that is really neat is you have a little race car and you can invite friends to compete against you virtually.  The scores of you and your friends are posted making for a fun competition.  You can also race at anytime with others who happen to be using the program when you are.  

In short children of any age can begin exploring keyboards, letters, and screens.  It is an essential 21st century skill and helping them master it early, not only provides a fun and useful activity for children to work on, but it will also help them share thoughts and ideas while saving a tremendous amount of time.  

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