As an OT, I’ve recommended lots of kids and teens learn typing skills. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in working on handwriting, just that there is a time and a place for typing, too. Learning to type can be a huge relief for students who struggle with handwriting assignments. However, learning those skills isn’t always as easy as putting your child in front of a computer program and walking away. I wish it was. So, today let me tell you about what I am, and am not, doing to teach my kids typing this semester.
I now have 2 middle schoolers who need and want to learn to type. They have both found the on-line computer programs we have tried frustrating. Why? Well, depending on the program, kids can feel rushed, scolded for mistakes, or frustrated by the game style of these programs. One of my kids is also dyslexic, which added an extra layer to the frustration with some programs and how you interact with them. If you can’t really read the directions on the screen, everything is less fun. So, rather than give up on typing, we found a couple of solutions that I wish I had discovered long ago. We went old school and got BOOKS.
Actually, the first thing I purchased was a couple of laminated placemats that show which finger will type which key in a color-coded pattern. My kids get to have these close by so that they can refer to them during their keyboarding lessons. We can use them to practice reaching for the right key with the right finger before we start the computer lesson and the kids can even pretend to type on them as a warm-up. The ones I chose have a stiff enough lamination I can prop it up against the wall while it sits on the desk, an easy reference to look back at as needed. This bit of extra visual cueing makes learning where the keys are without actually looking at the keys, easier.
I then bought two different “learn to type” books. My kids can just open a word document on a computer and type the lesson in the book without the animation or frustration of a computer program. I’ve found that sometimes, schooling 2 kids who are similar in age means I want them to share books and programs so we can save some money and I won’t have to work as hard. Long term, I’ve realized that it saves me FAR more in time and stress to just get each child what they really need for learning. This means for this class, they are using different books.
Keyboarding while Dyslexic
My dyslexic child is going to use Diana Hanbury King’s Writing Skills: Keyboarding Skills book. This unique book is set up to teach typing in a different manner than any other program I’ve ever used. Instead of focusing on typing gibberish with the home row for several lessons, students instead work on learning to type the alphabet as a way to learn where each key is located. This means that the child can focus on typing instead of trying to read words, or worse, trying to make sense of non-sense they can’t read for the first several lessons. The lessons focus on one letter at a time at first, so students who get anxious about making mistakes will likely make fewer due to the slower pace of this program.
Once the student has learned enough letters to make words, they type short words, no-nonsense. The way the book is laid out, the words chosen are 3-4 letter words and the font and spacing of the book makes the words easier to read than a typical book (or the Fry book below). For a child who struggles with reading and writing, this style is going to help reinforce those skills. So you aren’t just typing, you are getting in practice with spelling and reading too. This book also progresses from typing words to typing phrases to adding punctuation and sentences. Eventually working on grammar skills and preparing your child to type their own stories and essays.
I highly recommend the King book if your child is dealing with dyslexia and/or dysgraphia which has made learning to type more challenging.
Dr. Fry’s Book
My other child has a goal of learning to computer code and doesn’t struggle with reading. So he is going to be using Dr. Fry’s Computer Keyboarding for Beginners. This program moves more quickly through the letters, as it teaches them in bigger groups. For example, the entire home row is taught in one lesson. The student starts with typing gibberish for several lessons. However, it also has the feeling that you are moving more quickly to learn all the letters and be able to type at speed more quickly. This method means the student is more likely to make more mistakes and should probably repeat each lesson several times before moving on to the next. If your student is comfortable making mistakes and practicing until they master something, this method is also a good one.
Dr. Fry’s book spends several lessons typing mostly gibberish and random patterns before moving on to words. However, it also eventually has students typing words, sentences, and passages. Overall, it appears to have fewer lessons, and while a student may be able to complete this book faster, they will need to do other typing activities to reinforce their skills once they complete it. For a student who is ready to hit the ground running and will soon switch to typing their own longer essays and assignments, this program may be perfect. However, if your student doesn’t have assignments they need to type, you will want to create typing assignments each week to help them practice once they complete the book.
The Keyboard: The Other Thing you Need
One other very important thing to consider when teaching your child typing skills, no matter what program you use, is what kind of keyboard they will use. The keyboard on a chrome book is very small and the fancy gaming ones can be big and awkward for typing on. This is a time to let your child be a bit of a Goldilocks and look for the right fit. While the tween or teen boy with larger hands may be just as happy as can be to type on his own computer with his gaming keyboard, his little sister might not.
If your primary computer is a laptop or chrome book, consider purchasing an inexpensive, basic, normal-sized keyboard for your child’s lessons. You can plug it into the laptop, but get the feel of a full-sized computer. While the keys are all in the same place, assuming you all use a Qwerty keyboard, the feel of the keys and the stretch to reach them can be the difference between a successful child and a frustrated, unhappy one.
Once your student is able to type on one keyboard, it will be easier for them to type on all other ones, so be patient about finding a good fit for these first lessons. If your house is like mine, you may even be able to trade with a family member or borrow one from a sibling, just for lesson times if needed.
You’ll want something that has a good key-press feel to it. You want your child to feel the keys press down and hear a soft click. Some keyboards are louder than others or have a more mechanical action to them that gives more reinforcement when typing. Small keyboards meant for attaching to tablets or smart screens tend to not have that tactile reinforcement and can be harder to learn on. Look for a keyboard that has the guide bumps on the F and J keys. Some have small bumps, some have wide bumps. But these can be worn down over time, so if your keyboard is older, your student may not be able to feel them as well. If you have the option of trying a few different ones or to go to an office supply store that has a display of keyboards to try, let your child try a few out to find the one that fits their hands the best and sounds and feels right to push the buttons.
Form and Posture
Another important tip for setting your child up for success is giving them an appropriate space to practice. When learning to type you want to make sure you have the right posture in your wrists, that the keyboard is the correct distance from your body and the correct height so that your elbows are bent at a comfortable 90-degree angle and wrists in a neutral/level position. The monitor should be at eye level in front of you and your feet comfortably resting on the floor. This may mean that your student needs a slightly different space than your computer desk. They may need the chair raised or a box to rest their feet on. Having good posture and positioning reduces strain and fatigue. Learning to type, even short lessons can be hard. You are giving your muscles new memories. Ensuring a standard and neutral starting position is important to grooving that memory and avoiding picking up bad habits that can lead to repetitive stress issues later on.
Don’t Throw Away Your Pencils!
Remember, your student shouldn’t give up on handwriting just because they can now type. Forms will need to be filled out by hand at the DMV and the doctor’s office. So working on writing is still valuable. However, typing is how your student’s college professors, employers, and others will expect them to communicate in writing in the future. So this is a valuable life skill that is really worth learning!
P.S. Here are the links to the books and tools I’ve recommended today.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.
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