Why should you teach keyboarding to kids, especially kids with learning differences? The benefits for kids include getting thoughts down on paper faster, building efficacy that they can accomplish hard goals, building speed of processing, gaining the ability to edit easily, developing less aversion to writing, spending less time for school work, improving fine motor skills, and improving spelling.
Touch typing (keyboarding) is a BIG improvement over hunt and peck methods kids develop. According to this article, touch typing is an example of cognitive automaticity which means we don’t have to think about what we’re doing. This frees up our working memory so we can use our brains for higher level thinking.
Both my kids are learning keyboarding in a typing class at Spahn Academy here in Denver in an environment specifically designed for a ton of 1:1 instruction and for kids with learning differences. I’m thrilled with how kind and thorough their teachers are and how well my kids are learning keyboarding. In fact, I can’t recommend these classes highly enough.
I spoke with their instructor, Jeanne Spahn who is a pediatric speech pathologist and half of the teaching team — her husband Greg is the other half and a pediatric occupational therapist.
I’d hoped she would share with me specific typing programs that would work for you all to teach touch typing at home.
She didn’t. But here’s why . . .
Teaching Keyboarding Needs the Human Element
“We aren’t recommending programs,” Jeanne said. “It’s not about a specific software. It’s about the human element. There’s a person there every two to three minutes asking the kids to analyze what’s going on, giving associations, following up, bringing focus and awareness back to correcting mistakes.”
“Many of these kids don’t have good error correction loops. They hope and pray and want to get through it. They don’t recognize that they’re about to make a mistake then don’t look at it, analyze, and correct to avoid making it again.”
(That sounds familiar especially with my oldest, AJ!)
Jeanne explains that Greg and she watch each student and work with them every few minutes so that when there are problems, they can redirect hand position or whatever it might be. They actively work with each child in their small classes (7 kids per class) to ensure that kids progress.
I can see her point about the importance of teaching kids! (Not just sticking them on a computer and hoping they’ll learn.) The Spahns adjust the pace of their curriculum on a student by student basis as the students reach a balance of speed and accuracy. New letters can’t be recognized by the brain if previous letters are not solidly established
So that leaves you without an easy solution to teach touch typing.
My recommendation is to find a class like the Spahns teach. If you can’t, you’ll want to work with your child as best you can using a variety of speed of processing programs such as Desert Racer along side your instruction. I know it’s not your area of expertise but do what you can and remember — don’t let them look at their hands!
Touch Typing Is Best
Greg clarified for me day one that this keyboarding class was touch typing. Kids add 3D stickers to the keys F and J. They also hide the keyboard with the top of a cardboard box so there isn’t peeking. This forces the kids orient their hands on the sticker “bumps”. The Spahns tell the kids to make their hands into tiger claws with “thumbs kissing.”
Jeanne explained that with touch typing, keyboarding becomes a fluid movement where you don’t need to confirm where your hands are.
As far as ages go for teaching keyboarding skills, Jeanne says normally girls should be seven and boys should be eight. Even though their hands are small, she explains that you’re typing from your shoulders, not your hands, so it’s possible to learn typing this young.
The couple systematically teach kids to progress through the keyboard’s lines (middle, bottom, top) and keys. Kids don’t learn any new keys until they’ve shown mastery of the first keys taught. Kids in the Spahns’ classes always know what they’re working on and what they must do to move forward.
In my kids’ case, they do the hour and a half class and about 10 minutes of typing practice seven days a week.
Don’t Forget to Teach This
Jeanne and Greg also teach an Output class which helps kids learn what to do with the input they are reading or hearing.
This skill is essential for all our kids but especially children with learning differences. They have much to write about. Once motor memory takes over, the analysis of fingers and keys ends, and the fingers are then able to be driven by the rich ideas of the student.
We must teach kids how to synthesize the information coming in into written form. We must teach kids how to take notes from a book and from a lecture. Most kids need instruction on how to categorize, how to differentiate main idea vs. details, and all that goes along with making sense of information. If this isn’t taught, and often it isn’t or not enough, you’ll want to do it at home.
I like that the Spahns require that their Output class students go back to their typewritten notes within a certain time frame to expand them. What a great habit!
Advocate For Your Kids
If you have a child whose handwriting prevents them from completing work, or limits what they produce, it might be time to consider a typing class and after that, a keyboard for school. (Either a laptop or a bluetooth enabled keyboard with a tablet.)
But . . . what if your child’s teachers don’t agree?
Advocate with information.
Keep track of how long your child takes for homework with and without the keyboard. (Information is power!)
Get a writing sample written by hand and another typed on a keyboard. Often it’s very different and might just make your point. (One sentence by hand versus a paragraph with keyboarding?)
Wishing you the best.
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