As you are sitting at home with your child and working to find a reasonable balance of academics, physical movement, chores, social time and relaxation, one specific skill to consider targeting is touch typing or keyboarding. As we move further and further into the digital age and, more recently, an unprecedented era of remote learning, the ability to successfully type and get ideas onto the screen is paramount. We often joke that our children are more technologically adept that we are, as they easily navigate between iPad apps and turn on anything with a screen. While this is, in many ways, true, two things I constantly observe in students are the propensity to type with just their pointer fingers (hunt and peck method) and that they initially learn about a keyboard for games rather than academics.
As their fingers fly around the keyboard, I am often asked, “Why does it matter if they can use all ten fingers? Who cares if they are typing with two fingers if they are getting the information out of their head?” These are all great questions, and I hope to answer and provide clarity around the ones I hear most frequently.
Why does ten-finger, touch-typing matter?
Massachusetts State Guidelines recommend that a student should be typing at a speed of 5 times their grade level with 80-95% accuracy. For example, a third grader should be typing at 15 words per minute (3 x 5), and a seventh grader should be typing at about 35 words per minute (7 x 5). Following this formula, by graduation, a senior in high school should type with a speed of at least 60 words per minute, a functional speed for an adult in most professions.
While it is likely that some third grade students can use two fingers and type at a rate of 15 words per minute, as these students get older and the demand increases, it is unlikely they will be able to keep up with these guidelines if they have not been taught a functional typing approach.
That may be true for some students, but I promise my child is able to type quickly! Can I just let her teach herself?
While children may be able to type quickly using their own typing method, ten-finger typing uses almost of all of the intrinsic hand muscles to complete the task. This means that children are much less likely to feel fine motor fatigue than if they were using two or three fingers. While this may not matter for a young student typing a paragraph, it will absolutely affect a high school student who is working on a 10- or 15-page paper. Teaching the correct approach will set young students up for future success.
Is it okay to start later in elementary school? My student is still working on handwriting.
There are some mixed opinions on the best time to start teaching keyboarding. I personally recommend first or second grade as an appropriate starting point. At this level, most students can identify their letters and are used to using computers to some extent. As with most motor tasks, practice makes perfect, and the more time our children spend using all ten fingers to type, the better at it they will be. It is perfectly fine to learn handwriting and keyboarding simultaneously.
How much time do you recommend my child spends practicing?
I recommend students practice for about 20-30 minutes at a time. This allows time for direct practice, as well as time for playing games that promote correct finger placement. If a student can do this practice two to three times a week, they will absolutely start to develop the motor patterns necessary and commit them to muscle memory.
What are your thoughts on speech-to-text software?
Speech-to-text software programs are excellent tools when they are used with the right student. They increase accessibility, help students get information on the page and can increase the speed at which a student completes their work. I am hesitant to introduce these tools too early or with the wrong student. The need to type will not go away and not all programs can support a speech-to-text option. Additionally, in an academic setting, using a speech-to-text option requires a student to have extra testing accommodations, such as a separate room for testing and 1:1 test administration. For some of our students, this is exactly what they need for success, but for others these accommodations are not reasonable or necessary.
Can I leave my child to practice on their own?
Children quickly slip back into old habits. I recommend keeping a watchful eye to ensure that a ten-finger approach is truly being practiced.
Is there anything else I should consider?
Yes! Make sure to consider your child’s posture as they sit at the computer. Ideally, ankles, knees, hips and elbows should all be at 90 degrees, while wrists should be “neutral” or flat.
Where can I go to find lessons or tutorials for my child?
Great Question! Fortunately, there are many excellent online options to help teach children how to type. Some free online sites that directly teach and help to practice ten-finger typing include www.typingclub.com and www.typing.com. Other reasonably priced options include Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum, Mavis Beacon Keyboarding Kidz and Mickey’s Typing Adventure. For more entertaining, game-based practice, take a look at www.abcya.com and www.typinggames.zone.
About the Author
Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services. She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.