Teaching kids to type

Where to start when teaching kids to type

Educational technology can help children strengthen literacy skills, deal more easily with the challenges of learning difficulties, and enhance their performance across the elementary and high school curriculum.

And while apps typically make headlines for their big-data algorithms and adaptive lesson plans, one of the best Ed Tech ideas for children may be a more back-to-basics approach. For example, programs that teach keyboarding skills. That's because in order to use a computer, play educational games, and even search the web, it helps to have learned touch typing.

Being able to type without looking at the keyboard means kids can focus on the task in front of them, instead of getting distracted hunting for letters.

Learning to type using a multi-sensory approach also strengthens reading, writing and spelling skills by emphasizing phonics.

It prepares children for later grades, when assignments must be completed using a computer, and reinforces familiarity with Sight Words and other high frequency vocabulary.

When kids practice touch typing, they are using muscle memory to manipulate the keyboard.

This is a much more direct way of translating ideas into language, as thoughts flow freely through the fingertips and onto the screen.

Typing can help hone writing skills, make peer-editing and revision tasks easier and is also a great way for kids who struggle with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia to complete written assignments and avoid the challenges of handwriting their school work.

When should children learn to type?

Children today are exposed to keyboards from a very early age from family laptops to the keyboard screens of their parents’ tablets and smartphones. While typing is a skill that can be mastered at any age, the younger the better, as they will have more opportunities to refine and strengthen their skills.

They are also less at risk for developing bad typing habits that are hard to unlearn, such as the hunt-and-peck method.

It’s generally considered appropriate for kids to learn to type when their hands are big enough to fit comfortably on a standard keyboard, typically around 6 or 7 years of age. This also coincides with a period in which they are learning to read and write at school, and practicing their English spelling skills.

When should children begin taking typing lessons

The benefits of learning to type

Stronger Reading Skills

To understand how learning typing supports literacy you need to consider the way reading works. One of the first skills kids master when they are learning how to read is mapping sounds to letters.

This helps them decode words. In a multi-sensory typing course such as Touch-type Read and Spell (TTRS), in the very early stages, children hear a letter read out loud, see it on the screen and then type the corresponding key(s). This helps support phonics work and make sounding out words easier.

As children progress as readers, they begin to recognize high frequency words by sight. This means they can save the decoding for harder vocabulary. The more they see a word, the easier it will be for them to recognize it the next time.

TTRS’s course uses modules in which kids learn groups of words at a time. The modules can be repeated as many times as is necessary and many of the words come from the Dolch List, vocabulary that makes up 50-75% of all text used in elementary school materials.

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Honed Writing and Spelling Skills

Writing on a computer helps writers organize ideas, work in draft form and revise and edit their work. This is crucial for youngsters who are just learning how to express themselves in writing. We think much faster than we write and touch typing helps support the translating of ideas into language via the muscles and movements of our hands.

Typing is a lot easier if you don’t have to search for every key individually. The hunt-and-peck method can be so frustrating that it not only puts the writer off but makes it difficult for him or her to keep an idea in mind.

As discussed, the reinforcement of sound-letter mapping supports phonics, but it also impacts positively on spelling. This is particularly important for a language like English in which spelling can be somewhat irregular. When it comes to words that break the spelling rules, the more kids are exposed to them, the easier they will be to spell.

Enhanced Self-Esteem 

Depending on how a typing course is structured, learning to type can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem. This is especially true for children with learning difficulties, behavioural problems and/or any other issue that has kept them from experiencing prior success in an academic setting.

Courses that are modular, like TTRS, mean a student will learn at the pace that is right for him or her. This self-directed learning interspersed with positive feedback helps encourage self-efficacy and motivation, which is often carried over into other areas of the classroom.

Lifelong Computer Skills

Feeling comfortable on a computer and being able to type quickly and accurately are skills that will help immensely when students arrive at university and are given longer assignments to complete. They also make it easier to get a job, particularly one that requires typing skills, and come in handy for writing personal emails and browsing the web.

Typing for kids with learning difficulties

Teaching kids who have dyslexia to type means they have an opportunity to work on the sound-letter correspondence which is so often the cause of difficulties with reading. They can also master the spelling of Sight Words through repetition and the kind of overlearning that most benefits them. Using a computer gives kids access to spell checkers.

For children with dysgraphia and dyspraxia, which impact on fine motor skills, typing is a lot easier than writing by hand. Try these articles for more information on how kids with ADD, ADHD, Down syndrome and visual impairments can benefit from learning how to type.

Top tips for teaching children typing

Top tips for teaching typing

  1. Solid skills take time to develop. Children learn typing by mastering one key at a time and practicing letter combinations, words, phrases and complete sentences. Some students may acquire the skill faster than others, so it’s important that every student is allowed to learn at a pace that is just right for them.

  2. Value accuracy over speed. Typing involves building up a repertoire of letters and letter combinations carefully until they can be executed accurately, with speed coming later. Some kids may make many mistakes or be tempted to look at their hands if pressured to type fast before they are ready.

  3. Practice makes perfect. In addition to working through a typing course on a regular basis, give learners a chance to write using a computer. You might take a creative approach that helps them practice their new skills in a fun way, such as drafting haikus using only words containing the letters/keys they have mastered.

  4. A little praise goes a long way. Kids need plenty of encouragement and positive feedback. Not only will it motivate them to continue working to reach their goal, but it will boost their self-esteem, which is particularly important for those individuals who are not confident in the classroom. 

  5. Encourage good posture and take breaks.  Children should be taught to sit up straight at the computer with their shoulders back and knees and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Don’t let wrists droop. Healthy tech habits also involve getting up from time to time and removing your eyes from the screen every half hour or so.

Touch typing at school

While some schools find it important to teach kids how to type, not all offer touch typing courses and there is no national requirement for them to do so.

In a world run by technology, this is surprising, particularly given the central role of computers in education programs from elementary school to university. If your school or community is considering teaching typing as an after-school program or even offering a regular credit course, get in touch with the TTRS team for more information and a free trial of our school license.

Learning at home

Children who are home schooled may find it even more important to learn typing skills given the amount of research they will be doing on the Internet.

Touch-type Read and Spell is a modular typing course for home or school use that provides the kind of multi-sensory learning which reinforces phonics and spelling and helps kids who are learning how to read. 

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Do you have any tips on teaching kids to type? Join the discussion in the comments!

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Did you know learning to type in a multi-sensory way can make you a better speller and stronger reader too? Be the best you can be with TTRS!
Touch-type Read and Spell has been teaching typing in a multi-sensory way for 25+ years. If you've tried other approaches and not been successful, our method may be for you.
About the Author 

Meredith Cicerchia

Meredith Cicerchia is a teaching affiliate at the University of Nottingham, an education consultant, and a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from speech and language difficulties and specific learning differences, to strategies for teaching English as a second and additional language.
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