There are many articles on teaching kids to type that focus on comparing and choosing curricula or typing programs. I don’t think the curriculum you chose is actually the most important factor – there are many programs that offer the basic functionality you will need. Instead I’ve come up with a list of tricks, hacks, and good old-fashioned teaching principles that you can use to help your kids succeed, regardless of which program you are using.
Many of these tips will allow your kids to start touch typing at an earlier-age than they otherwise could have. Others are designed to help them develop good habits from the beginning. The earlier a kid begins learning to type, the earlier they can develop those good habits – and the longer you wait to teach them proper typing technique, the more time they spend reinforcing bad habits like hunt and peck.
So here are a dozen tips and tricks to help them get started early and get started right:
1. Put a cloth over their hands. This is so key. Don’t let them look at their fingers (except to check that they’re in the right place if they have reason to think their position has gotten messed up).
2. Consider an alternative finger mapping that may be faster, more comfortable and better for their hands:
Peter at onehandkeyboard.org gives an excellent comparison of the standard finger mapping that is taught by almost every typing program, and his version, which only differs in that he uses different fingers for three of the left-hand bottom row keys: z,x, and,c.
I sought out this information because, as I was going through my kids’ typing course myself (see tip #11), I found that I had been typing ‘c’ the “wrong” way all along – using my pointer. When I tried typing it the “right” way (using my middle finger), I was shocked at how incredibly uncomfortable and inefficient the “right” way was – I had to curl my middle finger under my pointer, making it impossible to keep my pointer on it’s home row ‘f’ key.
So I did a google to find out what other people thought about this, and found Peter’s post.
I also found this poll which indicates that, at least on this one discussion board, most people (57%) type ‘c’ with their index finger, like Peter and me. Still, it seems, most courses are teaching the other way – it may be that many self-taught typists have chosen to use their index finger because it just feels better – it really does!
Peter also types ‘z’ with his ring finger and ‘x’ with his middle; the standard way is to type ‘z’ with the pinky and ‘x’ with the ring finger. Just like with ‘c,’ the standard way requires you to curl your fingers under other fingers. Peter’s way seems much more natural.
Take a look at any ergonomic keyboard – the flow of the keys fans out to the right and the left – just like Peter’s finger mapping. In comparison, the “standard” finger mapping fans to the the right for both hands – causing the left fingers to have to curl under for the bottom row.
Try both ways and see what you think (keeping in mind that you may be biased toward the way you have been doing for years). Let your kids try both ways and see what they think. Then decide which way you think is best.
In the real world, no one will be grading your kids on which fingers they use for which key – what matters is which method is most efficient, comfortable, and will cause the least pain in their fingers as they get older.
3. Use Sticky Keys:
It can be really hard for kids to learn to hold down the shift key while typing another key. Further, it can be impossible for some kids to reach the right shift key while keeping proper finger placement.
Enter Sticky keys.
If you’ve ever accidentally turned on sticky keys, you probably see it as a nuisance and may have even disabled it (no problem, that’s easy to undo), but sticky keys can be a life saver for little kids.
When Sticky Keys are turned on, you don’t have to hold down the shift key to type a capital letter or other special character. Instead, just press the shift key once and the next key you type will behave as if the shift key were held down. Same for CTRL and ALT keys.
This allows the kids to use the full-range of the keyboard even if they are not physically ready to use the shift keys the normal way.
Many kids like to use CAPS Lock for this purpose, but Sticky Keys is better, because it works for all keys, not just letters, and because you do not have to press it again to turn it off (it works for only the next key you press).
Also, unlike using CAPS Lock for this purpose, the kids are still practicing hitting the correct key (shift), they just don’t have to worry about holding it down.
If a child can not reach the right shift key without messing up his hand position, I think it is preferable to just let him use the left shift key, with Sticky Keys, until he is ready. Without Sticky Keys, this would be a horrible idea, as it would create the bad habit of holding down the left shift key while typing another key with your left hand (incorrect finger position would be inevitable), but with Sticky Keys, it doesn’t cause incorrect finger position, since the keys are typed sequentially. When the child is ready to use the shift keys the normal way, that would also be the time to teach him to use the opposite-hand shift key for the key he’s typing. The amount of relearning required would be minimal.
Basically, my goal is to get the child typing the full keyboard as quickly as possible, so she won’t be hunting and pecking (and therefore reinforcing bad habits) when she types for her various projects. If Sticky Keys helps her do that, I’m all for it. Any relearning required when she is ready to leave this hack behind, will be minimal compared to the relearning required for a child who continues to hunt-and-peck whenever they’re outside “typing class.”
There are a few options I suggest you toggle before using Sticky Keys for this purpose. Here are the instructions for that, as well as for making sure Sticky Keys is enabled:
Go to Control Panel->Ease of Access->Ease of Access Center->Make the keyboard easier to use->Set up Sticky Keys
You can either:
Select “Turn on Sticky Keys.” This will make Sticky Keys be always on, which is convenient if your child is the only one who uses that computer.
“Turn on Sticky Keys when Shift is pressed 5 times” (this will also let you turn it off the same way). Under this, you can chose to display a warning dialogue before turning it on and to beep when turning it off or on.
This option may be more convenient if others use the computer as well (but keep reading for more info on that).
Next, regardless of which of those choices you selected, I suggest you do this:
Uncheck “Lock Modifier Keys when pressed twice in a row.” Modifer Keys are SHIFT, CTRL, and ALT. When Sticky Keys is on and this option is checked, if the child presses one of these keys twice in a row, the keyboard will behave like that key is pressed down until the child presses that key again (so basically, it causes it to behave like CAPS Lock in the sense that it must be turned off). I prefer not to use this option with kids, because they are likely to press the key twice in a row by mistake and this could confuse them.
With this unchecked, pressing the shift key a second time (in a row) will undo the first press. I think this is less confusing.
Uncheck “Turn off Sticky Keys when two keys are pressed at once.” With this checked, if the child holds down the shift key and presses another key at the same time (like you eventually want them to do), it will turn off Sticky Keys. Uncheck this so that your kids can type either the normal way or the Sticky Keys way seamlessly.
With this feature unchecked, it may even be tolerable to keep Sticky Keys always on – even on a computer you share – but you’ll definitely want to uncheck “Play a sound whenever modifier keys are pressed” or the beeps will drive you crazy.
Finally, if your kid is the only one who will be using the computer with Sticky Keys on, chose whether you want to select “Play a sound whenever modifier keys are pressed” based on whether your kid finds it helpful to hear a beep when he presses shift – if you’re using tip #1, so the kid can’t see the keyboard, they likely will find it helpful.
4. Turn your CAPS Lock into a second backspace key.[coming soon]
5. Try to get a keyboard that fits their hands. Kids have smaller hands and so will do best with keyboards that have smaller keys spaced closer together.
Unfortunately, most “kids’ keyboards” are just adult-sized keyboards with bright colors. Some even have larger keys!
Try searching for a keyboard for small hands, rather than a kids’ keyboard. I haven’t found a good one yet, but am on the hunt. I will update this when I do.
In the meantime, we’ve found that some laptops have smaller keyboards than others. If you’re thinking of buying a computer for your kid, Netbook is an inexpensive option that has smaller keys spaced closer together. Used Netbooks can be found on ebay for under $50 – less than some specialty keyboards!
We have an HP EliteBook which has a larger keyboard than a Netbook but the keys are still spaced much closer together than on my Lenovo.
6. Finger exercises:
Because of their small hands, it may be hard for kids to reach the enter key with their right pinky while keeping their other fingers on the home row keys. (The right shift key will be even harder). To strengthen those finger muscles, have them practice moving the pinky back and forth while keeping their other fingers still. They can practice this anytime – like while sitting in the car. They can practice with their fingers straight – or curved like they’re typing. (At first they may need to use their other hand to keep their other fingers from moving.)
7. Call the semicolon (;) “pinky”. “Semicolon” is kind of a mouthful and it’s also intimidating to kids. I remember being intimidated by the semicolon key when learning to type as a kid. Even though I knew what a semicolon was, it was still just a little intimidating because it’s different from the other home keys: it’s not a letter and it has two symbols on one key.
When my daughter was first learning to type, I would read the letters out loud to her (this can help in the beginning). The semicolon was her weakest key. One day, I told her we would try calling that key “pinky” (because your right pinky rests on it). She was relieved and this quickly went from her weakest key to her strongest key. Similarly, we call the colon “shift-pinky.” My kids learn about semicolons and colons in Language Arts, but in typing it’s just “pinky” and “shift pinky.”
8. Give incentives. M&Ms or whatever works for you. This could be based on reaching a certain accuracy or keeping proper posture for a full lesson, whatever your current goals.
9. Practice a little every day. It’s just like handwriting or piano – you have to build that muscle memory.
10. Focus on form first and accuracy second. Nothing else matters.
Speed does not matter at all. It will come.
The main thing is proper form – posture, hand position, and not looking at the keyboard.
Accuracy is important, but it’s possible to be too much of a perfectionist with that. Many typing courses will set the bar for moving to the next lesson at 90-100% accuracy.
I only want my kid to complete a lesson with 80% accuracy at least twice before moving on to the next lesson.
I understand the reason for insisting on a high accuracy rate before moving to the next lesson – it’s to avoid reinforcing bad habits.
However, the fact is that most kids are already hunting-and-pecking in their free time or for their school work by the time we start teaching them to type. They’re not going to give up hunting-and pecking until they’ve at least learned the full range of the keyboard, so the sooner we can get them using the full keyboard with reasonable accuracy, the sooner they’ll replace hunting-and-pecking with touch typing when they’re working on other things, and thus stop reinforcing that bad habit.
11. Do it together.
Just like with handwriting, it’s best to sit with them while they type, so you can be sure they are not practicing bad habits like poor posture or incorrect hand position. I firmly believe that a little practice with correct form is infinitely better than lots of practice with bad form – the later just reinforces bad habits. So sit with them and help them do it right.
As long as your sitting with them, you might as well do it too – my daughter and I have our computers set up side by side for this purpose – it motivates her to see I’m working on improving my typing too.
Doing the course along with our kids also helps us understand any difficulties they may encounter and find ways to help them. It was because I was doing this, that I discovered and researched Hack #2 – otherwise I may have insisted she use the finger mapping the course taught, even though I myself don’t do it that way, and it turns out that may not be the best way after all!
(By the way, this principle can be applied to any course, in any subject, not just typing!)
12. Chose a typing program:
I put this last because which one you chose probably doesn’t matter as much as you think. Most typing programs will provide the basic functionality needed to learn to type.
We use Typing Master.
Here’s what I love about it:
A. It’s Windows-based, which means it is not dependent on an internet connection.
B. It’s free. (Or you can pay $6 to remove ads – the ads are non-invasive and are mostly for online typing games). It’s also downloadable – no waiting to have a CD shipped.
C. The interface is attractive and smooth – I’ve found no kinks or bugs so far. It gives clear visual feedback for both correct and incorrect typing. If you type an incorrect key, you also hear a soft click – not a loud beep, which can frazzle a kid. Basically, it’s enjoyable to use!
D. Like most typing programs, it adds two new keys with each lesson, but, unlike most, each lesson offers key practice, word practice, sentence practice, and paragraph practice. You can do them all or just the ones that work for you.
E. It includes three games, plus an alphabet drill. It keeps track of your progress in the lessons and you can set the games to use only the letters you’ve learned so far – a really nice feature since most typing games aren’t much good until the kid has learned the entire keyboard.
F. It also keeps track of which keys are currently the most difficult for you – and you can do a custom practice session – or game – based on those keys, whenever you want.
G. In addition to the basic touch typing course, it includes a speed typing course, and courses for numbers, special characters, and the number pad. It also offers a Typing Test section, in addition to the courses.
H. As a bonus, it comes with Typing Meter, a program you can run in the background to monitor your typing speed while you’re typing in any application.
Typing Master is actually the only Windows-based program I have tried. I had a horrible time finding reviews for free, downloadable typing programs, and I’m very wary about downloading something without a review. I took the risk and downloaded Typing Master without a review and am very pleased with it, so I won’t be risking downloading another one.
typing-lessons.org is a no-frills site that is geared toward adults. One thing I like about it is “lesson 10″ which allows you to create your own lessons by pasting in any text you want – it then turns that text into a lesson like the others (so it will beep when you make a mistake, grey out what you’ve already typed, and score you for speed and accuracy). This can be fun if your kid wants to practice with something that’s interesting to them, like the lyrics of their favorite song or an article they want to read.
typingclub.com is geared toward kids and has some nice bells and whistles that make it fun and appealing, but it can be slow, depending on your internet connection. This can be very frustrating because your kid can actually be penalized for typing faster than those “bells and whistles” can load. That’s what led me to seek out a Windows-based program.
Hope this helps.
What has worked for you when teaching kids to type?