Summer Bucket Lists!
School ends tomorrow and my soon-to-be third-grade daughter already has a few things on her summer to-do list that will keep us busy for those long hot days! There are a few obvious bucket list items like hitting the nearest beach, checking out the water park, visiting the zoo, and eating lots of ice cream. There are also a few more daring adventures like trying out stand-up paddle boarding and learning to ride a bike without training wheels!
The last two items on my daughter’s bucket list surprised me. Not because I don’t think they’re awesome, but because they are more like “school things” that I didn’t think would interest her: learning to write cursive and learning to type on a keyboard.
Integrating Technology into Education - but what about the basics?
In the day of Chrome books, my daughter has learned how to use programs like Read & Write for Google to speak to her computer and have it type what she says. In fact, I am dictating this article right now! She sees me use assistive technology in my job and at home to make life easier every day, so perhaps that's why she gravitates toward it so naturally (that, or because she knows she has sloppy handwriting!).
When it comes to actually typing on a keyboard, she is much slower because she hasn’t had the direct instruction of “typing class” in school. Gone are the old computer classes where kids repeatedly practice keystrokes. Now, kids are using Chrome books in more integrated ways to research, produce longer typed assignments, and to collaborate with friends on common projects. All of those advancements are fabulous, but my almost third-grader still needs to learn how to type efficiently on a keyboard.
Why is Keyboarding Important?
You may not think that keyboarding is an important skill for a third-grader, but what happens when that third-grader goes off to middle school, high school, or college and he has not fully integrated his keyboarding skills? What happens when he is taking notes in a fast-paced lecture but can’t keep up the pace and misses out on important content? Just like with any other motor skill, keyboarding needs to be fully integrated and automatic in order for students to be able to multitask. Inefficient typists will be sacrificing content or comprehension of what they are listening to because they are diverting their attention away from the cognitive lesson in order to successfully type. Efficient typists are able to navigate the keyboard automatically, without having to think about where their fingers are striking keys - and therefore better able to focus on the more important task at the time.
Automaticity isn’t going to develop in one summer of practice, but just like teaching her how to ride a two-wheeler, her typing skills will improve each day and eventually she'll reach cruising pace without much effort.
At-Home Keyboarding Instruction
I’ve used a number of keyboarding programs in my work as an occupational therapist and assistive technology specialist. For every recommendation I make, I always include a few other “options” in case a student’s preferences or learning style makes one a better choice over another. For my neurotypical daughter, I’m going to offer her a choice of these programs to check out:
These offer a wide range of instructional supports. Keyboarding Without Tears is a paid program but it also teaches critical mouse skills and aligns with their handwriting curriculum for kids who need instruction in both areas. Type to Learn is also a paid program that offers a number of different levels and takes data on a child's accuracy. Dance Mat Typing and Typing Club are free tools that offer very different visual presentations of keyboarding instruction. Some kids love the British speaking goat in Dance Mat Typing while others need the less-distracting Typing Club format. Whatever your child chooses for a program it is most important that he is engaged in the lessons!
Other Considerations for Keyboarding
I use a MacBook with a built-in keyboard and trackpad. I know that this laptop is not for every user! The keys are very streamlined and may not provide enough tactile feedback for a new user or child to be successful. Therefore, external keyboards might be something to consider. These could range from the old-school keyboards to kid-friendly designs with simplified keys and color-coded letters/vowels. Small hands may do better on laptop-sized keyboards, but there are a number of bluetooth or USB connected keyboards that can make a BIG difference in the success of your child.
Some users would also benefit from keyboard stickers that highlight the letters that they’re learning for a specific lesson - these stickers go directly on top of the keyboard keys and come in yellow/black, white/black, or even rainbow themed! These add-ons can be impactful for kids with attentional issues, visual scanning weaknesses, and low-vision/acuity problems.
Let the Typing Begin!
Once we choose her typing program and trick out her laptop with kid-friendly typing accessories, she'll be ready to go! I know that 15-20 minutes of typing practice each day this summer is going to set her up for success when she gets back to school and needs to quickly multi-task on her Chrome book!
Stay tuned for my blog on teaching cursive - another phenomenally important skill that she is excited to learn!