On June 23rd we celebrate Typewriter Day…you know, that thing that no one has anymore, and our kids probably don’t even know about.

Do you guys remember what a typewriter is? Its that mechanical device that allows users to type directly on to a sheet of paper. The invention of the typewriter and its use in business and government made the act of typing a required skill for jobs. I remember typing being a requirement for graduating high school…I know, I’ve just dated myself.

Anyways, today, even though typewriters are obsolete, the act of typing and keyboarding is VERY important. As an occupational therapist, one of the things that I was taught to work on with children is handwriting…a very important skill. I still believe handwriting is important for the young ones, but in today’s day and age, I believe that getting kids on the keyboard is just as important. Today we’re going to talk about keyboarding and when your child should start to learn the skills they will need to type.

Starting Early.

There is no way to deny it. We have become a society of technological based communication. I was shocked that my nieces were so adept at picking up the ‘swipe’ skill necessary to move through the photos on the iPad when they were young. Then I look at my own children…T already knows how to swipe and he’s only 20 months!!!!

This past pandemic year has really highlighted the importance of getting kids onto the keyboard early. Prior to 2020 kids were typically expected to complete assignments on the computer by the 2nd grade. Getting kids on the keyboard early can help get them started the right way. We all know how difficult it is to break a bad habit. If we teach them properly from the onset, they will seamlessly transition into typing.

So what age should they start?

Check out your kids’ hands…are they big? Are they small? Honestly, the best ‘age’ for your kids to start fiddling around on the keyboard is when their hands are big enough to fit comfortably on a standard sized keyboard. Somewhere between the age of 5-7, between Kindergarten and 1st grade. This age nicely coincides with the stage in life when kids start to learn to read and write.

Your child should be able to recognize the letter that their fingers are placed on. One of the first keyboarding skills a child will learn is where the letters are on the keyboard. Kids will learn to type one key at a time. Let’s be realistic here, learning to type on a keyboard is going to take time. This is definitely a case of ‘practice makes perfect’.

Are they developmentally ready?

Expectations are going to play a key role here. A child has more control over their fingers and hands at the age of 10 then they do at the age of 6. So, if you decide to start your kid young, just monitor your expectations. They are not going to be able to sit down and type out a full paragraph within months. First of all, they don’t even know how to write that yet 😊. However, repeated exposure to the proper movement patterns at the age of 6 are going to enhance whatever skills they already have.

Research has shown that there is no harm in introducing keyboarding to a younger child.  There are numerous programs out there now that start your child off slow and familiarize children with the keyboard and how typing works. Through games and activities, a child learns hand and finger placement, using one hand at a time. As a child grows, they learn to use both hands together, typing frequently used letter combinations and words to ensure they are developing basic keyboarding skills and habits.

Skills need to be developed just like they do in handwriting.

The skills associated with keyboarding can be just as complex as those associated with handwriting. They require consistent practice and instruction over time. Think about it, your child didn’t just learn to write their letters one day. First, they had to learn basic strokes such as a vertical line, horizontal line and a circle. Then they had to learn to place these strokes together to look like letters. Finally, they needed to learn to write more than one letter next to each other with adequate sizing, spacing, etc. in order to form words and then sentences.

Learning to properly type requires the development of basic skills which then become more advanced over time as you add to the skills and make them more complex. You start with hand placement, where the hand should rest on the keyboard. Then you learn finger placement at rest and how each finger should move to access each letter individually. Finally, you move to accessing multiple letters in sequence.

Other benefits to starting early.

I think first and foremost, the most beneficial part of learning to type early is being able to sit down at a computer and just go. If a child knows how to type without looking for each letter, they are able to focus on the task in front of them rather than focus on finding the letters on the keyboard.

Typing can actually enhance self-esteem. This is particularly true for children with learning disabilities or motor planning issues that may have kept them from being academically successful in the past. Typing can be a lot easier for some kids than writing by hand. Some children just do not have good handwriting.

No amount of time that I spend as an OT with a child on slowing down and properly forming a letter or writing a word is going to change the fact that when asked to complete a timed assignment in class, a child’s handwriting is going to be illegible. These children often can and will do better on assignments if they are permitted to use a computer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching handwriting. But at a certain point in time, a child will benefit more from getting on the computer than they will from continuously working on their handwriting. Especially in today’s world. 😊