Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Does your child struggle with keyboarding?

Touch typing isn't the answer!
I wasn’t great at sports growing up, but I did excel at piano, so it wasn’t a surprise when I aced my Grade 9 typing class.

Our elderly teacher made two rocket ships out of bright construction paper and placed them on a wall chart to track our collective typing speed. She divided the class into two teams and I helped propel our rocket to the top with my 90 word-per-minute scores.

Back in those days we were taught touch typing, memorizing the place of each key and the finger that should strike it, so that eventually we could type without looking. We placed our fingers on “home row,” then did meaningless drills, such as using our right index finger to hit “j” repeatedly.

Touch typing is still the gold standard for keyboarding instruction, but for children with fine-motor problems, it’s a recipe for failure, says Cynthia Tam, occupational therapist at Bloorview.

“Children who struggle to use a pencil to print are not able to move and isolate each finger, which is the basis of touch typing,” Tam says. “When children have fine-motor difficulties, we want to give them a computer to take away the fine-motor challenge. But touch typing simply adds another barrier.”

A Bloorview study of 15 clients with physical disabilities in 2003 found that a “hunt and peck” approach with one or two fingers – where children scan the board for the key they want and hit it – was more effective.

Based on their findings, a team of Bloorview occupational therapists and rehab engineers developed an interactive, game-based typing program that focuses on getting kids to type functional words rather than practise letter combinations using all 10 fingers.

Thirty-two children aged six to 12 with a variety of developmental and physical disabilities have taken the 10-week program. Each week, they begin with a group activity such as typing bingo, or chatting live with each other or online through Ability Online, a community of children with disabilities and illnesses. Then they learn a new typing game.

Bloorview occupational therapists Jennifer Mays and Mary-Beth Sophianopoulos created 10 types of games with multiple themes. For example, in Type Your Own Adventure, children type phrases or sentences to direct what happens next in an illustrated story. In Colour by Typing, they type the names of colours to fill in areas of a picture. In Wacky Stories, they type silly words into a story.

“We try to use high-frequency words so that they become automatic at typing those words,” Mays says. “And the games are interactive – they’re typing something to get the computer to do something, so it’s engaging.”

Children do 10-minute challenges each day as homework.

By the end of the program, students on average increased their word speed by three-and-a-half words per minute, and accuracy and punctuation improved. “Some parents reported that they were doing better with spelling skills and were more confident with computers,” Mays says.

The goal isn’t that children become speed typists, but that they acquire a speed that’s faster than they could print. “Only a secretary needs to type at 80 to 100 words per minute,” Tam says. “A lot of adults type with one or two fingers, at 30 words per minute, and they’re functional at work. We need to make parents aware that children with fine-motor problems don’t benefit from touch typing. Instead, we see significant gains when they do fun, engaging typing activities for 10 minutes each day.”

Chatting with friends online and using e-mail are great examples, Tam says.

Next steps are to expand the vocabulary in the Bloorview typing games so children of other ages can benefit, and to make the curriculum available to a larger audience. The Bloorview typing program is offered in the spring and fall. For more information, call 416-425-6220, ext. 3639.


Thanks for the info! We've been fighting battles over learning to type for years. I'm going to check this out.


BTW thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad you like it.

Hi Jean -- thanks for checking us out.

It's hard to overcome the perception that touch-typing is the gold standard -- when for kids with fine motor problems, it simply creates another obstacle.

I know BLOOM readers with an interest in Asperger syndrome and early-onset bipolar will find your site invaluable:

Thanks again! Louise

My Son will be very happy to know this! We've pushed him hard to learn proper home row and he just wants to use his two index fingers. Now I'll be the one to have to work - at changing my approach :)


I know a computer programmer who uses the "hunt and peck" method. He is a really fast typist using only one or two fingers!

Hi! Great article! My daughter (13 year-old 8th grader) isn't considered learning dis-abled but she doesn't play sports because she's not as coordinated as others her age, although she excels in cross country. (For example her motor skills in basketball seem awkward). She excels with all As and Bs in all classes except computers. She has always struggled with typing and consistently falls behind. It doesn't help that her teacher uses demeaning comments about her typing speed by using words like "Really!?" she's left-handed too....I don't know if that would have anything to do with it. I guess my question is if there is a trend among kids not considered dis-abled that I should know of or if she just isn't trying hard enough? Thanks! :)

We provide training programs (BBC dance mat typing) for kids. All the learning progress on our website is easy and fun, there are 4 levels to play, including 12 stages. Kids can start by learning the home row keys. Each stage is based on previous ones, introducing new letters as you progress. There are some also other fun typing games and a resource page.