by Lizette Alexander OT Reg. (Ont)

Keyboarding is a somewhat controversial topic among therapists and teachers in the education system.  Keyboarding is often recommended as a solution for a child with illegible writing or difficulties with fine motor skills.  There are many to learning how to keyboard, for example, a child does not have to worry about letter formation, proper spacing, or alignment.  Computer use can allow a child to increase their written output, which, leads to increased self-confidence and academic success.

What is frequently overlooked is that typing or keyboarding has its own set of requirements or skills. Keyboarding or “touch typing” require the following skills:

  • Eye hand coordination
  • Finger isolation
  • Good finger sense or  propioception (knowing where your fingers are in space)
  • Working memory
  • Bilateral coordination (using both hands in a coordinated manner)
  • Attention
  • Good sitting posture

Generally this combination of skills is not achieved or available to most students until they are in approximately grade 3 or 4. Meanwhile the hunt and peck method, although it removes the need to form letters and the physical effort involved in grasping a pencil, has its own limitations.  It is difficult for a child to compose a cohesive sentence or idea when energy is spent on finding the letters on the keyboard.  In addition, over time this inefficient method of typing can become ingrained.

Ironically one of the best ways to develop the skills listed above for keyboarding is learning how to write.  A child would still benefit with becoming familiar with a keyboard before grade 4; however, it is not always reasonable to set an expectation of homework completion with efficiency prior to this.

At Toronto Children’s Therapy Center we frequently recommend that younger students learn how to print first in order to acquire the skills necessary for keyboarding.  Keyboarding is subsequently recommended as an “energy saver”.  There are some children who are capable of printing neatly for short periods of time; however, writing a paragraph or story requires more effort.   For example, a child with low muscle tone may find that they experience fatigue after writing several sentences in a paragraph or story. As they fatigue, their writing becomes illegible and frustration may set in.

There are many typing software programs available on the market.    This may be sufficient for children who have acquired the skills listed above.  However, for children who struggle with the skills listed additional support is needed.  For example, some children benefit from learning the keyboard layout away from the keyboard with various games and activities.  Other children benefit from accommodations with keyboarding, for example, a tactile cue on home row keys might be helpful in order to be able to “find” the home keys without looking.

An Occupational Therapist would be able to assess for each of the skills required for keyboarding.  Based on the assessment, a plan for supporting the learning process would be established.  Initially, an OT may see the child weekly in order to support this instruction.  However, once a child is familiar with the recommended typing program and has developed the necessary skills to keyboard, the OT may simply provide support with infrequent visits (for example once per month) in order to ensure that progress is made and that poor habits are not developing.

Generally speaking, a child requires 6 months to a year of practice before they become familiar with touch typing and are able to use it in a productive manner at school.  Remember learning to type in Grade 9? It took a full semester before many of us became proficient and this was through repetitive 45-minute practice sessions.  So it is reasonable to give a younger student more time to learn how to keyboard.

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