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My eldest is just getting to the age where she could start getting interested in typing things on her own.

I'm wondering whether to 'go the whole hog', and give her a keyboard with no letters on (probably a homemade Das Keyboard), and a typing program right from the outset. But I'm not sure whether that might not just put her off completely.

On the other hand, if I just let her start out 'normally', she could just end up as a hunt-and-pecker who is 'good enough' to not make the effort to type properly.

Are you aware of any research or data points on this question? Failing that, do you have any experiences to recount?

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If you go with the software route, I emphatically suggest using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing which is what I used growing up. It taught me home rows, and the basic touch-typing skills that I then perfected in instant messenger conversations. With eight people. All at once. Nothing like IRC/AIM to force a person to type faster and better. –  Aarthi Nov 2 '11 at 13:41
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@AarthiDevanathanΨ, you forgot Typing of the Dead :) I learnt with the simplest of DOS programs, can't remember the name right now. –  Benjol Nov 2 '11 at 13:52
    
I was 8 when I started typing by hunting and pecking. I still do it to this day. It bothers my in-laws more than it bothers me. –  Ze'ev Felsen Mar 10 at 3:16

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

When

I think the timing should be when the child first notices that she needs to type more than a few characters per computer session. You nearly don't need the keyboard for painting, surfing, and goofing around. You do need it as soon as you want to interact beyond using the mouse.

How

I wouldn't throw an unlabeled keyboard at anyone -- it's not particularly motivating to try to remember 100 keys, or at least the ~50 she'll need for writing.

Rather, I would encourage typing games. Let her hunt and peck for starters, it's a good enough way to learn the location of the keys. Take the focus from the keyboard and have her want to move her eyes to the screen instead.

Suggestions

Google knows many typing games, and there are also some very good typing tutors around -- I've had the best success with the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor (the newest version even lets you type out song lyrics which might be cool for her). If you've got Linux then there are also several typing tutors built in or available for free.

What helped me type faster was not a blank keyboard, but a wanting to type faster because typing slowly kept me from progressing through the adventure game I was playing. Today's adventure games have a mouse, unfortunately, so you need to look for other typing incentives. (Try asking that on superuser.com.)

For added geek bonus points, you could also consider whether to train in Qwerty at all. Some people think that the Dvorak layout is more comfortable. I didn't say better because that's a near-religious debate, but Dvorak is much more convenient to type. The biggest problem is that if you prefer it, you'll be swimming upstream forever against the force of ubiquity that Qwerty is.

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Thanks, I think you're right about when and how. It'd be Qwertz anyway here :) Looks like I need another excuse for DIYing a Das Keyboard :) –  Benjol Nov 2 '11 at 14:01
    
Well, you could use the Das'K yourself and be a good role model that way! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 2 '11 at 14:07
    
Marking as answer, but I'd still be concerned about starting this before the child gets 'good enough' to not be bothered. –  Benjol Nov 7 '11 at 6:53
    
I'd like to add that a child-sized keyboard is a huge boon -- kids tend to get frustrated with touch typing and give up if their hands are too small to make the necessary reaches easily. For my 8yo (with kind of large hands compared to his classmates), a netbook with an 89%-of-normal-size keyboard is a perfect fit. –  HedgeMage Nov 7 '11 at 20:33

There's no reason to hold off starting the process of learning touch typing once the child shows an interest. However, they may not have the motor coordination or finger span necessary until around 8 years old. I learned when I was 13, but it is certainly not necessary to wait that long.

I would suggest using a regular, labeled keyboard, and only consider moving her on to an unlabeled keyboard after she has mastered the basics and needs to practice what she has learned.

When I learned touch typing as a child, we started with the basic home rows. The progression started with simple combinations of 2 letters from the home row ("a" and ";" x times, then "s" and "l" x times, etc.), then larger combinations of home row key exercises, and then on to other keys.

The idea is basically muscle memory training. Once we progressed to the point where our fingers knew where the keys were, our instructor was much stricter about allowing us to peek at the keyboard. However, until we reached that point being able to look down periodically and re-orient was pretty important for preventing frustration.

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+1 for the reference about motor control! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 2 '11 at 14:12
    
I'm not sure I buy that stuff about motor coordination. I started piano lessons when I was 6. Is there some qualitative difference between playing the piano and typing? I'm more convinced by finger-span. –  Benjol Nov 3 '11 at 7:03
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@Benjol id say there is a significant difference between playing the piano and touch typing. The size of the keys for one, the fact that you don't move your hands at all while typing, and the wider range of movement required for finding the right keys from the home position. –  Beofett Nov 3 '11 at 10:57

We teach typing in 3rd grade. There are many reasons they have decided to place it in 3rd grade and as Beofett mentioned, it is important to consider the size of the child's hands - if your child is to small to rest their fingers on the home keys, they will have a difficult time learning to type. There are many typing games out there that will help you child learn to type if they are physically able and interested in learning. I would suggest, at least in the US, use a qwerty keyboard for your child, it is what they will need to use in school, regardless of preferences, schools will not be quick to change to a different key board.

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Of course, if you can touch-type, you don't need to change the keyboard, just the driver :) –  Benjol Nov 3 '11 at 7:04

I HAVE NO DATA OR PROOF...so yea, take this with a huge grain of salt, but I posit:

Hunting-and-pecking is a legacy of our modern older demographics. It's a non issue for anyone born in the past 10 years.

Typing, I suggest, is like learning a language. It'll come naturally to kids that are growing up with keyboards.

On top of that, most schools these days are introducing computer classes that involve typing from an early age (our kids started in these in 1st grade) and if there are computers in the house, they'll likely pick it up on their own as well.

If you really want to teach touch typing, there are plenty of typing-based games...both for purchase and for free online.

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Yes, and no. The big problem with typing is being 'good enough'. I know programmers who've been programming for decades, and still hunt and pecking (with varying numbers of fingers). And even though I learnt to touch type, my backspace key still sees far more wear than the others. I am totally in favour of abandoning joined-up writing and going straight to the keyboard ;) –  Benjol Nov 7 '11 at 6:52
    
Touch-typing was invented for typewriters. I do not "touch type", nor do I hunt and peck. I just type, and I type fast. I also find the positioning of the hands when touch typing awkward and unergonomic. So +1 for this, I don't see the need for learning to touch type. If you want to type fast, the qwerty keyboard is the wrong solution anyway. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 7 '11 at 15:14

This is a Natural Learning Process

Generally, I'd let it be. Learning to type, to a certain degree, is like learning a language, especially at that age. It's bumpy at first, but then the more you practice the more naturally it will come to you.

Of course, you might pick up bad habits on the way, and have an imperfect touch-typing because of it. But for most people this would be good enough. I type pretty fast and never learned to touch-type. I just improved my own typing over-time without thinking about it, and when I hit a brickwall then I started to correct some minor mistakes.

Perfection is Not a Goal

I'm still not a perfect typist, but I type stuff all day long at a better than average rate and that's more than enough.

At this age, I really wouldn't worry about it and let them be.

Support and Games

The only things I'd recommend to try to gently push in the right direction are:

  • Ask your children if they want to learn to type faster. If they do, fine: bring out the big guns and help them to actually learn touch-typing. If they don't, it means they're fine as it is and don't want anything to come in the way of their fun/learning. Let it be.
  • Have them play typing games. They can likely play against a computer program, against siblings, or against people online. Or against you, so they can feel the need to compare to your typing. They'll likely want to get better to get better scores, and it will come from that.
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