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Obviously, there are still times when printing by hand is needed and while I am not a proponent of dropping handwriting all together, I do wonder about the necessity of cursive and extensive daily handwriting practice when typing is not a part of my daughter's curriculum. Is there something about the importance of handwriting I don't know? I am considering giving her typing instruction (using a game program) and having her do less handwriting practice to account for the time used in typing instruction.

She is home schooled and this would all be legal in our state/country - but isn't the prescribed way to go with her school program. The school program we signed on with expects her to practice handwriting 20 minutes a day 5 days/week. I would probably have her do handwriting 2 days/week and typing the other three.

She also does a lot of writing for Language Arts, history and science so it isn't as though she doesn't have ample opportunities to use her handwriting for practice because SOME of these assignments must be turned in to her teacher and then the state and in her handwriting.

EDIT TO ANSWER A FEW QUESTIONS AND CREATE A LITTLE MORE CLARITY based on the wonderful answers and comments I've already received:

She is six, but has the hand span of a seven or eight year old because she is LONG in shape - including her fingers. If she were interested in Basketball, I'm sure she'd handle the ball pretty easily.

She reads at a fifth grade level or higher, but is in a second grade writing course.

She already knows how to print quite well. She has not mastered the skill, but certainly writes as well as some of my former middle-school students did AND can keep up with her grade-level peers when she attends classes in person. It is cursive that is in question - and even then, I still think she needs to learn it, I just question the amount of time spent on practicing it when no time is spent on typing skills of any sort (nor does the school program offer it at ANY point in the curriculum - not even high school).

She/we speak English, she speaks some Spanish and is learning German. We have QWERTY keyboards in our home currently.

She is quite proficient with computers otherwise (although we haven't done anything with spreadsheets or with programming). She has actually helped me trouble shoot once or twice with glitches we've faced with her online classes. She is a little too good at navigating things if you ask me actually. So this really is about typing skills (to avoid the hunt and peck method) not computer literacy.

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How old is she? I think if she's still "practicing handwriting" rather than "using handwriting" then it's too early. Once handwriting is primarily a tool for getting her work done that's a good time to introduce touch-typing. –  noelicus Nov 19 '12 at 9:41
Some of the comments in the blog post below discussed the printing vs cursive debate with many people legitimately pointing out that cursive handwriting is typically faster and more akin to the speed of thought once you master it. I certainly find this to be the case with me. But it complements typing nicely from this perspective as typing can also be done at the speed of thought once it is mastered. Plus, your daughter still needs to know how to sign her signature. I feel bad for my high schoolers whose "signature" is really just their printed name. –  Meg Coates Nov 19 '12 at 15:27
I don't think that pointing out that cursive is "typically faster" is legitimate without some sort of factual basis. IIRC research on the subject either shows it's a wash, or that a printing-dominated mixed style is fastest. –  Iucounu Dec 13 '13 at 17:30
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6 Answers

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I have to agree with noelicus that, at her age, she's still "practicing" handwriting rather than just using handwriting as a means to an end. If I recall correctly, your daughter is 6 which is, perhaps, a little young for typing. Plus, there's the question of whether or not her fine motor skills are refined enough to learn to type correctly. I mean, if you're going to start teaching her to type then it should be done correctly--right? If not, you're just setting yourself up for angst and tears.

An interesting journal abstract here is a study that was conducted in 1983 about an analysis of teaching young (5-8 years) children keyboarding. Granted, this was 1983 and they were using typewriters, but, just from reading the abstract, gross and fine motor proficiency seem to be correlated with success as is the ability to read. Having read some of your other posts, it doesn't seem the latter would be a problem for your daughter. At any rate, it does demonstrate that young children can learn how to type with very little frustration if all the other criteria are met. However, contrary to what I wrote in my first paragraph, Jeff Utecht says that we should do away with teaching the "home row" and what have you altogether, likening it, interestingly enough, to cursive. He points out that we were probably all exposed to correct cursive letter formation in school, but probably none of us actually use that form to write anymore. Instead, he says that we should be exposing kids to the keyboard from kindergarten and allowing kids to experiment and find a typing style that works for them. His blog post on the topic is actually pretty interesting. Anyway, in a nut-shell, he says the following which may be a good way for you to approach it without necessarily sacrificing any handwriting practice time at the moment:

  1. Expose kids to the keyboard as much as possible.
  2. Every student starting in kindergarten should be exposed to the keyboard as much as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferable. He does not necessarily say how this should be done so I imagine that is entirely up to you.
  3. In first grade, the focus should be on students using two hands on the keyboard.
  4. By third grade, typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaced with keyboard time (I, personally, disagree with this, but to each his/her own).
  5. By 5th grade, students should be required to turn in at least one type-written assignment per week and spend no less than 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

I absolutely agree with Christine that learning to type is a no-brainer. She's going to have to learn it because that's the society we live in today. But there's something to be said for having decent handwriting. You can have the most amazing ideas in the world, but if no one can read your handwriting then what's the point? And, at some point, someone is going to assess her work other than you and it may or may not be typed--even if you choose to homeschool through high school, there's a good chance that you will have to enlist help from outsiders to thoroughly cover the curriculum. You obviously want any other teachers she has in her life to be able to read her handwriting.

So, yes, teach her to type, but perhaps introduce the concept slowly and you don't need to really sacrifice her current handwriting curriculum as long as you're making computer time fun while still emphasizing basic skills (like, two hands on the keyboard!). I hadn't really thought about it, but kids naturally tend toward using one hand initially (I know I did when I was little).

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Everyone types differently, yes there are general guidelines for touch typing, but they are not hard and fast, and if you were concerned about typing speed you might as well start them on Dvorak keyboards from the off - I wouldn't advise that at all! Studies recently showed that most 75wpm typists cannot actually place the letters of a keyboard onto a blank template in the correct places, it becomes a subconscious effort that you are best left to develop naturally, rather than try to teach - especially at a young age with no specific requirement to be good. Better to just give them plenty of time and varied activities on a keyboard and allow them to develop naturally. Hunt and peck is fine, I still do it for some of the non alphanumeric characters, and it will develop into 4 finger, then 6 etc as their co-ordination and motor skills improve.

On the subject of handwriting, I don't feel I can add much to what has been said, other than to say/confirm/repeat that learning to write well by hand proffers many advantages over and above simply writing, in terms of fine motor skills that can translate into all sorts of activities, who knows if in future years they won't be wielding a soldering iron/paintbrush/surgeons scalpel/craft knife etc etc and building on these skills, and so shouldn't be considered less useful than typing might be in the future.

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Every study I've ever read, and my personal experience teaching adolescents is in sharp contrast to the idea that kids will graduate into proper typing that is going to result in 60Wpm or higher without any training. I have learned touch typing and am shocked not to see it anywhere in the curriculum. However, Common core does push at least a little of it, so I imagine that will change. –  balanced mama Dec 13 '13 at 21:09
I've been in the office workforce for twenty years now, after several years of university education etc. - I am horrified to see how poorly other people type! Obviously they never learned it, and they don't realize how much it's holding them back. How can a person work in the computer industry, sitting at a keyboard literally eight hours a day, and still hunt and peck? No, typing definitely needs to be learned. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 13 '13 at 22:22
I am suggesting that hunt and peck remains fine for your children riding their way around a keyboard, who don't have an immediate requirement to bash out a 2000 word essay. I would also take issue with 60wpm being the standard for "proper typing". I can push out 75wpm when I need to, but my average is around 40, because I find that unless I am simply copy typing, the natural pauses needed to put together what you want to say don;t always result in a neat 60wpm constant stream of output. –  stuffe Dec 13 '13 at 23:45
I was referring to a tested average so that when one is working at a "constant output" pace, they can at least keep up. You are correct, that 60wpm is still fairly slow for copy typing, taking dictation, data entry, "free writing" where editing will happen later, etc. It drives me nuts when it takes a cashier minutes simply to type my 14 letter name. –  balanced mama Dec 17 '13 at 21:12
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Cursive handwriting is designed so that you can write it fast and still have it be legible and reasonably pretty. It's based on having a rhythmic movement up and down while having a smooth movement forward. Learning it is a useful skill.

Beware though, in some places, like Scandinavia, a cursive form is being taught that is designed to not be useful, but to be easy to learn. As an example, you can not write it either quickly, nor make it look good. It is useless, do not learn it

In Sweden, the so called "SÖ-stilen" (The Superior Schoolboard cursive) is to be avoided at all costs. Googling a bit about the issue it seems that the D'Nealian script taught in the US today is being criticized, but more for that the manuscript style is too similar to cursive, while the SÖ-style had the problem that the cursive was to similar to the manuscript style. In any case, make sure the cursive is a nice, rhythmic cursive.

In short: Cursive is a useful skill to have, but to be safe, teach your kid a cursive style that was designed well before 1970.

Most forms of typing instructions are designed to learn how to type fast on typewriters, using "touch-typing" and "home row" and other concepts. Typewriters have mechanical restrictions and are in various ways designed to slow down typing. Typing lessons like this are outdated, impractical and require a hand position that is unergonomic and will lead to pain, in bad cases repetitive stress injury.

I took typing once a week for a couple of years, and today I work as a computer programmer. I do not use the "typist" hand-positions, but I'm still a very fast typer. I also very rarely see any other programmer using typist positioning unless they also use special ergonomic keyboards, which they drag all over the world. Many also combine these ergonomic keyboards with keyboard layouts that are designed to be more effective, like Dvorak, also to some extent negating the usefulness of typing lessons. I don't see any ovbious connection between typical typing speed and using typist hand-positions, but I have no statistics on that.

Besides, if you need to type really fast, syllabic chorded keyboards are the way to do. As long as you use a QWERTY-keyboards, learning to type fast is basically a wasted effort as you won't be very fast whatever you do.

In addition to this, much typical computing is moving away from keyboards altogether. Home-row touch-typing is simply a skill designed for the first half of the 20th century. It's not going to be relevant or useful for your kids when they grow up. It's similar to how my mother always nagged that I needed nice hand-writing, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to get a job, but of course as soon as I actually were looking for jobs, I wrote applications for on type writers and then on computers.

In short: Do not teach your kid home-row touch-typing. It's an not a generally useful skill, it's only useful for a small set of people, namely those who sit in front of a computer typing prose all day, such as authors and secretaries. But do teach them to use a keyboard and a computer.

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In my opinion, cursive is not necessary today. Arguments for teaching cursive that I have read include:

  • That it is a holdover from a bygone era, when everything was more graceful and just better. I guess that might be true in some ways, but in my experience, trying to read sloppy/quick cursive is sheer torture, more than with printing. There are studies showing that printing is in general easier to read, which I guess would be due in part to still-increasing reading of print letters on paper and computer screens.

  • That it is faster than printing. The claim usually runs that cursive is faster because one winds up lifting the writing implement from the page less often. In fact research does not generally support speed benefits for cursive, though there has been little comparative research in this area; the few studies either show comparable speed or that printing is slightly faster, and that a mixed style is fastest (especially if print-dominated).

  • That it confers occupational-therapeutic benefits. Statements offered in support tend to be non-research-based, but rather comments from practitioners using cursive, making quasi-scientific statements about cursive involving more areas of the brain and resulting in benefits on that basis. Thus I haven't seen solid support for this, though I haven't seen anything disproving it either, and I don't think it's relevant to most children anyway.

There is apparently some support for the idea that difficulty in learning cursive is a red flag for dyslexia and dysgraphia; there are testimonials from parents and others that dyslexic/dysgraphic children do better with cursive, mainly because of increased neatness and decreased b-d reversals. I have in the past found references to statements by expert Susan Barton that cursive does not convey real benefits for these children, but I've never seen research support one way or the other.

  • That it is useful. Arguments in support of this idea often bring up the SAT, which still apparently features an academic-honesty statement at the end which is asked to be written in cursive (counterpoint: they accept printed statements nonetheless), historical documents (counterpoints: learning to read cursive is much easier and faster than laboriously practicing writing in it over the space of years; archaic script forms are likely to be no more legible to non-historian modern cursive users than to non-historian print users), and prescriptions (counterpoint: prescriptions are steadily going electronic, cursive is easier to learn to read than to write).

I think Meg Coates and others gave some good thoughts on keyboarding, so I won't tack much onto that subject's discussion, except to mention that my seven-year-old child found BBC's free online "Dance Mat Typing" to be the easiest and most fun of the keyboarding software we've used. He also seemed to pick it up fairly quickly, but he has good motor skills to start with.

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This isn't a full fix; the secon part of the third bullet point still is outdented inappropriately. –  Iucounu Dec 13 '13 at 17:26
Ah, apologies! I'll try to take another look and perhaps "fix it better" one of the next days. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 14 '13 at 22:27
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I find this question hard to answer because it is conflating several things:

  • the ability to type/mouse/swipe enough to get stuff done
  • official "touch typing" instruction with "home row" and all that where people type meaningless exercises like asdf
  • the ability to make some sort of readable marks on paper such as writing down a phone number or a shopping list, or signing a birthday card
  • official "printing" instruction where the letters must be the right shape (I remember a teacher reprimanding my oldest for writing an e by starting with a counterclockwise three-quarter circle and then drawing the horizontal bar - she actually declared the resulting shape was not an e!)
  • official "cursive" instruction which is even more demanding

By the time your child is old enough to go out into the world, they should be able to:

  • type up an essay, report, long email, blog post etc (thousands of words) without being hampered by how slowly they type or how much they have to back up and fix mistakes
  • write a handful of words for purely practical purposes that others can clearly read (notes, directions, shopping lists)
  • use the available technology for intermediate length writing - sometimes pen and paper, sometimes a smartphone, sometimes a computer. I used to call my own phone and leave myself voice mail if I thought of things while I was out of the house. It was easier for me than a note.

At the age of 6 or 7 the most important thing is "I can create words just like the book authors, web authors, tv people do." The next most important thing is being able to read their own notes. Whether typed or written, they can be idiosyncratic. You explain something; they draw a diagram or write some words for themselves. Later, they can understand what they recorded. At this stage pen/paper vs keyboard is pretty much just personal preference. Some kids will prefer to be able to change the size of the letters as they write, or to intersperse drawings with words, so they will like pen (maybe 5 colors of pen!) and paper. Others will like being able to fix mistakes, use bold and italic, and have a spell checker, so they will want to use a keyboard and word processing app. Let their style control which one predominates.

(Should a kid who loves pen and paper end up not able to type in URLs or sign in to web sites quickly, that's a fixable problem when it arises and the motivation is there. Similarly a kid who wants to type all notes and then can't "put eggs on the shopping list for me" has a fixable problem that can be tackled when it arises.)

By 8 or 9, you may feel that they are typing too slowly or writing too slowly, or that their writing is hard to read, and you may want to offer some instruction to solve that deficiency. By age 12 or 13 you (or they) may feel their handwriting is too childish and they may want to practice their cursive to have a more "adult hand" for things like writing thankyou notes or birthday cards.

Finally, my experience trying to learn complicated and difficult material (say at the university level) is that writing it out by hand "burns it into the brain" in a different way than reading it or typing it. So does reading it aloud. There is a difference between handwriting something and typing something. By the time your child is 16 they should be good at both, along with memorizing and repeating small things like a sonnet, a soliloquy or the like. These are life skills for future instruction and learning. But they are probably not relevant to a 6 year old.

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The problem is speed of writing/typing - not for me, but for her. She can't keep up with her own ideas. Learning touch typing would definitely increase production speed now, but my concern is time in the day and loss of practice with pen/paper which is also (presumably) a valuable tool in the future. –  balanced mama Oct 23 '13 at 16:40
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I think you've answered your own question when you say to do both. From personal experience I don't think cursive is necessary any more. I'm young enough that I never use it. Handwriting ie penmanship is still important for me of course, but not cursive. The only exception is that sometimes I find that I can write faster in cursive so this helpful for note-taking but obviously not a requirement.

I would start typing by your daughter's age as it is needed for her generation. Media literacy in general is crucial these days. In my work I see a big digital divide across race and class, not just age, and I see this impacting students.

Like everything, it's a balance, but if it were my child, I'd introduce them to typing around the first grade or so, maybe sooner.

I distinctly remember my little sister, still in diapers, being able to get onto Disney.com by herself because she'd memorized the keys to type! And her tiny hand barely covered even half the mouse! Too cute :)

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