With summer vacation in full swing, and a vacation in my family’s near future, I decided to set my 9 year old up with her own blog. Blogs have a lot to offer that private diaries can’t provide, and the interactive potential can be healthy for kids if properly supervised. Writing about their experiences online, for example, teaches kids to position their thoughts for public consumption. They learn how to formulate thoughts appropriately, defend their opinions politely, expand their horizons to other viewpoints, and even moderate discussions.
I thought, “Hey! Blogging for kids—that will make for an interesting article this month.” So I showed Emma how to log on to our family Web site. How to create a new post. Gave her some ideas to get her going. Showed her how to tag her topics. Then I walked away, eager to spy from across the kitchen as her creative juices began flowing.
Instead, what I watched was a lot of index-finger hunting and pecking. I think her first entry was about 12 words long—and it took her 15 minutes. The reality was clear: My poor kid couldn’t type. And that was going to be a problem.
I flashed forward five years to a frustrated teenager hunched over her laptop, battling recalcitrant fingers that refused to find the right keys. What would happen if she still struggled to put her thoughts into words on the keyboard? Would she opt for less complex paper topics, fewer words, because typing was too frustrating? At what point, I wondered, would her teachers expect her to just magically pick up the skill?
Well, forget that. I sat down with Emma at the computer again, this time with a new agenda.
“This summer,” I told her, “you’re learning to type.”
So far, we’ve started with the basic beginner stuff. A lot of “ff jj fjf jfj” and so on. I’m using a site called www.FreeTypingGame.net, and she seems to like it. There are both lessons and games, and the site helps you set goals and skill levels. It even calculates your child’s word-per-minute score, so you can track progress. The point is the repetition of basic movements with the hands; you want the muscle memory to become so ingrained that eventually, when the brain thinks “s,” the hands move to the “s” key without thinking about where it is.
Another decent site is www.learninggamesforkids.com. As the name implies, they have a lot of typing games, but not as many lessons—and I think kids should have at least some practice in basic keyboarding before trying these out. Most of the games require a bit of skill, and the last thing you want is to add frustration.
I have to admit I’m not impressed with the way our schools approach the typing dilemma. On the one hand (no pun intended), they want students exposed to computers and computer skills as early as Kindergarten, which is a good thing. On the other hand, though, spelling at that age is rudimentary, and most young children’s hands aren’t developed enough to reach all the keys yet, so teaching typing the typical way can seem sort of pointless during early elementary school. Unfortunately, this means we’re ending up with a bunch of students who are really good at using computers badly. They’re learning that the ends of using the computer are more important than the means.
Tsk, tsk. Imagine a child learning to play the piano simply by being taught just the notes to a song. She’s expected to play that song so that it sounds right—but she isn’t taught how to hold her hands, what the notes are called, where they are, any of that. It doesn’t make sense.
Add to this problem the fact that many of our younger children are now texting with regularity, and you have a new set of bad habits to break. What happens when kids are more comfortable texting shorthand with their thumbs than typing properly on a full QWERTY keyboard?
I’d like to challenge our schools to put new emphasis on keyboarding instruction designed for today’s elementary school children. Surely there’s a way to encourage good habits, to lay the foundation for proper typing that kids can grow with as their dexterity improves. After all, if we’re going to require that they learn to use computers, we should require that they really learn to use them—keyboards and all.
In the meantime, I’ll stick with my online lessons and games. Hopefully, Emma can conquer some of her hunt-and-peck instincts and get a few good blog entries out this summer. I suppose, if her entries start to reach the multiple-paragraph point, you’ll know she’s learning.