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Just Say "No" to Keyboarding in Kindergarten

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In an earlier piece for Huff -- and an earlier segment of Body, Mind and Child -- I asked whether or not we should continue to teach handwriting in the digital age. I found the feedback surprising, as more individuals than expected unequivocally proclaimed that handwriting is a thing of the past. While I'm not pleased with that answer (and was essentially called a "dinosaur" for believing we should continue to teach handwriting), it does raise a second question: If handwriting is no longer to be used as a form of communication but the computer is, at what age should children be learning keyboarding skills?

It's an especially important question considering a colleague's story about her first-grade grandson being given an assignment meant to be word-processed on the computer. It seems his class had received no keyboarding instruction prior to this, and her primary concern was that "hunt-and-peck" would become her grandson's "default brain template." This, she feared, would make it more difficult for him and his classmates to acquire the proper keyboarding techniques that would later save time and prevent repetitive injuries.

I decided another segment of Body, Mind and Child was in order. My guests for "Is Teaching Keyboarding in Kindergarten Developmentally Appropriate?" were Jacqui Murray, a K-5 tech teacher; Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist; and Lisa Guernsey, a regular on-air commentator for BAM Radio Network, an expert in early childhood matters, and the mother of two young girls.

When I addressed my colleague's concern, Jacqui confirmed that it is absolutely essential that children learn to type in the right way. She stated that if they aren't taught to use all of their fingers, they frequently can't relinquish the hunt-and-peck pattern. Indeed, she's witnessed many fifth-graders with exactly that problem.

So, at what age should children be learning keyboarding skills? If first-grade teachers are going to assign work meant to be word-processed, it would seem that the answer is in kindergarten.

Wrong! The experts aren't in agreement on when formal keyboarding lessons should begin, but no one with any credibility is recommending them for the little, uncoordinated hands of a kindergartner. Many say formal lessons should not start until fourth or fifth grade. The earliest recommendation I've come across is third grade. As Jacqui rightly pointed out, "Finger placement and touch typing in kindergarten would be absurd."

What many people fail to realize is that there are natural laws at play here. Developmental patterns cannot -- and should not -- be rushed. Control over the body occurs from top (head) to bottom (toes), from the middle (trunk) to the outside (extremities), and from large body parts (trunk, neck, arms, legs) to small body parts (fingers, hands, toes, wrists, eyes). Once we understand this, we can grasp why Cris Rowan insists that young children learn their keyboarding skills on the playground. They must first develop their core muscles and gross motor (large-muscle) skills before we can expect them to master tasks requiring fine motor skills.

In fact, Cris tells us, because today's children are spending so much time in front of screens and not on the playground, they don't have the muscle tone "integral for the development of motor coordination." She cited a 2009 study stating that, due to technology overuse, one-third of children entering school are developmentally delayed. The last thing they need is to spend more time in front of screens.

I do know and accept that computers are going to be part of today's children's lives. And I realize, as Lisa Guernsey pointed out, that children become excited about using them. But just because the things in children's lives have changed, it doesn't mean the children themselves have. The laws of nature still apply!

That means, of course, that keyboarding should notbe taught in kindergarten -- and that first-grade teachers have no right to give assignments meant to be completed on a keyboard. If I had my way, there wouldn't even be computers in kindergarten classrooms. Contrary to popular belief, the children can learn just fine without them. They'd likely not even miss them. And they'd certainly have more time and desire to be on the playground.

If that makes me a dinosaur, then so be it.