By Josie Whitehead

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You may think that this article in the middle of my poetry website is a bit strange, but I am a qualified teacher of secretarial subjects and so I think that what I am going to tell you, you should pay attention to,  So, are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin, ha ha


One of the best skills that both you and your children can acquire is the ability to touch type because the computer keyboard plays an important part in our lives.  It gives you the opportunity to type what you have to say at speed and without having to concentrate on looking at the keys.


I am a qualified teacher of typewriting (as well as other subjects) and it was a long and  hard training.  Bad habits picked up at an early stage of learning a skill are difficult to eradicate.  If you cannot get a fully trained teacher to teach your children, may I recommend the BBC SCHOOLS - DANCE MAT TYPING.


As with learning to play the piano, one of the most important things is that the child's body is in the correct position to learn this skill.  The feet should be flat on the floor, and if the table is too high, perhaps a small box under the feet would help.  The keyboard should be level with the edge of the desk because no part of the hands should rest on the desk.  The elbows need to touch the waist and from there the arms should very gently slope towards the keyboard.  I would advise the keyboard be slightly raised at the back and on most keyboards there are tiny feet at the back to raise it.  The wrists should not be raised nor sunken but should be in alignment with the arms and hands.  The fingers should rest lightly on the home keys, asdf and ;lkj with the thumbs on the space bar, and just slightly apart.  It is the right thumb that operates the space bar, not the left.  The hands should not sink but be held in a position that enables the fingers to gently hook.  You should be able to reach the keys on the row above without movement of the wrist, and also the keys on the bottom row.  You should also be able to stretch your fingers and reach the figures on the top row without too much movement.  I was taught, when I learned the piano, not to do too much hand movement, and my music teacher made me practise the scales with a large penny balanced on the back of the hand.  It is the same with typewriting.  Only the fingers should move.  Keep fingers on the home row and bring them back immediately after hitting away from the home row.  Type rhythmically and evenly from the beginning and call the letters out in your mind letter by letter.  I still do this.  Don't read ahead or read whole words when learning to type.


The above points are very important and a good teacher would understand them.  It is not necessary to cover the hands when learning to type, as I saw this unqualified person telling teachers.  If the hands are held in the correct position, there is no need to look at the keys because, from the home row you can find the other keys quite easily by touch.  


If you keep your elbows touching your waist and the hands gently rising to the keyboard, you will find that your hands are "straight" on the keyboard.  With your finger on the f key, you know in your mind that the letter r is immediately above it, and that you have to stretch your index finger to the right to hit the t key.  If your elbows move away from your waist, then your hands will be pointing inwards and each time you think you have hit an r you will have hit a t by mistake.


The importance of having your seat at the right height, and for holding your hands and arms etc as I said is because it is very easy for people to get muscle problems, rather like repetetive strain injury, by sitting in bad position at a keyboard.  For little children this can be quite serious and long lasting.  Keep the back well supported too with the back into the back of the chair firmly. I would also recommend that if copying from something, eg a piece of paper, that you have a raised paper holder at your side so that you are not bending your neck and looking down for long as you will get neck problems.


As for letting unqualified teachers in to teach your children the keyboard.  Don't!!!  Bad habits are hard to undo once learnt, in fact impossible.  As teachers you will know that something done a certain way three times (three being the magic number) means that a habit has been learnt.  So make sure it is a good habit.


I have found an excellent touch typing course for children and 2 children, including my own granddaughter when she was 4 or 5 did it.  It is the BBC Dance Mat typing and it is entirely free. They remind the children of all the above things which I have mentioned as they go through the course, and children can follow this course quite easily themselves.   In about three to four weeks they will be typing at about 25 - 30 words per minute, beautifully rhythmically, and with not many mistakes.  The only problem is getting the children to get away from the programme and rest, because I rather think it is a little addictive.  Too long on the computer isn't good for them or for their muscles, and I've paid an osteopath  to tell me the same when I had terrible pain through my back and ribs.  He suggested that after about 20 minutes to half an hour we all should take a break and do some exercises for neck, back and shoulders etc, and walk round and stretch ourselves.  The computer brings its own problems, so I think it is time for me to pack up and leave you to your reading.


Last but not least, typing will help them with spelling because calling out the letters of words as they type them, they will learn the spellings.  Typing in particular is wonderful for dyslexic children and I've had many of these children to teach and they did really well.  Good luck.  Josie