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Keys to learning Instruction in keyboarding begins as early as kindergarten in some school districts

Move over, ABCs -- it's time to make room for QWERTY, as more and more elementary schools in the area are starting to teach kids how to type.

The quick brown fox and lazy dog start popping up as early as second or third grade, when formal keyboarding instruction starts in many schools. That's when most children have grown big enough that their hands can work a keyboard comfortably, many experts say.

But kids start learning the fundamentals as early as kindergarten in places such as Orchard Park and Royalton Hartland. As they're learning to spell words in the classroom, they're also learning to find the letters on the keyboard in the computer lab -- and forming good habits. Even 5- and 6-year-olds use both hands to type.

Thanks to home computers, kids are coming to school with computer experience before they learn to tie their shoes. By the time they reach high school, when typing was traditionally taught, many students have already been instant-messaging their friends and typing book reports for years.

"To wait 'til somebody is 12 or 13 years old to teach them to keyboard doesn't make much sense," said Royalton Hartland Superintendent Paul J. Bona Jr.

His district has seen enrollment in the high school's keyboarding elective dwindle, as kids become increasingly self-taught. The high school stopped offering the course this year. Instead, all children will learn keyboarding in elementary and middle school.

"It's really important to teach young students when they're first gaining access to computers how to function with the keyboard," Bona said, "rather than have them learn six or eight years of bad habits, then try to teach them keyboarding in high school."

Not everybody agrees. Some districts, including Amherst and Buffalo, still save formal keyboarding instruction for high school.

Some educators say kids aren't physically ready to start typing in elementary school. Others worry that keyboarding lessons so young would come at the cost of good penmanship.

Jacob Rauker's sneakered feet dangle off the pint-sized chair. But when he sits down to type his name, he concentrates with all the focus of a grown-up.

"Are there any K's on here?" he asks as he scours the keyboard.

It's 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, which means his kindergarten class at Windom Elementary School in Orchard Park is having its weekly 45-minute lesson with Mary E. Vesneske in the school's computer lab.

It's also a chance for Vesneske to start teaching them simple things that could help avert repetitive stress injuries later in life. She encourages children to sit up straight and use their entire arm, rather than their wrist, when using the mouse.

"I'm just so concerned about carpal tunnel and things like that," she said. "What I care about is: Are you sitting correctly? Is your back OK?"

Formal keyboarding lessons don't start until third grade. But at the end of second grade, Vesneske teaches the children exercises to get their little fingers ready for the workout ahead.

Children clasp their hands in the "here is the church, here is the steeple" grip. They make their pinky fingers do "squat thrusts" by pointing them straight up, then bending them at the bottom knuckle.

"Those little fingers are responsible for a lot of keys," Vesneske said.

Once students reach fifth grade at Windom, they find themselves doing typing exercises that should look familiar even to those who learned on an IBM Selectric: "Della feeds seals. Jesse sued Luke. Dale feels less sad."

The new twist, though, is that with a click of the mouse, students can get an instant summary of their work, from the number of words per minute they typed to the number of errors per finger.

Fifteen years ago, the state Education Department launched an effort to integrate keyboarding into the third-grade English curriculum. Although the statewide effort fizzled, the suggested timing seems to have caught on.

Keyboarding basics are taught as early as prekindergarten in North Collins and kindergarten in Cheektowaga-Sloan. Second grade marks the start of keyboarding in Grand Island, Springville and Akron; and third grade in Hamburg and Holland.

And more schools are looking to move their keyboarding lessons earlier. The area's largest suburban district, Williamsville, has explored the possibility of shifting the lessons to middle school. Keyboarding is currently offered as an elective at the high school, where about two-thirds of students take it.

Several School Board members have pushed to move instruction to middle school. Some teachers offer keyboarding in earlier grades, but there's no formal, uniform program district-wide. It doesn't make sense, board members say, for teachers to assign computer-based projects in earlier grades, before students are taught how to type.

"Parents who type for their kids or take it to work and have their secretary type it are really doing a disservice to their kids," said board member Carolyn Giambra, who has been leading the charge for earlier instruction.

But in the Amherst School District, keyboarding has always been saved for high school, and that's where it's going to stay right now, said deputy superintendent Paul T. Wietig.

"Some of these young kids do not have the tactile ability to do this kind of typing," he said.

Children as early as kindergarten in Smallwood Drive and Windermere Boulevard elementary schools start working on portable, wireless laptop stations. Students use the computers for many activities, from researching with online databases to pulling together PowerPoint presentations.

Yet they will not learn how to type until they reach high school. That's not a problem, Wietig says.

"If you develop projects keeping in mind the developmental stage of the child, you don't necessarily need formal keyboard instruction," he said.


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