Saturday, November 12, 2011

Keyboard Town Pals

The Three Amigos were chosen to try out Keyboard Town Pals, a typing program that claims to be able to teach your child to type in an hour painlessly. I have to admit, it sounded good to me. My Three Amigos do a fair amount of online work on days when I am not feeling up to par, and at least twice a week, whether I feel poorly or not...sure, we do plenty of table activities, using workbooks, crafty things,  and manipulatives, but they LIKE using the computer to mix it up a bit and do math drills or earn points (and cool stuff for their virtual rooms) for reading. I can see how a typing program would be beneficial to us by allowing them to more easily respond to questions and spend less time figuring out where to find the keys...

So, off we went to the computer to unlock our trial of the web-based version of Keyboard Town Pals

Here's what we learned about the program:

  • Keyboard Town Pals is a typing program that teaches children how to type by using video lessons and puppet characters that teach associative cues to trigger memory of where certain keys are located on the keyboard. 
  • Their mission is to "teach young children to type on a Qwerty computer keyboard in the fastest, easiest, and least stressful way."
  • The program is intended for children up to age ten. I feel it is most appropriate for ages 4 to about 7. Firefly (age 4) was able to do it without too much assistance (mostly early on while she figured out what to do) and was interested in the colorful puppets and the novelty of "doing it herself." Cowboy (age 6) zoomed through it right on target, no problem, no explanations from me necessary. Ladybug (now 8) was not so very interested in the puppets and associative phrases, though she admitted that some of the ideas were clever. She did the program once, because I made her, but that was reluctantly.
This is Sunny. She introduces the program and helps you know what to do.
  • The program can be completed in an hour. Cowboy was our first test-pilot and he was finished within that time frame. It can also be finished in two thirty minute segments and smaller six minute ones (lessons), for younger children with shorter attention spans, for those with physical, emotional, or processing limitations that make longer periods unreasonable, or just those who are unable to devote an entire hour to typing class.
  • The keyboard  is broken into zones: uptown, home key street, and downtown. You are introduced to different characters who live in each of these areas whose names start with the letter of their key. Stories about each character (involving the letter sounds on the keyboard so you can associate the story and the sound with the key placement) take place in these keyboard areas, which helps your child cement the location of the letter key in their minds. The keys are taught vertically, instead of horizontally, and the vertical key characters are usually tied together in the stories so they remain connected in your child's mind.
  • There is no delete or backspace. These keys are disabled. The idea behind this is that we should focus on successes, not failures. This could be good if you have an easily frustrated typer who frets over going back and being perfect...they can't and that's okay. This could be bad if you have an easily frustrated typer who frets over going back and being can't and maybe that's not okay.
  • There are no timed tests and no grading on Keyboard Town Pals. This makes it even more appropriate for young learners and for those with learning differences. It is a gentle introduction to typing.
  • Pressing the keys when you are told to does not produce an interactive response. This threw Cowboy off a bit, until he realized he could type whatever he wanted and it didn't matter, then he goofed off a bit, and then I got him back on track for a while and then he got a bit silly again and then...well. You get the picture. He did finish the entire program more than once. He did a good job of it. Would interactive responses (rewards and/or consequences) have helped him focus? Maybe. Would they stress someone else out or discourage them? Maybe.
  • The program accommodates all types of learners. Lesson length can be varied for those with shorter attention spans. Colors and letter fonts can be altered for those with vision impairment or processing difficulties.
  • Would you like to see what the program is like for yourself? Here is a sample of lesson one: 

  • Keyboard Town Pals is available as a year-long subscription web-based program or as a cd-rom, both for the price of $39.95, and can be bought in Spanish, French, and English (it might work well for ESL students...). Since I felt Keyboard Town Pals was more of an introduction to typing (it did not seem to have lessons to reinforce or further develop the learning once the hour of typing lessons was completed), I am not sure about whether I feel we would want to pay forty dollars for this program. However, someone with a special needs child, or someone who had a need to get a group of younger children functional on the keyboard without a long step-by-step typing program (such as in a classroom) would find this useful and worth the investment.
  • You can read testimonials others have given on the Keyboard Town Pals website and on the Homeschool Crew Blog if you would like to see other peoples' thoughts on this product.
The final did this program work for us?

To be honest, it wasn't a perfect fit. I was bummed. I had envisioned having three "super typers" when we were done reviewing this product, and I didn't get them. Well, I think that Cowboy is a bit more comfortable with his typing on his interactive learning games since he worked with Keyboard Town Pals, however he doesn't seem to be a whole lot better when asked type words for a story...though I will admit that he is more willing to try. After all, he finished a class on learning to type in an hour, right?

Firefly is less timid with the keyboard now that she has completed the program, too. That's a bonus. She doesn't remember all the keys, but her hunting goes a bit faster. Ladybug is typing more since we started the review, but I think it is the practice she is getting making I SPY boards with Cowboy using KidPix and not the one experience she had with Keyboard Town Pals that is helping with her abilities and confidence. Like I said, it just wasn't her cup of tea. The puppets were a bit much for her, though Cowboy didn't mind them, and Firefly thought they were cute. I think it goes back to the age thing, and maybe the more serious mindset of certain students.

My thoughts on the product's effectiveness on being able to teach your kid to type in an hour are that if you don't use the skill, you can't keep it, and I think it is in the using part of the equation that this program is missing something. For a private user, it just stops too soon. We want more for our monetary investment...more practice, more levels, more stuff. I think it is probably ideal for a school system to own to use as a crash course with students in a computer lab, or for groups of special education students to use as part of their therapy. There is a definite benefit to be seen there, especially when your only need is to remove the tendency to hunt an peck from a group of kids, or to raise their comfort level with keyboarding so other programs can be used more efficiently.

If you are teaching special needs students or groups of students, you might want to check out some of the reviews on the Homeschool Crew Blog. The ones I read that had special needs students involved were very positive about the benefits of this product to their schooling. However, your average student may not have as much to gain. 

I wouldn't buy it for us to use, but someone who has a student who needs a gentle, repetitive approach (and finds that other programs are just too intense for their student) might wish to seriously consider this program.



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