How my son learned to type in ten minutes

I think my son is a writer. Not the one who is the cellist. Writing is too solitary for him and the audience is too far removed. He’s a performer. But the other son, he is a writer with a knack for non-fiction. He writes a journal every night, and he’s as obsessive as I was about mine.

He also started a blog. I loved what he wrote on his blog. I loved that I’d suggest a topic to him that’d he’d completely ignore and then surprise me with his own choice. But I have a confession: I did all the typing. Because as a very very fast typist I know the pleasures of being able to type almost as fast as I can think of the word. I wanted him to have that.

I told him I’d type for the first month or so and he’d learn to type and then he could do it himself. But me doing the typing never ended, probably because most of the learn-to-type programs were not fun, and the ones that were posing as games had to compete with video games, in his mind, so they sucked too. (His words exactly.)

Then some readers of this blog invited my kids to a multi-player game of Minecraft. At first I said no, because my kids didn’t play. But then, a small miracle happened: they tried playing a game that I told them I thought they’d like. (Usually my recommendation means they will never play it ever. My next suggestion will be unprotected sex. That’ll be great.)

Okay. So they started playing Minecraft and they found the treasure trove of YouTube videos of game play, and then they got really into the game, and then I emailed the people from this blog to say we want to play.

And look, overnight, Bec, in Australia set up a server, and Danielle, in Pakistan got her son online, and there was my son, in Wisconsin, playing multiplayer Minecaft.

Daneille’s son started talking. “Type t to talk,” he wrote, when my son was not responding.

My son screamed at me that I need to type and he’ll dictate.

I said no way. I told him the other kid is two years younger than he is and he’s typing himself.

So my son just started typing. Right there. I came back an hour later and he was as fast as I had ever hoped he’d get from Type to Learn.

It was amazing to see how fast my son could type when he wanted to learn for something bigger than just typing. And it was amazing, frankly, that through this blog we could get such a fun game going, reaching across the whole world.

My son shrugged off Pakistan and Australia. “We play with kids all over the world on our DSi’s. They show you a map of everyone.”

What amazed him was that he and his gaming friend were burning down a whole forest so they could build more houses. “Look, Mom. You can even blow up the forest with TNT.”



25 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    The kids in this house play minecraft, too. I even paid a computer tech guy to see if my son could set up his own server (but his laptop doesn’t have the capacity). Then Minecraft did updates that lets him set up a server–not sure if it’s more than local. Anyway — wish we could get them all up at the same time. How cool to have a virtual playdate!

    • Bec Oakley
      Bec Oakley says:

      Hi Jennifer… the Minecraft updates lets you set up a LAN server (local area network) with other computers which are nearby (in your house). So sadly no good for playing with kids on the other side of the world :)

      Virtual playdates are indeed cool. Email me if you’re interested, and I’ll see what I can do to help? (

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    It is totally amazing how Minecraft can teach just about anything. In fact I could write exactly the same blog but with your son replaced with mine. Not only has my son learned to type, but he has learned an incredible amount about communication in general through playing with Bec’s kids and now yours. In fact his finest literary moment came when writing about why Minecraft was better than school.

    So while all our sons are there burning down forests, blowing things up with TNT and building cities, we blog about how much they are learning. Hahaha.
    (sorry about the self gratuitous promotion of my blog, but it is relevant – promise!)

  3. Joanna Lodin
    Joanna Lodin says:

    Yes, it’s amazing how motivation and relevance leads to an explosion of learning. Two of my boys struggled with spelling…to the point of it being PAINFUL…and then? They got cell phones with texting…and, like magic, spelling became relevant and important. Minecraft has worked magic in our house as well.

  4. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I learned to type in the exact same way–because of a (different) online game (Everquest). Computer class in elementary school kind of gave me an introduction, but I was never really motivated to seriously touch type as fast as possible until it became a functional matter. If I couldn’t type fast, I would miss out on social relevancy in communication. And, it didn’t hurt that sometimes communication efficiency and clarity was a life or death issue. Well, okay, virtual life or death.

  5. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Back again because this post resonates for another reason: how creating and learning come in mediums less-considered than traditional means. Your son learned typing through a building game.

    My son and I were on a car ride to Lake Michigan (car rides and walks seem to be The Best Times for deep discussion). We got talking about his imagination and all the stories he tells himself. He walks around the house, muttering and gesturing, all the time. Whenever he’s not on a task or game, he’s in that mode. I asked for one of his story ideas. It had tendrils of Stephen King in its weird slant. It was kind of unsettling, in a good way!

    However, This boy does NOT like to write. It seems to pain him, physically.

    HOWEVER — He’ll talk a blue streak once he’s on a roll. I started taking dictation after reading the Wonderfarm blog. He composes mini essays about his interests–essays that, in organization and clarity, trump what I used to read from Composition 101 students.

    I’ll be looking into a cheap dictation set OR an MP3 recorder so he can talk out his stories for transcription later (Device suggestions welcome!)

  6. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    Pakistan on Penelope Trunk’s blog. Cultural diversity on a blog doesnt get any better than this. Happy times indeed.

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “I said no way. I told him the other kid is two years younger than he is and he’s typing himself.”

    Good parenting call (telling him no way) … to facilitate his education through self-learning. You’re there to help him to the extent necessary but not so much to make him dependent on you or take advantage of you.

  8. karelys
    karelys says:

    I am kinda waiting for the concern trolls to talk about the fact that he’s excited they’re blowing up forests with TNT.

    Other than that, how cool is that!?

    My dad taught my brothers and I to play guitar. I didn’t have the drive to continue but my brothers did. He taught them just enough and then he’d make excuses to not spoon feed them the next chord but left instructions on how they could figure it out.

    The twins spent HOURS trying to figure it out by themselves. It was pretty cool.

  9. patricia
    patricia says:

    Penelope, I wish you didn’t feel that you have to *confess* that you did all the typing for your son.

    I’m a fellow homeschooling parent who writes and speaks to parents on writing. I’m on a mission to help parents realize that taking dictation from kids is a fantastic means of helping kids develop into writers. (I suppose my mission has been somewhat successful as Jennifer referenced my blog in her comment above.)

    Most of us have internalized the school model of learning to write, which tells us that kids need to do all of their own writing once they know how to do it, at five or six. But think about it: the need to write at such a young age is a product of schools themselves. With so many kids in a classroom, it helps the *teacher* if kids can write–and that’s why it gets pushed on them.

    But learning to write is incredibly hard! Penmanship, spelling, grammar, punctuation–it’s overwhelming for kids. It’s an arduous task that’s forced on kids, too quickly and too soon, and many kids wind up hating writing for it.

    On the other hand, if you take dictation from kids, as you so wisely did with your son, they’re given the freedom to focus on what they have to say. As you wrote, “…as a very very fast typist I know the pleasures of being able to type almost as fast as I can think of the word. I wanted him to have that.” Absolutely! Every kid should have that.

    If we want kids to be able to express themselves well in writing, we should put more focus on self-expression and what kids *want* to say, rather than drilling them on writing mechanics, as schools tend to do.

    It’s fantastic that your son is now learning how to keyboard. (People who dis videogames miss out on a lot–including how quickly videogames teach kids to type!) Still, I’d consider continuing to take dictation from your son if he wants it. I’ve found that even kids who have developed some fluency with handwriting or keyboarding write at a far more sophisticated level if allowed to dictate. There’s a lot of learning that can happen in the dictation process, as you’ve probably already discovered. Dostoevsky referred to his transcriptionist as his “collaborator” because she had so much influence on his work.

    I’ve written a lot about this on my website, if you’re interested. Several posts are gathered here: I even have a post about how I used dictation to help my oldest write his college application essays. (Yes, he was an avid, able writer by that point, but taking dictation was a means of helping him get started on overwhelming projects.)

    Don’t feel guilty about taking dictation from your kid, Penelope. It only proves that you’ve escaped school-brain and are giving him just what he needs. Good for you.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks so much for this comment, Patricia. I love it. And it is absolutely crazy to me how hard it is to unlearn schooling. This is a great example.

      I only felt guilty because I’m stuck in an old paradigm of writing. And my instinct is right. It’s just that it’s hard to trust my instinct until someone points out that it’s fine to do things a different way.

      This is a moment that can stand for so many moments in homeschooling for me. And I think I stopped encouraging my son’s blog because I felt so terrible that I was typing. It’s sad that I did that. I loved hearing what he was dictating. We are going back to that. Thanks, Patricia!


      • patricia
        patricia says:

        It is SO hard to unlearn schooling. I only figured this out because I have three kids, and the third is almost ten years younger than the first. I didn’t take dictation from my first kid (I’d been an elementary school teacher so didn’t even consider it). I took dictation from my second because I didn’t want her to hate writing like I’d (temporarily) made her brother hate it, because I’d pushed too hard. Still, it seemed like a crutch for her and I felt a little guilty about it. It wasn’t until those ten years passed and I’d gotten most of the school out of my system that I started to recognize all the fabulous learning that happened as I took dictation from my youngest.

        Now I really am on a mission to help homeschooling parents recognize that they can use dictation as a tool to help kids say what they want to say, and find their voices as writers. Plus, as you’ve discovered, it can be a whole lot of fun to be privy to your kid’s mind as you write for him or her.

        I hope you do go back to typing your son’s blog, Penelope. I’ll bet it will be a good thing for both of you.

  10. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    LOVE IT!

    Eight years ago my eldest son learned to read and type so he could interact on Runescape. I just was not willing to sit with him for hours and hours a day to read/type for him while he played. He also discovered it made learning to play Magic the Gathering much easier!!

    Big reader to this day!

    He runs a Minecraft server too! :-)

  11. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I learned the old-fashion boring way to type and am a faster, more technical typer than A (you know who I’m talking about). However, I noticed something when we were in a different country years ago. I couldn’t adjust to the keys being in different places because I had memorized the keystroke and board on a regular USA keyboard. He, on the other hand, types by looking at the board and using his own patterns (and he’s still fast!). He was able to adjust to other keyboard configurations within days, whereas I regressed back to my slow-poke pick one letter out at a time days. Needless to say, I was frustrated and he was still in business.

  12. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    It is totally amazing how Minecraft can teach just about anything. In fact I could write exactly the same blog but with your son replaced with mine. Not only has my son learned to type, but he has learned an incredible amount about communication in general through playing with Bec’s kids and now yours. In fact his finest literary moment came when writing about why Minecraft was better than school.

    I love it that while all our sons are there burning down forests, blowing things up with TNT and building cities, we blog about how much they are learning.

    Shams loved your blog post and wanted to comment: “I love playing with your son Aunty Penelope. Its always fun for me and I love him. Its fun to play with new people and teach them and learn from them as well.”

  13. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    This has been The Summer Of Minecraft for my boys. It’s astounding how popular that game is. I have no doubt that when our kids are adults, they’ll refer back to their days playing Minecraft.

    My ten-year-old recently replaced the sun with an image of my face, so in his world, there’s his mom rising and setting with that pleasant music in the background. :)

  14. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    When I was a little kid, I was a writer. My parents wanted to help me write faster, so for Christmas when I was six, they bought me a typewriter. After that, I was unstoppable. I didn’t know how to type with all my fingers on the keys, and of course back in those days there weren’t computer programs or games to teach you, so I just used my two pointer fingers. I know they call that “hunt and peck,” but that was inaccurate in my case; there was no hunting involved, as I had the entire keyboard memorized within a day. I wrote from the moment I got home from school ’til I had to go to bed, and my speed was pretty impressive, considering I only used a fourth of the fingers I use to type now. I typed on every piece of paper I could find, even notebook paper if that’s all I had, and I had no sense of margins; every open space got a word, on both sides of the paper. I saved allowances for typing paper and typewriter ribbon, although my parents were willing to help out if I let them know I was nearing the end of a ribbon and I didn’t have any allowance, because if I ran out of ribbon without a new one on hand to replace it…well, I went full-on drama queen. My parents loved that I was so thrilled with their gift, but they had to keep moving me and my typewriter around the house to find a spot where I could write without driving everyone else crazy with the noise. I probably would have spent the rest of my life typing that way if I hadn’t been required to take a keyboarding class six years later, in junior high. By then the internet had been invented and we had computer programs to teach us to type, but all I needed was the finger chart to see where my fingers should go, and I already knew where the letters were, so I passed the typing test on the first day and spent the rest of the semester playing mindless typing games (we weren’t allowed to leave the typing program on the computer) and wishing I was at home with my typewriter so I could actually write something.

  15. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    I have one kid blogging (aged 7) – I am sorely tempted to get speech recognition software to help her with that. I use it (Dragon speaking softly) so why shouldn’t she?

    Then another kid (14) is making how to play minecraft vids and sharing them on YouTube.

    It’s fine as long as they get plenty of exercise and fresh air too.

  16. Julie
    Julie says:

    I’ve heard so many people talk about Minecraft, and it sounds like something my own son would love. I know absolutely nothing about it, but I think I’m going to have to find out. This sounds like it would be so good for him. It sounds like there is a downloadable game, but then there are also servers for multiplayer? Should we start with just the downloadable and then once he has some experience get into multiplayer?

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