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February 10, 2014

West Hartford firm’s keyboard training software finds niche with students

Photos | Contributed
Keyboard Classroom’s learn-to-type software uses patent-pending finger guides, shown above, to help children learn how to master basic typing skills.

It's certainly no secret that computers have become more integral to our everyday lives. That's also increasingly the case in grade schools where students are being introduced to computers as early as kindergarten.

Nationally, there's a push for students to master basic typing skills in elementary school and new federal core curriculum guidelines now require a child to become a proficient typist by the sixth grade.

Those increasingly demanding standards have created a business opportunity for a West Hartford company that has found a niche arming students with the typing skills they need not only throughout their academic careers, but their professional lives as well.

Founded in 2006, Keyboard Classroom offers learn-to-type software that the company boasts will turn a student into a proficient typist in six months — in fact, they guarantee it.

The program was originally developed by educators at the Ben Bronz Academy in West Hartford and targeted at children with learning disabilities, but their customer base now reaches across the United States and in Canada, Germany and Australia.

“For many, the simple act of writing and the mental process of putting a pencil to paper was actually a barrier to learning,” says Carrie Shaw, Keyboard Classroom president. “Once they became proficient typists, they no longer had to expend mental energy on the physical act of writing things down. These students were able to take notes and complete their work using a computer and keyboard and their learning abilities improved dramatically.”

Shaw licensed the software and modified it for home use by children with and without disabilities. Keyboard Classroom now has more than 5,000 customers, primarily between the ages of 8 to 14, who pay $39.95 for a single user license.

Shaw says the popularity of the typing aid is related to its emphasis on muscle memory.

“Great typists, like great athletes, need to learn the fundamentals by practicing them day after day, building new skills only after they master something less difficult,” Shaw said. “Keyboard Classroom is systematically designed so a child must truly master a skill, before advancing to a more challenging one.”

To accomplish this, the Keyboard Classroom program breaks lessons down into one-minute exercises to build muscle memory and cater to students with limited attention spans.

Students are able to advance to the next level of difficulty only after mastering an easier level. The program also makes use of a patent-pending finger trainer designed to teach children correct finger placement on the keys of the keyboard.

Homeschool families have provided a great deal of business generating nearly 50 percent of Keyboard Classroom's annual sales through its network of homeschool websites, bloggers and affiliates. The company is currently working to add additional affiliates and is directly marketing to public and private schools in Connecticut.

Shaw says that once a teacher or parent sees the effectiveness of the program firsthand, they are usually sold on it.

“We've conducted trade show demonstrations where a student, who has never typed before, sits down and five minutes later, is able to type a simple sentence or letter combination,” she said. “The parents are sold when the child looks up and says, 'I want to do this, it's fun!'”

John Lahtinen is a freelance writer/editor based in Farmington. Follow him on Twitter @johnlahtinen.

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