Currently, we start at the 7th grade... we do have an exploratory class in the 6th grade but formal training doesn't begin until 7th.
Personally, I would like to see it at 3rd grade.
Students start keyboarding in kindergarten at my school. By the time they reach the secondary level, where I teach, they are not only adept at typing but also at many key functions on the computer. It is important for students to know their way around computers, and we might as well teach them to type from the beginning.
Seems that with all the technology...internet, computer games, kids with phones and texting capabilities, that formal training should begin in elementary school. It would be wonderful to have students come to me with typing skills...two-finger typers don't do well with all the papers we write in high school and college.
I would start exploratory stuff in 3rd grade, and actual instruction (low stress) in 4th.
A bigger issue, in my opinion, is whether we can get a movement going to start kids early with the Dvorak keyboard. The more common QWERTY keyboard was designed eons ago so that the typebars of a manual typewriter wouldn't get tangled up. The trouble is that something like 70% of the keystrokes you need to make are NOT on the home keys. With the Dvorak keyboard arrangement, something like 70% ARE on the home keys. You can easily set a word processor to read a QWERTY keyboard as if it were Dvorak, and use some sort of template over it if you want. The trouble is, schools are reluctant to teach Dvorak since they figure that their students will move on to schools where QWERTY is the only practical option.
I wish we could get a movement going to make Dvorak the norm.
We start teaching students how to read in the 1st grade. Why not introduce them to basic keyboarding skills? They might need special keyboards, but they can begin to learn how to use the keyboard correctly from the very beginning. It doesn't have to be demanding or burdensome, but I think they can begin at any age. I wouldn't do any "evaluating" until later in school, perhaps the 5th grade. I know that I learned how to type late (high school), but in the 1960's that was the way it was. It is perhaps the most importand "skill" you learn because it supports your activities in many other areas.
I think that learning basic skills is great to start in 4th grade because by even 6th grade kids are expected to type up full papers. In my district the students do not have the experience of a computer at home, so the only exposure they get to computers in their elementary years is in school.The last school I worked at had a program which gave the students a way to learn at their own pace. It taught typing as well as how to use Word, Excel, and also basic computer skills such as opening folders, saving files, etc. What I found so interesting, working with sixth grade, was that we had assigned typed assignments for some time but most of the students did not have enough background information to succeed in computer assignments. Even third grade might be a good time for that type of a program.
I think that computes can be introduced at any age via observation and modeling. In my assisted technology class, we learn about people who use assisted technology because they have a disability. These children are extremely young in age and they use computers to complete assignments, and even to communicate.
Computer use is starting at an early ages nowadays. Especially for students with disabilities, computers and assistive technology can help tremendously with the education process. There is no set grade or age, basically it is the comfort level of the user. There are 7 and 8 year old students with more technical savvy than adults.
I agree that third grade is a good time but you are right if they cannot practice at home it is hard for them to improve on their skills even if it is just the basics. At my school, each grade (k-3) is exposed to computers and keyboarding but not in the form of actual typing or keyboard memorization. We used to have time in the morning where students could come in and work on the computer but lack of someone to supervise this led to the demise of it. If more schools could teach the keyboard with some practice time that would help.
My District has students as young as kindergarten on computers but the formal computer class starts in 4th grade. My daughter just finished the class and she is really excited about everything she learned. She is now very confident with her typing and computer knowledge. I feel that 4th grade is a good time.
Computers are used more and more often in our society today, so it makes sense to get students started with keyboarding skills earlier in their lifetime. Personally, I took my computer keyboard training in the 7th grade: I consider that a little bit late. I feel that 5th grade may be the best time to start keyboard training.