Colemak for kids

February 16, 2015 - By

I did a bunch of keyboard layout research this weekend. It’s a simple fact that my kids are going to be nerds; I’m not sure what kind they will become, but I predict they will spend more time on computers than my generation ever did. For that reason I’d like to help them start typing the most efficient way possible to minimize the negative impacts of repetitive strain on them.

First keyboards were designed with keys in alphabetical order, but this would fail on typewriters as the letters would get tangled. In the 1870s Qwerty was designed to be inefficient to minimize tangles. Since then more efficient keyboards have been designed with the most common keys being in a place where you minimize your movements.

The two most popular english alternatives are Dvorak and Colemak respectively. I wanted to pick one of these for the ease of use; I don’t want to have to install third party apps for my kids to use this. Dvorak is a bit more widely accepted, but Mac and Android have options for both. You can compare the two layouts here.

So what’s the upside of this? Well according to this layout analyzer; they’re pretty significant over time. Paste in some code or text and the analyzer will tell you how far your fingers have travelled. I tested this a bit. From home row to the lowercase “t” is 4cm (there and back I suppose). To make it uppercase it supposed my right pinky would travel 9cm or so. Not sure how accurate this is; but by this uniform measure it ranks Colemak and Dvorak to be sometimes upwards of half the distance travelled. Test it yourself:


the Colemak layout


Ultimately I’m choosing Colemak as there are only 17 differences between this and Qwerty; for those unavoidable times when they’ll need to use Qwerty they’ll still have the muscle memory for undo, cut, copy and paste. Learn more here:

It’s not really worth the massive investment for me to relearn typing I don’t think; but if I decide to I’ll use this tool I whipped up:


I’m kinda shocked, but I’ve been off Qwerty for about a month now (nearly 4 months after this post initially went up). I’m not up to full speed yet, but I think I feel a difference in my fingers which is great!

I wanted to minimize any impact to my efficiency, so I began with changing the keyboard on my Android phone – this is a keyboard you’re already looking at, and every key is a centimeter away! After I had the board memorized I began typing in that textarea linked above trying to develop muscle-memory particularly for word fragments like “ing”, “ous”, “tion” etc. Finally one day I found switching back to Qwerty at work to be counterproductive and slowing me down, so I finally cut the cord!

I do have a system shortcut to easily switch to Qwerty (for when IT heroes come to rescue me), but I’m all Colemak now! Once I’m fully back up to speed I may make my phone be Qwerty to try to be efficient in both layouts, but this recent challenge has been enough to keep me busy for a while!

Thankfully learning the efficient way first should be pretty easy for my kids.

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This post was written by ArleyM