Believe it or not, there are several distributions of Linux intended for use by children as young as 3 years old. Child-oriented Linux distros tend to have a simplified interface with large, “chunky”, colourful icons and a specialized set of programs designed with kids in mind.
Even when computers were first being introduced, engineers realized how useful they could be to teach children. There have been multiple games and even entire programming languages developed specifically for kids. Linux’s developer-friendly tendencies have made it an obvious choice as a platform to create software for children, and its security and stability leave little chance for them to break anything while learning.
When your kids are using the Linux operating system, no need to worry about opening and installing things they shouldn’t. You can make sure those machines have antivirus and anti-spyware, but why even take the chance?
This is pretty easy; you don’t give your children the root password, they can’t run with root privileges.
You won’t have pay for the OS license (Windows or Macs) or any application that child might need or want. However, they’ll have the Add/Remove Software tool, where they can hunt around and find just about anything they would need all on their own!
4. Age-specific tools
These distributions geared specifically for younger kids lock the operating system down tightly so that only certain tasks can be run.
5. Agile learning
Young minds adapt so well, your kids won’t have any trouble adjusting to any differences. Open source emboldens education. With really curious children, the desire to learn is extraordinary. So why lock them down with closed source software?
6. Content filtering
Linux has numerous ways to handle content filtering for your childrens. You can filter content in Linux far more granularly than you can in Windows.
Kid Linux Distributions
I will look at a couple of distributions suitable for children in this post and will give some brief information about each one.
1. Qimo (Ages 3 and Up)
Qimo for Kids is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution with a desktop environment designed specifically for children. The distribution comes preinstalled with educational games suitable for children 3 years and older. The distribution comes with an intuitive and very easy interface with large icons so that even the youngest children will not have any difficulty playing with it. But designed to be used by a single home user instead of in classroom instruction. The system requirements are fairly low, since it’s designed to be run on donated equipment which Qimo’s parent organization, QuinnCo, distributes to needy kids. Qimo 2.0 was released at the end of May 2010.
2. Sugar (Ages 6 and up)
Sugar operating system designed for the One Laptop Per Child project. Sugar is a radical departure from traditional desktops, with a strong emphasis on teaching programming skills, but is very strongly geared towards classroom use. Sugar is the distribution based on Fedora Linux that was designed for Prof. Nicolas Negroponte’s One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) project. It is aimed at K-6 children and is a radical departure from the traditional desktop, putting more fun, ease, teaching and programming abilities into the computing desktop. There are two cons that I see. The first one that it is designed for classroom use. Secondly, it is so radically different from the traditional Linux desktop that you can begin to feel you are using a completely different operating system. Although I’m pretty comfortable using Linux, I’m afraid Sugar might be too different for me to help my nephew and niece make use of it.
3. Edubuntu (Ages 3 to 18)
Edubuntu is based on the popular Ubuntu distribution. Designed to be easy to install and very Windows-like in its operation, Edubuntu would be my first choice if I were using newer hardware. Its aimed at primary and secondary schools. The distribution has three different themes, called “young”, “plain” and “default”, for young users, a plain-desktop and a general-purpose installation. The default desktop environment is Gnome and the applications that come with the installation are OpenOffice.org, KDE Edutainment Suite and Gcompris. KDE Edutainment Suite includes applications for children between ages 3 and 18 and Gcompris includes applications for children in nursery/kindergarten. Edubuntu 10.04 was released at the end of April, 2010. With its rich graphical interface, though, I worry that these years-old PCs, neither of which have graphic cards, will lag running Edubuntu. And given kids’ attention spans, I’m afraid that would be a major barrier to getting them to use it.
Software for Kids
Today we’ve gathered together some of the best Linux software applications for kids, from simple games for toddlers to programming puzzles for the older kids.
This is a suite of over 100 games and activities for children aged 2-10. The activities are devided up between sections such as Math, Reading, and Amusement. The entire suite is available in the standard repositories of most major Linux distributions.
Games with an emphasis on memory skills.
It’s got all the normal drawing tools (pen, eraser, spraycan, etc) as well as dozens of additional shapes and patterns. This is another common package that should be in your distro’s standard repositories.
4. SuperTux and Secret Maryo
They are Super Mario clones, because kids love Super Mario.
A typing game intended to help develop basic typing skills.
A guide to the periodic table and a database of information about chemistry and the elements. Great for older students.
Cool little game where kids build molecules out of atoms.
There are distributions and programs for every age and parents should not have any problems managing their kids’ computing experience. I suggest all parents introduce their children to the Linux operating system, not because it is my personal operating system, but rather to introduce their young, unspoiled brains to freedom, open the ability to explore open source.
Given the low specs of the equipment I fond with Qimo, its seems ideal for me, but since most of these will run from either a Live CD or a USB memory key, there’s no reason not to download them all and give each a try to see what you and more importantly your kids like best.