Linux for Kids

by Brian Skory

I know that many of you developers out there have school-aged children. And as developers, more than likely you have spare computers lying around as well. So why not take advantage of some of the Linux distributions out there that are specifically geared toward children. Three major benefits that I see for this are:

• Child-oriented Linux distros tend to have a simplified interface with large, chunky, colorful icons and a specialized set of programs designed with kids in mind.
• In addition to the kid-friendly interface, there is a fair amount of game and edutainment software which either comes with the distribution or is available for download.
• Kids explore and mess things up. With his/her own Linux box, it’s no big deal.

Here are a few of the kid-geared distributions that I am aware of:

Sugar is the operating system designed for the One Laptop Per Child project. This OS is a radical departure from traditional desktops and has a strong emphasis on teaching programming skills.

Edubuntu is based on the popular Ubuntu distribution. Designed to be easy to install and very Windows-like in its operation, Edubuntu is a good choice for newer equipment that can handle its rich graphics.

LinuxKidX uses a KDE-based desktop highly customized for children, and is based on the Slackware distro.

Foresight for Kids is based on Foresight Linux, a distro distinguished by the use of the Conary package manager.

Qimo is another system based on Ubuntu, 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.

Below  is a compilation of Linux software available for kids (courtesy of Dustin M. Wax at Stepcase Lifehack).

GCompris, a set of over 100 educational games intended to teach everything from basic computer use to reading, art history, telling time, and vector drawing.

Childsplay is another collection of games, with an emphasis on memory skills.

TuxPaint, an amazing drawing program filled with fun sound effects and neat effects.

EToys is a scripting environment, more or less. The idea is that kids solve problems by breaking them down into pieces, scripting them, and running their scripts – the same way programmers do. But the goal doesn’t seem to be to teach programming but rather to provide an immersive learning environment in which kids learn foundational thinking skills.

SuperTux and Secret Maryo are Super Mario clones.

TomBoy, a wiki-like note-taking program.

TuxTyping, a typing game intended to help develop basic typing skills.

Kalzium is a guide to the periodic table and a database of information about chemistry and the elements. Great for older students.

, a cool little game where kids build molecules out of atoms.

Tux of Math Command is an arcade game that helps develop math skills.

If anyone is already using any of these distributions with their kids, I’d love to hear your feedback.
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