How to Configure Linux for Children

Many people still cling to the notion that Linux is for 30-year-old male geeks. While that may be true, there are plenty of other people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders who enjoy Linux and other free and open source software.

For the most part, the operating systems a child uses are determined by the child’s parents and school. As the parent and Linux user yourself, you may prefer your child to use Linux at home.

One feature of Linux desktop environments like KDE and Gnome is that they are extremely customizable. You can have one panel, two panels, or no panel at all. Just as easily as icons, menus, and widgets can appear, they can also disappear.

For that reason, you may find it necessary to set parameters for your children when using Linux. Whether you need tools to lockdown the desktop or filter Internet content, there is free software out there to help you. What follows is a short guide to preparing a Linux desktop for a child, complete with game recommendations.

Desktop Restrictions

Even if your child has his own computer, he may become very frustrated when he accidentally deletes the icon he wants to use. You can prevent such accidents with desktop restrictions.

KDE has a Kiosk Admin system that is controlled in the kdeglobals configuration file. You can find the file at ~/.kde/share/config/kdeglobals. Kiosk settings are added using keys in the following format:

[KDE Action Restrictions][$i]
action/<key>=false

For example, if you want to disable print properties so that children can print but cannot change or add printers, you would enter:

print/properties=false

A complete list of available keys, including plasma keys is available at: KDE Techbase.

Gnome has a similar feature for desktop restrictions called “lockdown”. The keys for Gnome lockdown are found in gconf. The easiest way to edit gconf keys is with gconf-editor. If, for example, you want to lock down the panel, you would edit the following key:

apps -> panel -> global ->locked_down and set the value to “true” to enable it.

For a detailed list of lockdown functions, visit the Gnome Desktop Administrator’s Guide.

GConf editor panel lockdown

One important thing to remember is that these restrictions will primarily prevent your child from accidentally modifying the desktop settings. Children who attempt to do so intentionally will more than likely be smart enough to figure it out, and that is an issue requiring parental attention, not increased restrictions. For very young children, however, this is an excellent way to keep things in order.

Internet Restrictions

There are a couple of methods for filtering the Internet for your child. One is to essentially block all sites and only whitelist the ones you want your child to visit. Young children will probably only have a few sites they like anyway. The second method is to use a more traditional filter to block sites you deem inappropriate. Filters like these are not 100% effective, but they should prevent a lot of accidental visits to inappropriate sites.

An example of a Firefox extension that can be configured to use either method is ProCon Latte.

Like desktop restrictions, an Internet filter will not stop older children from purposely visiting sites you believe are inappropriate, but it will reduce accidental visits.

Aside from filtering content, you can also filter ads with browser extensions. This will prevent children from following ads that may lead them to sites asking for personal information. Adblock Plus is available for Firefox  and Adblock for Google Chrome

Fun Stuff

Kids ultimately will use their computers for fun and learning, so here is a brief list of games and learning activities for kids. It is not a complete list, but should give you an idea of the wide range of games and activities available for children.

Secret Maryo Chronicles screenshot

Super Tux Kart (Racing)
Secret Maryo Chronicles (Super Mario clone)
GCompris (Educational game suite)
Pink Pony (Trone clone with ponies)
KTuberling (a.k.a. Potato Guy)
Bouncy the Hungry Rabbit
Fizzball (commercial game)
Acorn Drop
Jammer the Gardener
TuxPaint (art)

As you can see, with just a little work on your part, Linux can be educational, safe, and fun for your children.