Best Linux Software for Kids: Apps, Distros, and Games

A girl in purple headphones smiling in front of a laptop.

Linux is a very powerful operating system, which is why it powers most of the servers on the Internet. While this OS may not have a reputation for popular games such as FIFA or PES, it offers the best educational software and games for kids. These are eight of the best Linux educational software to keep your kids ahead of the game.

Good to know: if you are getting a phone for your kids, these are the best kids cell phones to get.

1. GCompris

If you’re looking for the best educational software for kids, GCompris should be your starting point. This software is specifically designed for kids education and is ideal for kids between 2 and 10 years old. As the pinnacle of all Linux educational software suites for children, GCompris offers about 100 activities for kids. It packs everything you want for your kids, from reading practice to science, geography, drawing, algebra, quizzes, and more.

The welcome screen for the Gcompris program.

GCompris even has activities for helping your kids learn computer peripherals. If your kids are young, and you want them to learn the alphabet, colors, and shapes, GCompris has programs for those, too. What’s more, it also comes with helpful games for kids, such as chess, tic-tac-toe, memory, and hangman. GCompris is not a Linux-only app and is also available for Windows and Android.

You can install GCompris in Ubuntu from the Software Center or through the Snap store:

sudo snap install gcompris

2. TuxMath

Most students consider math a tough subject. You can change that perception by acquainting your kids with mathematical skills through Linux software applications, such as TuxMath. TuxMath is a top-rated educational Math tutorial game for kids. In this game, your role is to help Tux the penguin of Linux protect his planet from a rain of mathematical problems.

A basic session of TuxMath with two mathematical comets about to crash.

By finding the answer, you help Tux save the planet by destroying the asteroids with your laser before they make an impact. The difficulty of the math problems increases with each level you pass. This game is ideal for kids, as it can help them rack their brains for solutions. Besides making them good at math, it also helps improve their mental agility.

You can install TuxMath in Ubuntu from the Software Center or through the apt command:

sudo apt install tuxmath

Tip: check out some of the best sites to find ebooks for kids.

3. Sugar on a Stick

Sugar on a Stick is a dedicated learning program for kids: a pedagogy that has gained a lot of traction. This program provides your kids with a full-fledged learning platform where they can gain skills in creating, exploring, discovering and also reflecting on ideas. Just like GCompris, Sugar on a Stick comes with a host of learning resources for kids, including games and puzzles.

The landing screen for Sugar on a Stick showing a context menu for the system.

The best thing about Sugar on a Stick is that you can set it up on a USB Drive. All you need is an X86-based PC, then plug in the USB and boot the distro from it. Sugar on a Stick is a project by Sugar Labs – a non-profit organization that is run by volunteers.

Aside from booting from a separate USB stick, you can also install Sugar as a desktop environment on a running Linux distro. This can be incredibly helpful if you want to create a dedicated learning computer for your children at home.

4. Scratch

Scratch is a programming language for non-programmers and children. It aims to be an easy-to-use and highly accessible way to create simple programs and games on your computer. Unlike a regular programming language, Scratch uses interconnected puzzle-like blocks to represent functions, variables and structures.

The landing screen for Scratch. It shows a simple block code in the middle of the window.

This simplified approach means that a user does not need any prerequisite knowledge about programming to start creating programs. For example, it is incredibly easy to create an iterative for loop in Scratch by just combining two block types together.

A basic Scratch session with an iterative loop in code blocks.

While you can use Scratch as a web app, it is also available in most Linux distros as an offline application. You can install the program in Ubuntu from the Software Center or via the following command:

sudo apt install scratch

Good to know: Scratch is a great first programming language. Once you are proficient in it, you can take your next step by learning shell scripting.

5. Tux Paint

Tux Paint is another great Linux educational software for kids. This award-winning drawing program is used in schools around the world to help children nurture the art of drawing. It comes with a clean, easy-to-use interface and fun sound effects that help children use the program. There is also an encouraging cartoon mascot that guides kids as they use the program. Tux Paint comes with a variety of drawing tools that help kids unleash their creativity.

A basic session of Tux Paint. A drawing of a face is in the middle of the canvas.

You can install Tux Paint in Ubuntu from the Software Center or by running the following command:

sudo apt install tuxpaint

6. Tux Typing

Tux Typing is a simple, yet intuitive touch typing tutor for Linux. Unlike regular typing programs, it also aims to be an accessible and fun way for children and non-computer users to learn how to type quickly and efficiently with a keyboard.

The landing screen for Tux Typing. It shows the activities that you can do in the program.

One of the main selling points of Tux Typing is that its developers structured it to behave like a mini game. For example, the program includes two simple games that introduce both proper finger placement and efficient keystroke typing. This abstraction, in turn, makes the program less daunting for non-technical users that want to improve their computer skills.

A sample session of Tux Typing.

You can easily install Tux Typing in Ubuntu from the Software Center or by running the following command:

sudo snap install tuxtyping

Alternative: you can also check out these games to improve your typing skills.

7. Nootka

Simple and elegant. Nootka is a music notation program that aims to teach the basics of reading and writing sheet music. The program will display a specific note in the screen and ask the student to play that note. Nootka will use the machine’s microphone to detect whether the student played the note correctly.

A basic classical guitar session of Nootka.

Aside from that, Nootka also packs a number of great features out of the box. For example, it has a “tuner mode” that will listen and teach the student how to tune various instruments for playing. It also has a “listening mode,” where the student can train their ears to listen for particular notes.

The microphone window for Nootka informing the user of its listening feature.

You can obtain Nootka in an AppImage container from the developer’s SourceForge website. Run the following commands to use it in your desktop:

sudo apt install fuse
cd /home/$USER/Downloads
sudo chmod +x ./nootka-2.0.2-x86_64.AppImage

Tip: you can automate this process further by creating a .desktop shortcut for Nootka.

8. TupiTube Desk

TupiTube Desk is a powerful yet easy-to-learn 2D animation software for Linux, Windows and Mac OSX. Unlike professional animation tools, TupiTube Desk distinguishes itself by focusing on the fundamental tools that make up 2D animation. For example, the program has an extensive frame-by-frame feature as well as dynamic vector backgrounds.

A basic session of TupiTube. It shows a white canvas with a thin smiling face in the middle.

Aside from that, TupiTube also supports in-app sharing. It is incredibly easy for a user to publish their work online. Because of these, TupiTube can be a great tool for students that want to get started with animation but do not know where to start.

You can install TupiTube in your Ubuntu machine by obtaining its .deb file on the developer’s download page. Once it is in your machine, you can install the program by running dpkg:

sudo dpkg -i /home/$USER/Downloads/tupitubedesk_0.2.18_amd64.deb
A terminal window that shows the installation process for TupiTube.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Scratch a secure IDE for my computer?

Yes. Scratch is a completely safe program that you can install on any computer. For the most part, the functions that are available in Scratch do not modify any system file on your computer. Aside from that, the latest version of Scratch also includes the ability to run any user-created program inside a virtual machine.

Are there benefits to using Sugar on a Stick instead of Sugar?

While Sugar and Sugar on a Stick are fundamentally the same desktop environment, the latter can be helpful if you do not want your child to access and modify any files in your machine, as Sugar on a Stick is a live image that will only contain the files that are present in its USB drive.

TupiTube Desk failed to install on my machine.

This issue is most likely due to a missing dependency in your system. Unlike apt, dpkg is a completely manual package manager, so it cannot automatically resolve any missing dependencies on its own.

Knowing that, you can fix this issue by running apt: sudo apt --fix-broken install. This will check your current “install queue” and resolve any dependencies that dpkg encountered while attempting to install TupiTube.

Image credit: Thomas Park via Unsplash. All alterations and screenshots by Ramces Red.

Ramces Red
Ramces Red

Ramces is a technology writer that lived with computers all his life. A prolific reader and a student of Anthropology, he is an eccentric character that writes articles about Linux and anything *nix.

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