If you’ve been around computers for a while, you might associate Linux with a certain stereotype of computer user. How do you know someone uses Linux? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
But Linux is an exceptionally customizable operating system. This allows users an unprecedented degree of control. In fact, parents can set up a specialized distro of Linux for children, ensuring children don’t stumble across dangerous content accidentally. While the process is more prolonged than using Windows, it’s also more powerful and durable. Linux is also free, which can make it well-suited for classroom or computer lab deployment.
Linux Distros for Children
These Linux distros for children are built with simplified, kid-friendly interfaces. An adult will need to install and set up the operating system at first, but kids can run the computer entirely alone. You’ll find large colorful interfaces, plenty of pictures and simple language.
Unfortunately, none of these distros are regularly updated, and some are no longer in active development. That doesn’t mean they won’t work, but it does make malfunctions more likely.
Edubuntu is an education-specific fork of the popular Ubuntu operating system. It has a rich graphical environment and ships with a lot of educational software that’s easy to update and maintain. It’s designed for children in middle and high school.
Ubermix is designed from the ground up with the needs of education in mind. Ubermix takes all the complexity out of student devices by making them as reliable and easy-to-use as a cell phone without sacrificing the power and capabilities of a full operating system. With a turn-key, five-minute installation, twenty-second quick recovery mechanism, and more than sixty free applications pre-installed, ubermix turns whatever hardware you have into a powerful device for learning.
Sugar is the operating system built for the One Laptop Per Child initiative. Sugar is pretty different from normal desktop Linux, with a heavy bias towards classroom use and teaching programming skills.
Note: do note that there are several more Linux distros for kids that we didn’t include in the list above because they have not been actively developed or were abandoned a long time ago.
Content Filtering Linux for Children
The best tool for protecting children from accessing inappropriate content is you, but you can’t be there all the time. Content filtering via proxy filtering sets up certain URLs as “off limits.” There are two main tools you can use.
DansGuardian, an open-source content filter that works on virtually every Linux distro, is flexible and powerful, requiring command-line setup with a proxy of your choice. If you don’t mind digging into proxy settings, this is the most powerful choice.
Setting up DansGuardian is not an easy task, and you can follow the installation instructions on its main page. But once it is set up, it is a very effective tool to filter out unwanted content.
2. Parental Control: Family Friendly Filter
Parental Control: Family Friendly Filter is an extension for Firefox that allows parents to block sites containing pornography and any other kind of inappropriate material. You can blacklist particular domains so that bad websites are always blocked.
If you are still using an older version of Firefox that doesn’t support web extensions, then you can check out ProCon Latte Content Filter. Parents add domains to a pre-loaded blacklist and set a password to keep the extension from being modified.
3. Blocksi Web Filter
Blocksi Web Filter is an extension for Chrome and is useful for Web and Youtube filtering. It also comes with a time-access control so that you can limit the hours your kids can access the Web.
Any computer for children better have some games on it, educational or otherwise. While Linux isn’t as gaming-friendly as Windows, it’s getting closer all the time. Here are several suggestions for constructive games you might load on to Linux for children:
- Super Tux Kart (kart racing game)
- GCompris (educational game suite)
- Secret Maryo Chronicles (Super Mario clone)
- Childsplay (educational/memory games)
- EToys (programming for kids)
- TuxTyping, (typing game)
- Kalzium (periodic table guide)
- Tux of Math Command (math arcade games)
- Pink Pony (Tron-like racing game)
- KTuberling (constructor game)
- TuxPaint (painting)
- Blinken (memory game)
- KTurtle (educational programming environment)
- KStars (desktop planetarium)
- Marble (virtual globe)
- KHangman (hangman guessing game)
Conclusion: Why Linux for Children?
Linux has a reputation for being needlessly complex. So why use Linux for children? It’s about setting kids up to learn. Working with Linux provides many opportunities to learn how the operating system works. As children get older, they’ll have opportunities to explore, driven by their own interests and curiosity. Because the Linux platform is so open to users, it’s an excellent venue for children to discover a life-long love of computers.
This article was first published in July 2010 and was updated in December 2017.
Image by Children at school