How to Configure Linux for Children

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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.

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.

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1. Edubuntu

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.

2. Ubermix

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.

3. Sugar

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.

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.

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1. DansGuardian

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.

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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.

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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:

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

9 comments

  1. My 4 year old mainly uses a Dell mini 9 running UNR just fine as I just add icons to the favorites section as she only uses a few programs and websites. I'm sure we'll upgrade her to a full desktop in the next few years but I do like readin about these topics especially options for Internet safety and the like. Decent article.

  2. thanks for the article. i am planning to prepare a decent linux laptop for my niece (approximately 2 years old) for the next year. i just want her to begin with linux. havent decided the distro but the comments are also helpful.
    cheers.

  3. No matter what distro you choose, you can use FREE openDNS it has a LOT of free filtering.. keywords etc.. and you can also alter the hosts file.. making social media inaccessible.. lots of ways to protect kids etc..

  4. I have a couple of older (70+ y.o.) friends who never really got the hang of using a PC, even after being on Win XP for years. I installed Elementary OS on their rigs, and spent a few hours showing them the basic ins and outs.
    Now, though they still come up with the occasional question, they feel like they’ve got a much better handle on what to them is a lot simpler system to understand and work with than their old XPs.
    If a bunch of old farts (myself included) can switch over to Linux, imagine what younger, brighter and more pliant brains can do.

  5. If you are going to give kids a computer giving them a Linux computer will do them a big favor. Do not make your kid a slave to Microsoft. If they learn to use a Linux based computer they will have no trouble with Windoze.

  6. DansGuardian is a no longer actively supported and developed project. A fork, E2Guardian, has succeeded it.

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