How to introduce Linux to your little kid

What are the best ways to get kids interested in Linux at an early age?

With my daughter nearing 3 years old, the topic of “how best to introduce a young kid to computers” has been on my mind a great deal. And since my home (and work) computing life revolves around Linux, the ideal is to introduce her to the wide, wonderful world of Linux and Open Source.

There are really two big hurdles here.

The first hurdle is to get her excited about it - truly interested in using it and thinking of it as a fun and enjoyable thing. How do you get a toddler truly pumped up about Linux? Books, cartoons and songs.

Unfortunately, using music doesn't really seem to be an option. I just don't think Richard Stallman singing his Free Software Song is going to get my three-year-old daughter interested in Linux.

There are a handful of books out there to introduce kids to programming – such as "Python for Kids" and "Super Scratch Programming Adventure" – but these are really meant for older children.

Since there was a lack of a good toddler-focused Linux books, I went ahead and wrote one called "Linux for Hank." The goal was to write a fun story that would get a kid interested in “Linux”...and, truthfully, to give Linux-nerd daddies something more fun to read to their kids than most of the books out there. It seems to be doing the trick from the reports I've received.

Which brings us to the second hurdle: Finding a Linux distro that a toddler will actually enjoy using with minimal help from adults.

In my house we've tried quite a few kid-focused distros with mixed results.

Edubuntu was first. And, quite simply, it was not built for kids under the age of, say, 6 or 7. It’s essentially stock Ubuntu (including the standard Ubuntu Unity dock and interface) with some changes to the included packages. That sounds perhaps more derogatory than it should – Edubuntu is certainly a good system with definite good points. But it's just not a viable system for toddlers.

Doudou came next and was much more approachable for my little "not-quite-3 year old." A nice collection of games, learning and painting software came pre-loaded. And, perhaps the most important part, loading them and moving around was pretty simple for her. It took some hands-on training time, but she picked up the basics pretty quickly.

Qimo came next for us. Think of Qimo as, essentially, Xubuntu with a user interface custom tailored to little kids. The best way to describe it would be "big, colorful buttons." She picked up launching games using the mouse quickly. When I put Qimo on a touchscreen laptop things got even easier. I found that she was able to use the system unattended for quite some time.

Both Doudou and Qimo are excellent choices, in my experience thus far. For a 2 to 5 year old, you could certainly do much worse.

Now if only someone would write a few Linux songs for kids (and write a few more books other than mine), then I think we'd be all set for introducing Linux-based computing to the next generation of little kids.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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