Linux and kids: What are the best ways to teach children about open source?

How does the open source community encourage the next generation to use Linux and open source software? Read about the just-for-kids Qimo distribution and recommend your own resources.

A lot of the news I come across is contentious -- of the Linux vs. Microsoft variety -- and then there are the lawsuits, claims and counterclaims, and forum flame-throwing that go along with it. That's why I was charmed by this little story by columnist Mike Cassidy from last week's Southern California Linux Expo about three young girls who submitted proposals for their own presentations. Sisters Saskia and Malakai Wade (ages 8 and 12, respectively) and friend Mirano Cafiero (also age 12) talked about Gimp, TuxPaint, and OLPC XO computers. Malakai showed a stop-action Barbie video that she made with OpenShot.

The girls inherited their interests from their fathers, both active in the world of open source. Cassidy writes:

In fact, the Cafiero and Wade families might offer a hint to educators and hiring managers who've puzzled over the problem of the low percentage of women working in high-tech fields. Mirano said her father's fascination with open source has inspired her. It's helped her figure out what she can do and what she wants to do.

This story made me wonder what kinds of programs and opportunities are out there in the Linux community that are just for kids. Apart from enthusiasts getting their own kids involved at home, are there special projects aimed at teaching children about Linux and open source software?

One thing I found was the Qimo desktop operating system, based on Ubuntu, and designed just for kids. You can download it here.

It requires a minimum of 256MB of memory to run from the CD, or 192MB to install and at least 6GB of hard drive space is recommended, with a 400MHz or faster CPU. From the FAQ on the site:

Qimo was designed to be a standalone home computer for kids, rather than a networked classroom computer. The interface for Qimo is designed to be easy enough for a 3 year old to use, without having to navigate menus or manage multiple open windows. Also, Qimo will also run from a LiveCD, and doesn't require an existing Ubuntu installation the way Edubuntu does.

Have you introduced any little ones to Qimo or other Linux-based OSs? What are the best resources, games, programs and projects for children, and what age groups would you recommend them for?

By Selena Frye

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...