My oldest son likes games and Web surfing, but we don’t want to give him full access to our PC, or to the entire Internet. We’ve experimented with various ways to block him off, with varying success. It wasn’t long ago that I found just the program for which I was looking, a customizable application launcher that serves as an alternate Windows shell. That program is KidsMenu.
I should back up for a moment and explain what the “shell” is. The shell is what allows a user to interact with the operating system. For most of us, the default Windows shell is Explorer, which includes the Start Menu, desktop icons, System Tray, etc.
If you’ve tinkered with your own PC enough, then you know that kids can find quick and easy ways to (unintentionally) mess up your system. If you’ve ever let your young ones frolic in the big, bad, World Wide Web, then you know what kind of trouble can appear on screen very quickly. KidsMenu is one program that can help prevent such things.
After installing the program, you’re going to want to gather shortcuts to all of the kid-friendly applications available on your system. In this example above, that includes several games, the KidZui browser (reviewed here), and even a Google-Chrome-created application shortcut to YouTube (this opens in a window without browser controls). Copy those shortcuts into the folder c:\Program Files\KidsMenu\shortcuts .
Before you comment, I’m well aware that there is objectionable content on YouTube. My oldest son, however, is also well aware that his mother and I are not only watching him while logged-on, but also checking the browser history, which records any sites he visits. He knows now not to go looking for stuff we wouldn’t approve of.
When KidsMenu is launched, it will overlay the current wallpaper being used, and lay the shortcuts out in web-page fashion. Clicking the shortcut launches the program, and exiting the program returns you to KidsMenu. KidsMenu can be run on top of the Windows shell as an application launcher, but what’s really handy is the option to use KidsMenu as the shell.
You’ll need a separate account for your kids so that you can continue to use the Explorer shell under your profile. To create a Windows user profile for your kids, go to the User Accounts Control Panel. You’re going to want to make sure that it is a “limited” account and not an administrator.
Log into your kids’ profile, and then launch KidsMenu from the Start Menu. Now, hold Ctrl+Alt and press “i” to see the above prompt, and select Yes to replace the shell. Now, whenever that profile is opened, KidsMenu will start up first, instead of Explorer. Clicking the “sleep” icon at the top right will only log the user off, it won’t allow access to the rest of the system.
Technology and the Internet in general can be exciting to kids, but worrisome for parents. KidsMenu is one of those programs that allows you to control your kids’ PC experience. To the parents out there: What are your favorite kid-friendly applications and sites? What shortcuts will you put on your KidsMenu? Let us know, yes, in the comments.