6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux

Bertel King 30-08-2016

Do you know how to use a computer? Under a certain age, that question sounds ridiculous. Those words will be even more foreign by the time your kid becomes an adult. Using computers is something people simply do.


But not all computers, or the operating systems that run them, are created equal. Nor are they neutral. The software we use influences our values, assumptions, and skills. What habits and morals do you want to pass to your kids?

This isn’t a post about sticking your baby at a computer. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against sticking kids in front of screens before the age of two. Though that hasn’t stopped app developers, phone manufacturers, and accessory producers from trying.

This is about slightly older kids, those ready to figure out a keyboard. The OS they use matters, and Linux might be the best one to start them off with. Let’s talk about why.

1. Linux Doesn’t Treat You Like a Consumer

Many of us live in consumption-based societies. Advertisements bombard us our entire lives, encouraging us to buy more, own more, and hoard more. There isn’t a problem that can’t be solved by buying one more thing.

On Windows and Mac OS X, this situation is no different. While you don’t have to, both expect you to purchase most of your applications. This means more ads.


As your child uses a computer, they will be told they need to buy more apps and games. The situation is significantly worse on smartphones and tablets. This will hit your wallet, sure, but it also fosters more consumption and digital hoarding. The computer joins your TV and other media in teaching your child how to be a consumer.

On Linux, your kid will still hit a point where they want more software, but when that time comes, they won’t need to ask for your credit card. As long as their account has permission, they can head to the repos and download additional software for free. This changes the relationship between them and their computer. It’s no longer another way for them to spend money. Instead, the computer is a tool, one that encourages creativity and exploration.

And that’s just the beginning.

2. Linux Encourages Giving and Sharing

Share your toys! Parents of siblings know how this issue inevitably arises. But the message is an important one. At such a young age, few would argue that kids should learn the importance of hoarding and selfishness over sharing.


As we get older, this message becomes less clear. Advertisements encourage us to increase what we own. Our culture worships people who acquire many times more income than they need, and we’re told to aspire for that same wealth. Giving, whether through charity or some other cause 9 Ways You Can Donate To Charitable Causes Online The Internet has made charitable giving really easy. Here are 9 ways to donate online. Read More , is treated as an afterthought reserved for generous people or those with money left over after all of their spending.

Linux flips the script. Without having to spend money on software, apps feel less like products and more like extensions of the computer. Your child will grow up with the concept of software being something developers create for others’ benefit.

If your kid takes up coding some day 10 Tools To Get Kids Excited About Programming For the average kid, computers and smartphones are fun tools. Education comes much later. Getting a kid excited about programming might take some doing because logic needs a bit of time to develop. It is... Read More , they make view the act as a way to expand on what a computer can do. They may feel compelled to share the results with others, much like members of the scientific community. They may contribute back to a broader community, rather than view their skills as a way to create an app that will make them rich some day.

3. Linux Teaches Conservation

The electronics industry is filled with waste Thou Shalt Consume: The Story of Consumer Electronics [Feature] Every year, exhibitions around the world present new high tech devices; expensive toys that come with many promises. They aim to make our lives easier, more fun, super connected, and of course they are status... Read More . Products come with a lifespan of one or two years. Many “smart” gadgets can’t receive updates, with their makers using that as a reason for you to buy the next model. Computers aren’t as bad, but new versions of Windows often need hardware upgrades. Apple doesn’t support older MacBooks with the latest versions of Mac OS X (or macOS, as it will soon be called What's New in macOS Sierra? The New Features Coming to Your Mac OS X is dead, long live macOS. Read More ).


This teaches children that electronics are cheap, temporary commodities. It encourages them to use and discard, rather than preserve and recycle.

Linux does the opposite. It works great on hardware that is several years old 14 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC New Life Need a lightweight operating system? These special Linux distros can run on older PCs, some with as little as 100MB of RAM. Read More . You can use the OS to salvage an old PC with a dead hard drive. Stick it on a machine that can barely run Windows XP.

Linux can help you defeat planned obsolescence Defeat Planned Obsolescence with Linux and Open Source Software Unlike a 5-year-old PC, a 5-year-old smartphone can barely run any modern apps. But there is a way to enjoy the benefits of technology without buying new hardware: embrace Linux and free software! Read More and teach your kids the value of taking care of what they own.

4. Kids are Free to Experiment

PCs are wonderful devices. No other tool provides the means to write a novel, draw a comic, produce a song, create a game, and make a video all in one place.


On commercial operating systems, the software needed to express this creativity can cost quite a bit of money. Sometimes the price tag extends into the hundreds of dollars.

On Linux, the tools are free. True, some of these applications don’t quite compare to their commercial counterparts. But we’re talking about kids here, not professionals. Plus if your child grows up learning how to produce quality work using free software, that will save them money down the line. Expressing their creativity will be less dependent on the size of their income, which empowers them to be more creative.

They can save money on hardware, too. Linux runs well on a PC that costs as much as taking the family out to dinner 5 Reasons to Give Your Kids a Raspberry Pi If you don't own a Raspberry Pi and you have children of a suitable age, you need to seriously think about bringing one home. It could transform your child's life – here's why. Read More .

5. Linux is Educational, too!

You may not want to switch to Linux out of fear of missing out on certain educational programs. Fortunately, Linux has more than a few options of its own 4 Linux Applications to Keep Your Kids Ahead of the Game Read More . Your kid can use their computer to practice math Make Math Easy with These Linux Apps While most of us don't deal with integrals and vector fields on a daily basis, managing budgets and calculating surface areas when redecorating comes in useful. Math matters, and these Linux tools can help. Read More , map the world Marble - An Open Source Alternative To Google Earth [Linux] If you haven't tried out Google Earth, you may be missing out. But it can sometimes be a resource hog. Additionally, Google Earth is made by, well, Google, which might lead some people to automatically... Read More , study chemistry 3 Useful Ubuntu Apps for Chemistry Students Read More , and much more The 5 Ultimate Scientific Linux Distributions What are scientific Linux distributions? The answer is rather obvious: while most Linux distributions are general-purpose, some specialized ones come bundled with certain types of software. Let's see what they can do! Read More .

Plus with browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, most of the web remains at your fingertips. There is no shortage of web content aimed at enriching young minds 10 Awesome Educational Websites for Kids Worth Bookmarking Learning should be fun for kids. Here are the best educational websites for kids that help them learn science, social studies, and more! Read More , enough so that the selection of native applications hardly even matters.

That said, there are entire distributions designed to provide your kid with a safe space to learn Simple & Friendly: 4 Great Linux Distros For Kids Turn an aging computer into a kid-friendly machine that's both educational and entertaining. Thanks to open source software there are a variety of complete operating systems designed to let you hand down computers to kids... Read More . These often highlight a few educational apps while stripping out all of the other tools that your kid may not yet need. This is also one way to be sure they aren’t using the computer to do things that could put them at risk.

6. Linux Protects Kids from Malware

Viruses have targeted Windows for decades. The operating system is more secure now, but there’s still the risk of compromising your machine by installing software from an untrustworthy source. If your kids are older, they may stumble onto a dangerous email attachment. Maybe that folder of music a friend sent them wasn’t from the safest of sites. Some kids figure out how to safely navigate around these threats, but that isn’t always the case.

Linux isn’t 100% free of malicious software Is Linux Really as Secure as You Think It Is? Linux is often touted as the most secure operating system you can get your hands onto, but is this really the case? Let's take a look at different aspects of Linux computer security. Read More , but it is a significantly safer computing environment. Your child will still need to know how to avoid phishing and other social engineered attacks, but many of the internet’s threats will no longer apply. This is without installing any anti-virus software, which you can still do if you want, if for no other reason than to help protect any Windows computers that may share your home network.

While you’re at it, be sure to create a separate user account for your kids. You can even install software that limits their computer time Ubuntu Timekpr Controls Computer Access For Kids, Not Just Internet Access There's a Linux parental control utility that controls access to the computer account, not just Internet access. If you want your kid to stay off the computer, you need Timekpr. Read More .

Will Your Kid Miss Out?

Here in the US, most schools train students using Windows or Mac OS X. They learn how to use software like Microsoft Office, which doesn’t quite work well on a Linux machine How to Run Windows Apps & Games with Linux Wine Is there any way to get Windows software working on Linux? One answer is to use Wine, but while it can be very useful, it probably should only be your last resort. Here's why. Read More . Sometimes they may need to run specific programs that only work on commercial platforms.

But this isn’t a roadblock. Since schools don’t know whether each child has a computer at home, they either supply computer labs or distribute laptops themselves. The vast majority of assignments, such as typing a paper or creating a presentation, don’t need Microsoft Office. A free alternative such as LibreOffice will do the job just as well, if not better Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? LibreOffice is the king of free office suites. It's unlikely to replace Microsoft Office in a business environment, but it's an excellent alternative for casual users. Here's what's new in LibreOffice 5.1. Read More . The interface won’t be the same as what your child learns at school, but knowing how to navigate similar applications is an educational experience and useful skill all its own.

With more schools transitioning to Chromebooks, this is increasingly less of an issue. Whatever your kid can do from a Chromebook, they can do from a Linux desktop running Google Chrome. In a nutshell, that’s all Chrome OS even is How to Install Linux on a Chromebook Here's how to install Linux on your Chromebook so you can start using other apps like Skype, VLC Media Player, and more! Read More .

So, what say you? Have your kids ever used a Linux desktop? Do you think they would be receptive? Would they even notice? And if you’re unfamiliar with Linux yourself, maybe that would be a good place to start. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Image Credits: Catalin Petolea/Shutterstock

Related topics: Linux, Open Source.

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  1. Mike
    January 15, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Good article. My son had a Linux machine since he was 5 and I'm very impressed with all things he has created with it. Specifically, the distribution that has had all this time is Picaros Diego, highly recommended, I like it does not treat children as if they were monkeys, but it is easy to use and has a lot (A LOT) of software installed.
    I think it is a Spanish distribution, because sometimes I found messages don't translated, but anyway, worth it.

  2. Sunil Makwana
    August 31, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Good article about Linux.Parent have to think to teach Linux to their kids because window is common platform use in world.

  3. Anonymous
    August 31, 2016 at 4:16 am

    Wish my parents did this with me. I will do this with my kids

    • satrain18
      September 1, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      Looks like you've drunken Stallman's Kool-Aid.

      • Mike Walsh
        June 16, 2017 at 10:28 am

        Easy to see who the Windows/Mac 'fanbois' are.....

  4. Anonymous
    August 30, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Should point out that while most software is free, there are some software that requires payment. Most PCs will run Linux quite well dual booting with Windows as a backup if you need Windows only software. Most Linux these days is as easy to use or easier than Windows, but be careful are few aren't. Linux also comes with most software you need already installed and everything is automatically updated when needed.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      September 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      All good points. Thanks!

  5. Anonymous
    August 30, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    That is all well and good but you are neglecting the 800 lbs gorilla in the room. Sooner of later we all come to a point when we must use Windows. Whether at work or at school, companies that accept document only in MS formats, apps that only exist on Windows, etc.

    I started out my kids at the age of 5 or 6 playing games on an old Apple II+. When they went to school, they used Macs (our school system has some kind of an arrangement with Apple where we get Apple stuff at a great discount). So, by default they learned Mac O/S. At some point during their school careers I switched my home computing from Windows to Linux. They both started using my Linux computer to do things they were not allowed to do on school Macs. So, by default, they learned Linux. In the meantime, both kids got to use some Windows computers here and there. So they had to learn Windows, The school year my older graduated, the middle and high school loaned the kids Mac laptops for the duration of the school year. My younger had use of a school laptop for 5 years. Before both went to college,I had to buy them laptops which naturally came with Windows. Both colleges required either Windows or or OS/X computers. They were not prepared to cater to Linux.

    While my kids were using Linux, they preferred it over Windows or Apple. However, they are now strictly Windows users because they were forced by circumstances to to use Windows file formats and Windows applications. My older one is now in grad school and is required to use Windows. My younger one took several photography course and has a couple of thousands of photos in Photoshop. For her to convert all those photos to Linux and GIMP would be a monumental task. Besides, she wants to go into professional photography and Photoshop, and other Adobe products, are the photo industry's standards. So, even though they know Linux, my kids have to use Windows whether they like it or not. I'm sure there are many people in the same situation.

    August 30, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Very good article. I love it. I have been trying to tell people this for years. Well said.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      September 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Very glad you like it! Hopefully this resonates with more people.