For some children, it may be their two front teeth that sit atop this year’s Christmas list. For others, however, it’s items of a more technological sort.
Those lucky enough to be receiving the latter type of present this year have been the focus of a lengthy discussion in the Linux blogosphere of late, in fact — one that has revealed sharp divisions in the Linux-loving masses, not just with respect to technology but concerning child-rearing and education as well.
“I have a nephew who is very young, but who has the techie gene — he found the Gruffalo on YouTube before anyone knew he could spell,” began blogger nostrodecus.
“Now he’s almost 4, and I was thinking of giving him my netbook (Acer running XP), which I hardly use any more,” nostrodecus explained. “So, of course, I will be deleting all the porn, but what should I load up on it? Are there tools/apps that I can load up on it to protect it and him from things he shouldn’t see until college? Also, what apps or games could I load on it that a 4-year-old will get some use out of?”
It was as if the Slashdot crowds had been waiting for just such a question, because in no time at all their thundering hooves could be heard in the distance as they galloped closer at full speed to have their say.
‘Blender? For a 4 Year Old?’
“Try letting the kid loose on Blender,” advised gman003, for example. “Open-source 3d modelling/rendering program. Might be a bit slow on netbooks, but if the kid’s creative, he’ll find something to do with it.”
Alternatively: “Blender? for a 4 year old? are you actually serious?” countered skyride.
Then again: “It’s too late,” quipped fake_name. “If you don’t start them training with Blender before they can speak they’ll never be able to master the interface.”
Along different lines, “install Windows Steady State on the machine after you set it up and before you give it to him,” suggested Keebler71. “It is designed for places like computer labs, libraries, schools, etc… that don’t want kids or malicious user wrecking too much havoc.”
‘I Have Not Seen Anything Better Than GCompris’
A raft of other suggestions followed from there among the more than 700 comments that appeared on the topic, many of them straying into the ethical and legal aspects of parenting.
It had clearly struck a chord in the community, so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more.
“In a decade of using personal computers in schools, I have not seen anything better than GCompris for the younger children,” blogger Robert Pogson suggested. “Once they have learned a few uses for a mouse, they are good for many hours of entertainment.”
Featured in the software are about 100 applications, “all selectable by means of large, easily recognized icons in categories,” Pogson added.
‘The Best Tool Is Edubuntu’
“I have always believed in the best tool for the job, and in this case the best tool is Edubuntu,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined.
“For children it has the best mix of educational software,” hairyfeet explained. “You won’t really need to worry about patches and AV because a 4 year old isn’t going on the net, and its layout is pretty kid friendly.”
Of course, “some of the old edu games from the 80s still can’t be beat,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out.
“I suggest loading DosBox and Gertrude’s Secrets as a meaningful way to teach a young child about pattern recognition,” Mack advised. “When the child is older, there is a game designed to teach simple boolean logic in a fun way called Rocky’s Boots.
“Someone really needs to make a Linux version of both games, since both taught me a lot as a child,” Mack mused.
‘I Would Wait Until the Child Can Read’
Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, saw it differently.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I would wait to give computers until the child can read pretty well,” Travers explained. “I’d focus on the time before that on memorization, since the opportunity to develop these skills drops off as reading picks up.”
Of course, if he were to get technology for a young child, “I think rhythmbox along with various audio books or recordings of me reading children’s books would be the first thing that would come to mind,” Travers added.
‘Computer Use by Children Is Detrimental’
Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, took an even stronger view.
“I would not give a 4-year-old a computer,” Hudson told Linux Girl. “Studies show that computer use by children is detrimental to their learning and contributes to the international epidemic of childhood obesity.”
In fact, “they’ll have plenty of time later on in life to bury their faces in their computers and pads and phones and gaming consoles and (anti-)social networks,” Hudson explained.
‘Go to the Library and Read With Them’
Far better in the “electronic-gadgety” realm would be a Wii, which at least provides exercise, Hudson suggested. “Or go to the library and take out a few children’s books and read with them.
“You might find that Charlotte’s Web is more interesting to a child than the World Wide Web,” she added. “And don’t pooh-pooh Winnie.”
In short, Hudson advised, “kids will remember the time you spend reading with them more than they will the time they spend on the computer.”