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10 More Linux Resources for Kids

10 More Linux Resources for Kids

10 More Linux Resources for Kids

    Yesterday, I wrote about Linux distributions designed with kids’ needs in mind and some of the software for children that runs on Linux. Today I thought I’d share some of the other resources I came across while researching a likely candidate to install on my nephew’s and niece’s new PC.

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    1. Switching Your Kids to Linux by Scott K. This is a great primer for parents getting ready to give their kids a Linux system. The author walks parents through the steps of getting your kids ready, such as making sure open source software like Firefox, Pidgin, and Thunderbird are already installed on any Windows systems your kids might use, so that when you give them their Linux system, the only thing they have to get used to is the new interface, not new programs.

      Be sure to read the comments on this one for some further insights and advice from other parents who are teaching their kids to use Linux.

    2. The Linux for Kids Experiment. Paul Barry at Linux Journal relates his experience getting his kids to use Linux – which proved to be easier than even he had thought. One good tip he gives is to set up a window with links to all the kids’ favorite apps (or the most appropriate ones) so that kids can access them more easily. Again, there’s some good information in the comments, too.
    3. SchoolForge is a directory of open source educational software. Though SchoolForge includes software for Windows and Mac as well as Linux, most programs will run on Linux and everything is clearly marked.
    4. Open Source Programming Languages for Kids. Although not every kid will be interested in learning to program, some will, and Linux offers plenty of tools to help kids learn from basic to pretty advanced programming concepts. Ryan McGrath reviews three programming languages and kid-friendly environments to learn how to use them. These will run on Windows or Mac, too, so don’t feel left out  if you aren’t quite ready to build a Linux system for your kids!
    5. Using Linux to Teach Kids How to Program by Anderson Silva. Since programming is a complex skill, parents may want a little direction in how to get their kids started. Anderson Silva discusses some of the basics of LOGO, a programming tool where kids learn programming syntax to make a “turtle” draw pictures.
    6. KidZui is a Firefox extension that transforms your plain-vanilla browser into a kid-safe Web browsing environment, with access to hundreds of thousands of pre-screened websites, videos, and games. It is vital, of course, that you teach your kids safe browsing habits and that you provide appropriate supervision when they’re using the Internet, but for younger kids this can be especially difficult – how do you explain what they shouldn’t do without having to explain concepts they may not be ready to understand?  A safe “sandbox” like KidZui offers a safety net to back up your own instruction – and helps parents find fun stuff for their kids to do online, too!
    7. Adobe Flash Player. Because of licensing issues, many Linux distros do not come with Flash installed. However, your kids will quickly tire of their YouTube- and Flash-game-free computer, so it’s a good idea to get it installed quickly. Just go to the link from your kids’ Linux computer, select “Linux”, and follow the instructions to get Flash up and running on your Linux box.
    8. Free eBooks and AudioBooks for Mobile Computers. I went looking for a decent eBook reader for my nephew’s and niece’s computer, and found this site with links to dozens of eBook resources. Because it’s intended for mobile computing, some of the resources listed are for Linux-based PDAs, not PCs, but other than that there are a lot of great resources here, from readers to websites to download free AudioBooks and eBooks.
    9. YuuGuu. Since I’m going to be supporting this computer, I want to have some way to access it remotely. LogMeIn, my preferred remote access service, doesn’t have a Linux server yet (though one is supposed to be coming by the end of this year). VNC works great and is pre-installed on most distros, but is complex to set up on a home system behind a router and without a static IP address (if none of that means anything to you, it would be even more complex for you to do!). YuuGuu is the only desktop sharing service I could find that is both free and Linux-ready, so I’ll give it a try – the only downside is that it looks like I”ll have to have someone initiate a session from the kids’ computer in order to do remote support.
    10. My Game Company is a distributor of “family-friendly” games for all platforms, including Linux. Linux isn’t known as a gaming platform, but there are some pretty good titles out there, and even some commercial games. The owners of My Game Country screen them all for excessive violence, foul language, and adult sexuality to provide parents with games they can be sure won’t raise too many difficult questions in young players’ minds. Although the owners are explicitly Christian, the game content itself is not Christian – and I think the standards they use will please most parents Christian or otherwise.

    I’m a little disappointed at the lack of resources available for parents looking to explore Linux with their kids. It’s surprising, since Linux has virtually created the huge niche of childhood computing as an affordable alternative to Windows for schools in poor countries. There are now-defunct sites like “linuxforkids.org” that appear to have once been developing resources, but are now only link farms. I’ll be happy to see new players on the field paying some attention to what seems poised to become an important computing niche.

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    Maybe you know some good resources. If you know of anything, let us know in the comments!

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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