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I recently finished building a new PC from scratch; and then I decided to treat myself to a new widescreen monitor. I'm left with a bit of a conundrum with what to do with my old box.

I'm considering a few options such as a file server, putting Linux on it, putting it elsewhere in the house or giving it to a member of the family and so on. But to be honest, I don't really think it would get much use.

I've started thinking about putting together something for my kids. The oldest is coming up on 4 in a couple of months and he's used my PC and Macbook (supervised!) before for playing jigzaw puzzles, babysmash and so forth. He's also uses the computer at his nursery (Kindergarden for North Americans!).

So, its got me thinking about setting something up for him (bonus for his brother who is 2). I was wondering what others had done when trying to put together something for their kids?

Some points for consideration:

  • Operating System?
  • Software?
  • Anti-virus
  • Internet (probably blocking?)
  • Hardware (I've seen some keyboards designed with kids in mind)

Update: Thanks for the great suggestions. I think I've got plenty of ideas now around the management of the box. Any suggestions on software with kids in mind (my 4 y/o in particular?)

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There's a lot of bad stuff on the internet, but be aware that any blocking filter you add will probably block things you DON'T mind them seeing, too. I would use adblock, though - far too many ads simply aren't child friendly! –  Phoshi Mar 30 '10 at 20:00
    
Good question. Kids are more than attracted to pc games. –  r0ca Mar 30 '10 at 20:03
    
community wiki, great question –  mindless.panda Mar 30 '10 at 20:58
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Check out the Reader Rabbit series. Choose according to age, children can stretch a year or two with supervision but above that it just becomes too frustrating. –  kmarsh Mar 31 '10 at 12:49
    
my advise at age 4 would be dont network it, period. –  Sirex Jun 16 '11 at 12:30

10 Answers 10

I've recently switched to use OpenDNS for blocking/filtering duties. There's a free account option that works spectactular. Even better, they recently introduced FamilyShield which is a no configuration/registration option. Standard filters are preconfigured and you just point your DNS to the FamilyShield IPs.

What's great about this is there's no easy way to circumvent it since its not a program that's running in the background to try and disrupt. I would make the category filtering in your OpenDNS account settings as strict as possible for your children.

At their age it's probably making sure an accidental click doesn't take them somewhere it shouldn't; as they get older it will make sure their curiosity doesn't take them somewhere they shouldn't go.

Also, you could and probably would set the kid's PC to use those DNS servers and leave yours as is. Then you would rely on proper user permissions (non admin/root) on child accounts to prevent tampering with DNS. (If you go this route there are some technical details with OpenDNS and making sure your local computer names route correctly, read their documentation.)

I'll add that there is no perfect combination of operating systems, software, internet filters, antivirus, etc. that will make up for a lack of involvement, care, and sensitivity with our children, we should all keep that in mind. However, being thorough and vigilant in this area cannot but help.

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I started my kids when they were around 4-5, and at that age it's all about the games - you can probably get away without internet access for a while, so they're safe with XP and no anti-virus. A regular keyboard and mouse were fine.

If you want to give them internet access (for the flash games) then you might want to consider a linux-based distro with firefox. You can do blocking by using openDNS.

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If you're taking the Linux road, you may want to consider Edubuntu.

I think blocking Internet entirely would be sensible. There's far more risk than reward at the ages you're talking about. Install some games and have big friendly links on the desktop; that's all they need until they show more curiosity.

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+1 A Linux is definitely best suited for this. There are fun-applications for kids and they can't break anything in any way. –  Bobby Mar 31 '10 at 12:19
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I thought about this and I have to give a -1. There is no longer any age when you should -not- be teaching your kid about the negative aspects of the internet. Because it's everywhere. Can you imagine if you let your kid go a few years more without any internet access and they come across it somewhere else? A babysitter's? A relative's? Better that they encounter stuff while you're around than while you're not. –  Kzqai Apr 18 '11 at 22:00

Use VMWare Workstation. Set up a separate, self contained, 'virtual system' copy on your PC. If the kids destroy / trash the files and/or OS on this virtual PC, no biggie since your primary PC is not affected. No need to 'restore' anything, and your PC system is totally unaffected. An even cleaner solution ;)

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excellent idea, @John! +1! –  studiohack Mar 30 '10 at 21:23
    
add info about how to restore the virtual system itself –  mindless.panda Mar 31 '10 at 3:15

I would highly recommend K9 Web Protection software - free! - it is an advanced and highly customizable web filter for kids. You can choose to block specific categories, web URLs with specific keywords, what times of day you don't want them accessing the web/browsers. It logs all their activity and the number of "hits" in various categories. again, very high quality product for free, all it requires is your email for a product registration code, and that's it!

Ad-Block Plus for Firefox is an excellent tool. You can block just about any image on the net, including most Flash content.

As for OS, Windows 7 is excellent. Win7 offers excellent parental controls and you can create a standard account and use UAC...

Anitvirus: I would definitely go with Microsoft Security Essentials. it is light, and if they open it, there is not much they can do besides updating the program and running scans! :)

Consider downloading and setting up Windows SteadyState. It restores your computer to its previous state each time it is turned off. pretty configurable, I imagine, have not used personally...(full disclosure: I'm not a parent :o) ) It says it runs on Vista, so should be compatible with Win7.

As for software, Jumpstart Typing is pretty good for teaching them how to type, and it is pretty fun...Reader Rabbit is pretty good too...

hope this helps!

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+1 for K9 Web Protection. Worked great for me. –  ultrasawblade Jun 16 '11 at 13:33

Not really a full answer as such, just 2 helpful apps.

Comodo Internet security is a (free) firewall/virus combo with parental locking mode that can be set to auto deny everything that isn't explicitly allowed (so no "are you sure you want this app to access the net" style dialogs are displayed)

PING (Part Image Not Ghost) is a tool for taking a full system image of a PC so you can restore it at a later date. Get everything set up for them, then take an image and store it so when they accidental delete everything in the system32 (or /sbin) directory you can just restore from the image and don't have to set it all up again.

(Oh, and I second the recommendation of OpenDNS that Chris made. It's a good service.)

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I would recommand any computer with any OS. My points is that you should think to computer's reliability.

DeepFreeze can be the best thing you can install if you want to keep your system healthy. Install your kids programs and then, install deepfreeze. We used it at school a while ago and computers were up and running 99% of the time. No need to spend several hours to keep your system healthy.

Take a look at this software.

Faronics

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There's a bunch of answers to a similar question here that might help you as well.

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I'd install Ubuntu and use Sugar as the desktop environment. It's a great desktop for a kid. It has a lot of fun activities. It also allows them to start learning the Python programming language.

There's a guide on Sugar here.

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I would also install a keylogger. This way, you will have a record of every person your child contacts by email, any messengers, etc....anything that was said by your child. The keyloggers also date and timestamp these things. The keylogger can send regular updates conveniently to your email address (encrypted, if you wish) for permanence of record keeping.

I would set up a password protected router with a firewall between your pc's and the cable/dsl modem. You can restrict the type of applications that have net access through that router. This also helps protects against hackers breaking into your pc's.

I would set up your pc's to use OpenDNS (as someone else mentioned) and ALSO to go through an anonymous proxy - just to protect the privacy of your location and home. Since, your IP address can be traced....

Many people do not think about those last two.

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