Child’s Play: Linux Conversion Through Education

What's the easiest way to get more people using Linux? Start them young.


GCompris is a complete suite of more than 80 different educational activities for children from 2 to 10 years old. The GCompris suite uses the ‘learn through play’ concept to teach children basic concepts such as learning to use the mouse and the keyboard to higher-level cognitive skills by playing Chess and Sudoku. See the main GCompris Screen in Figure 3.

FIGURE 3: The Main GCompris Suite Screen
FIGURE 3: The Main GCompris Suite Screen

Listing 2 gives you the major GCompris categories and a representative list of activities for each.

LISTING 2: GCompris Educational Games and Activities

  • Reading Activities
    • Reading Practice, Letter Recognition, Letter Sounds
  • Experiential Activities
    • Parachutist, Canal Lock, Electricity
  • Mathematics
    • Calculation, Numeration, Geometry
  • Discovery Activities
    • Colors, Mazes, Memory
  • Computer Discovery
    • Mouse, Keyboard
  • Amusement Activities
    • Tux Paint, Hexagon, Animation
  • Strategy Games
    • Chess, Connect 4, Oware
  • Puzzles
    • Tower of Hanoi, Sudoku, Sliding Puzzles

The best way to install GCompris is through your distribution’s software management utility (apt-get, yum, or smart). Binary packages also exist for almost every distribution. Should you find yourself in a position where you need to install from source, although not recommended, be warned that there are many dependencies and those dependencies have dependencies and so on. You may also need to install the development packages along with the base packages for each of the required dependencies. Refer to Listing 3 for the primary dependencies for GCompris.

LISTING 3: GCompris Source Installation Dependencies

  • SDL
  • SDL_Mixer
  • GTK 2.x
  • gnome-canvas
  • gnome-python
  • gnome-python-canvas

If you want to try GCompris without the pain of a source installation, you can try it by downloading a Knoppix Live DVD. The full working suite is included on the DVD under Edutainment->Miscellaneous.

One of the most intriguing games in this suite is Canal Lock. In this game, shown in Figure 4, you help Tux navigate his way through a series of Canal Locks. This teaches the child how Canal Locks, like Suez and Panama, work by raising or lowering a ship on one side of the canal to the ocean on the other side.

FIGURE 4: The GCompris Canal Locks Game
FIGURE 4: The GCompris Canal Locks Game

GCompris also comes with its own administrative tools interface, shown in Figure x, where a teacher can create different classes, administer groups and profiles, add students, and create reports to assess and track a child’s progress in the system. The ultimate goal of the administrative tool is to produce these reports and present them to parents. The GCompris administrative application screen is shown in Figure 5.

FIGURE 5: GCompris Administrative Tool
FIGURE 5: GCompris Administrative Tool


Childsplay is another play and learn suite for younger (2 to 7 years) children. Childsplay has only two games (Memory and Letters) included with the base product while several other are available as plugins. The Childsplay introductory screen is shown in Figure 6.

FIGURE 6: The Childsplay Game Suite
FIGURE 6: The Childsplay Game Suite

Childsplay’s games are reminiscent of 1980′s arcade-style video games with large chunky graphics and loud electronic sounds. The games are appropriately speed-throttled and paced for young children to enjoy without becoming frustrated at difficulty levels that are set too high. There are math games, puzzles, games that require eye-hand coordination, flashcards, and the classic original Pong. Pong (shown in Figure 7) is arguably the very first video game ever commercially produced and widely distributed. About 30 years ago, you either owned it or had played it at a friend’s house. See Listing 4 for Childplay’s complete offering.

FIGURE 7: The Classic Pong Game
FIGURE 7: The Classic Pong Game

LISTING 4: Childsplay Games

  • Memory – Classic Card Matching Game
  • Letters – Letter and Simple Word Recognition with Pictures
  • Numbers – Math Problems
  • SoundNPick – Pictures and Sounds for Young Children
  • Packid – A PacMan Clone
  • Soundmemory – A Classic Memory Game
  • Fallingletters – A Keyboard Mastery Game
  • Findsound – Listen and Match the Sounds
  • Findsound2 – Findsound with Number and Letters
  • Pong – Classic Pong
  • Billiard – A Simple Pool Game
  • Multitables – Multiplication Table Drills
  • Puzzle – Recreate Images
  • letterFlashcard – Alphabet Practice with Words, Pictures, and Sounds


My 6-year-old daughter was the inspiration for this article. She constantly pleads with me to let her play video games but I don’t want her exposed to the mindless and violent shoot ‘em up games (the kind I like) that are so prevalent. I enjoyed making the KDE Education Project, GCompris, and Childsplay suites available to her.

And for conversion to Linux through education? She is curious about the different computer they run on and why it doesn’t look like Mom’s computer. I got to explain Linux, open source, and free (as in candy) software to her. I think I have a new convert in the house.

Her elementary school is one, like many, that has a shrinking budget for educational software and supplemental materials. I am a perennial volunteer at her school and am working on a presentation to introduce the school administration and PTA to Linux and free educational and productivity software.

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