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What To Load On a 4-Year-Old's Netbook? 742

nostrodecus writes "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. Now he's almost 4, and I was thinking of giving him my netbook (Acer running XP), which I hardly use any more. 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?"
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What To Load On a 4-Year-Old's Netbook?

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  • Regardless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:00PM (#34369212)
    Regardless of what you install there's no guaranteed way to stop your kid from stumbling upon boobs on the internet. Plus who's to say it's something to worry about at all. They certainly didn't traumatize me.
    • Re:Regardless (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:13PM (#34369348) Journal

      Regardless of what you install there's no guaranteed way to stop your kid from stumbling upon boobs on the internet.

      Yes, boobs in both senses of the word. And most likely he will stumble on to the idiot-inane-nincompoop sense first. Then the other.

    • Re:Regardless (Score:5, Informative)

      by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:24PM (#34369472)
      Most filters are effective at stopping accidental viewings. If the user actually tries to access porn, it will fail sooner or later, emphasis on the sooner. But, given that the kid is four, it seems unlikely he's going to be typing "free porn xxx" into Google.

      If you just want casual filtering, I would recommend OpenDNS. Just set your DNS server to, and it will quietly block porn, malware and warez sites. I haven't found many false positives either. It won't catch everything, but if you want to delay teaching your kid about such things until he's mature enough to understand it, it works well enough.

      As for productivity software, try letting the kid loose on Blender. 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.
    • Re:Regardless (Score:4, Informative)

      by Keebler71 ( 520908 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:34PM (#34369582) Journal
      Install Windows Steady State [wikipedia.org] on the machine after you set it up and before you give it to him. It is designed for places like computer labs, libraries, schools, etc... that don't want kids or malicious user wrecking too much havoc. Lots of features but the gist is you have full control over what users can do (by account), how long they can be online, what drives and resources they have access to, etc. There is even a rudimentary site blocker so you can allow playhouse disney, or whatever kids sites you know are safe without letting them have free reign over the net or having to manage this at the firewall. Highly recommend it.
    • > Regardless of what you install there's no guaranteed way to stop your kid from stumbling upon boobs on the internet.

      Yes, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. A 4-year-old should be on a whitelist-only browser. Also, put some discrete logging on the router. Better to know. I m

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Opie812 ( 582663 )
      If it were just boobs, I'd have little problem with that. The thing that bothers me (have first kid on the way) is the fat-end-of-the-baseball-bat-up-the-poop-shoot type stuff that's easily available. Call me a prude, but I think that stuff should be saved for when, I dunno, the kid is 9.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:01PM (#34369224)

    Why in God's name would you give a computer to a 4-year-old? Give him a damn baseball or something, the last thing he needs in his formative years is to vegetate in front of a screen.


    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nikker ( 749551 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:06PM (#34369266)
      If anything give him a screw driver and let him take it apart tell him what all the parts do and possibly even get it back together.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Picardo85 ( 1408929 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:09PM (#34369296)
      I agree with Brett ... young kids should run around hurting themselves so that they learn not to do certain things later in life when they don't heal as easily. Climbing trees, biking, playing soccer, building stuff with hammer and nail ... in general stuff where you can hurt yourself or even better ... encourage him somehow to just use his imagination ... Personally i would give a 4-year-old DUPLO - the young kids version of LEGO
      • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

        by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:36PM (#34369602)

        Personally i would give a 4-year-old DUPLO

        By 4, most kids are ready to move onto the real thing. Duplo is for 1, 2 and 3 year olds who like to put things in their mouths and might choke on Lego, and aren't yet fully in control of their limbs so need the bigger size and tolerences of Duplo to avoid frustration.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Lumbre ( 1822486 )

      Yeah, why would you encourage him towards a life of living in his mom's basement, fighting brain-dead management, and with a computer as a girlfriend.

      Oh, is that just me?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Yeah, striking things with a bat or running around after balls seem so much better.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by eleuthero ( 812560 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:18PM (#34369404)
        development of fine motor skills comes later--four years olds are still working on gross motor skills (large movements [slashdot.org] with even the fingers). This alone is reason to encourage continued outdoor activity as without it, there might never be appropriate development for the kid and it could affect a variety of areas in his life.
        • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by farnsworth ( 558449 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:27PM (#34369504)

          development of fine motor skills comes later--four years olds are still working on gross motor skills (large movements [slashdot.org] with even the fingers). This alone is reason to encourage continued outdoor activity as without it, there might never be appropriate development for the kid and it could affect a variety of areas in his life.

          A computer does not prevent or conflict with outdoor activity unless it is used inappropriately. In late November in the US the sun sets at around 5:00pm, but no four year old is ready for bed at that time. Sure, there are books and movies and craft projects and family time, but these are not always available/desirable/possible. A four year old can handle PBS Kids just fine, and there are times when it is the best choice.

          • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by jhigh ( 657789 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:37PM (#34369608)
            I agree with this. Giving a four year old a laptop is dumb if you plan on using it as a babysitter. However, let the kid play games on age-appropriate sites and this would be a great replacement for television time.

            In response to the OP, and at the risk of starting a flame war, the first thing that I would do is wipe the thing and put some flavor of Linux on it. Expose them at a very young age to the fact that there is more to the world of technology than Microsoft and Apple. My kids are 8 and 10 and share a laptop with Kubuntu on it, and they love it. I like showing them all of the stuff that they can do it on and the fact that I can load it with software that does everything that they want to do without having to pay for any of it or violate (admittedly dumb) copyright laws.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by gman003 ( 1693318 )
              How the hell are you going to start a flamewar on /. by saying "put Linux on it"? Unless the BSD guys start something, you'll hear nothing but agreement.
        • formatted the tag wrongly... sigh:

          Child development [wikipedia.org]
    • Give him a damn baseball or something, the last thing he needs in his formative years is to vegetate in front of a screen.

      My kid learned to read the spell lists in Oblivion at the age of three, how is yours doing with the baseball?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sorak ( 246725 )

        Give him a damn baseball or something, the last thing he needs in his formative years is to vegetate in front of a screen.

        My kid learned to read the spell lists in Oblivion at the age of three, how is yours doing with the baseball?

        He can spell "spalding". He can almost spell "ambulance", but he keeps doing it backward.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My dad gave my two year old son a soccer ball last month, he threw it down the stairs and grabbed my mom's iPhone. Kids aren't born with blank slates, they have natural inclinations. You can fight those inclinations, and the children, but all you end up doing is screwing them up. If the kid has an inclination towards gadgetry, support him.

      Certainly as parents we will have to force our kids to recognize the need for physical fitness (just like brushing teeth, hands and household chores), and chase after them

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by profplump ( 309017 )

      Exactly. We all know that no useful work has ever been accomplished with a computer, and since they weren't around when I was 4 it's safe to assume that there's no use a 4-year-old could ever have for a device that can facilitate communication, entertainment, computation, artwork, reading, document creation, or access to the outside world. Clearly a round, static object is a more useful learning tool -- if you let him read the Interwebs he might learn about gravity from other people's work, rather than spen

      • Yeah, it's safe to assume that. Kids at that age are supposed to be developing social skills, coordination, imagination, sense of self and the ability to combine those. Sure a computer can help with imagination, but with the others it tends to be counterproductive for most people. On top of that, there's still plenty of time to gain computer literacy, I mean I started with computers in a basic way at age 8 or so, and my parents didn't own one till I was 11. I ended up being perfectly capable of using comput
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by farnsworth ( 558449 )

      Why in God's name would you give a computer to a 4-year-old? Give him a damn baseball or something, the last thing he needs in his formative years is to vegetate in front of a screen.

      It's perfectly appropriate for a 4 year old to have access to a computer. There are plenty of times when it is not feasible to play baseball... Short winter days, rainy summer days, under-the-weather days, etc. Having a computer != "vegetate in front of a screen". There are plenty of things a little kid can do on a computer that are enriching. Of course he needs guidance. But he needs guidance in nearly every aspect of his life, just like every other four year old. You don't just give a kid a basebal

      • Because learning to entertain oneself on rainy days is part of growing up. At age 4, kids definitely shouldn't be spending any time in front of a computer screen. Yeah, I know, I'm suggesting that it be done the way that it was with me, but hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it. At age 4, I hardly think that the need to use a computer is there. Hell even age 8 is young enough. the OP is hardly going to be condemning the tyke to computer illiteracy if he waits to allow regular access to a computer until he's a
    • Because it's worth the time to have them start learning what is possible. All my kids, except the youngest ( 2 y/o) work on the computer for school and recreation. They all also go outside and engage with the bright orb of the sky. It is possible to do both and not be any poorer for it. I spent some time at the kids track that was organized for RubyConf a couple of weeks ago and while much of the stuff was too much for my six year old, she still really liked hanging around and doing what her dad does as bes
    • I first played Pac-man at age 3, and the experience stayed with me. I had a computer when I was like 4-6. I was copying from a book coding before I knew what any of the things I typed did. One of the programs I ran was a fun math game for adding/subtracting on TI-99. It is my strong opinion if someone would write a chain of computer math games from K-12, and then distributed them for free, there could be the start of a revolution in education. I actually plan on doing this if I get a gaming company run
    • I have to agree, when I was a kid, the first time I touched a computer was when I was like 7 or 8, I didn't have access to a computer on a guaranteed basis until I was 11. While, I do admit that just because it was done that way isn't a justification, it did work out well. Much before 7 or 8 and it's unlikely to be any appreciation or understanding. It's a good age to start them out at, but that was without the internet.

      I'd definitely recommend against putting internet on the thing until he's at least ol
  • Zoodles (Score:2, Informative)

    by ds_online ( 803466 )
    my kids ( 5 and 3 ) love using zoodles, its a web browser for kids that gives them age appropriate content, I set my kids up with an older computer that was just laying around and stuck ubuntu on it. they use it for a couple hours a day and my son is the top reader in his kindergarten class.
    • Wow, thank you for this. I've tried looking for some kid friendly computer programs without too much luck. This looks like it will fit the bill perfectly for my 4.5 year old.
  • by jwthompson2 ( 749521 ) * <james@@@plainprograms...com> on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:04PM (#34369250) Homepage
    Whether you keep him using Windows or load up a flavor of Linux I'd put a good hosts file [mvps.org] on there to block adware and other known sources of crapware. Beyond that, you could setup something like Dans Guardian [dansguardian.org] or set the machine to use filtered DNS services, such as OpenDNS [opendns.com]. If you are gonna keep Windows on there then there are tons of commercial filtering products out there, all the stuff I mentioned is free.
    • by Distan ( 122159 )


  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:05PM (#34369258) Homepage


    If he really has the techie gene, he will seriously best his sister's crappy pen-and-paper Spirograph!

  • If you're considering giving him internet access, consider what it means. It means the ability to interact with random strangers on the internet. I don't mean to over-exaggerate the risk of this, but it's something you would never consider doing in-person unattended.

    If he has internet access at all, make sure it's supervised.

    Make sure there's some form of security/anti-virus. Other than that, let him run wild, and see what he comes up with, as opposed to what you'd give him :)

  • by Greg Merchan ( 64308 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:05PM (#34369262)

    A way to turn it off and go outside to play.

  • Don't blacklist... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Haedrian ( 1676506 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:07PM (#34369282)
    If you're really going to give a young kid a netbook... with an internet connection then block ALL websites and connections, except ones which you trust them seeing. Or don't give them internet access at all. I wouldn't, not at that age.

    When I was 4 I used to love playing around with a computer, I didn't have educational games or anything, I just to just play lemmings, or mess around with a word processor or something. Try to let the kid get used to using a computer at a young age for normal tasks.

    If you really feel adventurous, give him a Pascal IDE or something.
  • Flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by farnsworth ( 558449 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:08PM (#34369288)
    Between PBS Kids, Club Penguin, et al, there is really no need to install or buy anything except for Flash. By the time he outgrows these games, it will be years down the road and he'll be able to figure out what to do next.

    Say what you will about Flash, but there is a lot of pretty good content for kids out there.
  • Edubuntu (Score:2, Informative)

    by guytoronto ( 956941 )
    http://edubuntu.org/ [edubuntu.org]
  • 4 year old kids should be outside playing, spending time with friends. He can unlock the laptop when he is 8-10!
  • World of Warcraft (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:12PM (#34369338)
    My 4 year old loves to get on WoW and kill things. I set up some toolbars and show him what numbers to press or buttons to press and he's off and away. Though I had to make him his own character because he has a habit of drowning my characters, and I didn't like the repair bills. He's up to lvl 20 almost completely by himself.

    Load up what he sees you play with, whether word processors, or games, or the Internet. Give him some shortcuts to get to the things you think will interest him. And let him go. He'll tell you when he wants something different and if he's having trouble with something. Oh, and for age appropriate things, he also likes Fisher-Price's Cool School.
  • by pearl298 ( 1585049 ) <mikewatersazNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:14PM (#34369360)
    One Laptop per child has emulators for regular PCs and their software is ideally suited to a small child: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Software_components [laptop.org] They even have a "live boot" based on Fedora Linux
  • Personally (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frozentier ( 1542099 )
    Any child under 10 using any internet capable device should have eyes-on supervision while using it, all the time.
  • Minecraft (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by The MAZZTer ( 911996 )
    Minecraft [minecraft.net]
    • by Wizarth ( 785742 )

      I was going to post this. My daughter (6) loves nothing more then to play Minecraft with me - which means telling me what to do constantly. Her favorite activity seems to be kiting creepers.

      She hasn't got the coordination/experience to manage to play herself - she much prefers to tell me what to do. It must be a girl thing.

  • I bought an EeePC which had Eee-Xandros pre-installed. I've found it to be absolutely fantastic for children with its big icons and really simplistic interface. It even came with a ton of pre-installed games and educational apps for children so it was clearly designed with that in mind.

    The only issue is that I'm not sure how you go about getting the EeePC distro of Xandros without buying an EeePC (the regular Xandros distro is quite different and doesn't have the customised interface).

  • The best thing to put on it would be lots of little round bumps, so that it will stick to lego bricks.
  • FreeDOS (Score:5, Funny)

    by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:22PM (#34369444) Homepage Journal
    Format it, and then install FreeDOS and nothing else. Let him figure out the rest on his own. It should keep him out of trouble for quite a while. If you're feeling generous, install some sound card drivers for him (though not necessarily the best ones, or even the right ones).
    • I don't think there are DOS drivers for the sound chips you find in current (from the past 10 years) computers, so no worry there.

  • by Dolphinzilla ( 199489 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @08:23PM (#34369454) Journal

    Get your 4 year old outside and away from computers for at least a little while longer, my kids cannot even contemplate getting on a bicycle and riding all over town like we did as kids, most of the time on a beautiful day in Florida they are inside surfing the web, playing computer games or texting on their cell phones. Just saying...

  • I teach Technology in an elementary school and the only 3 programs I install on computers (besides my enforced MS Office Install) are Tux Paint [http://www.tuxpaint.org/download/] (don't forget the stamps!), Scratch [http://scratch.mit.edu/], and Google Earth. Just make sure you have tolerance for sound with Tux Paint and Scratch. Tux Paint will end up with a never ending cacaphony of flushing toilets and frogs, and Scratch couldleave someone wondering why you hear a looped cat meowing with drums in the b
  • Give the kid something physical to do. Something he can share with others. Stomp Rocket Junior [fatbraintoys.com] Thinking building blocks. Tricycles. Pedal cars. Toys that have been around for a century or more.

    The photographs and videos you take of him playing will become more priceless with each passing year.

  • If you're going to leave Windows on it, load up something like the Windows Live Family Safety. It comes in Windows Live Essentials or as a seperate download. It's managed by MSN logins and lets you set time limits, website blocking, whitelisting or blacklisting of applications as well as being able to restrict games based on their ratings. All this and it's free. Course, parenting works too, but given this isn't your child, maybe thats more of a challenge
  • If you would consider upgrading it to Windows 7 you will get parental controls that are simple to control. You can set allowed access times, game access based on ratings, and which apps the child can/cannot run.

    Set the machine so it can only browse pbskids.org, which should keep him busy for hours. If you do this at the router level then you don't have to worry about the kid being able to defeat the filter.

    I have a 12-yr old with autism, and as soon as he was curious about computers (5 yr old or so), that's

  • If your computer can run XP, it can run Jolicloud. The kid probably lives on the web anyway and Jolicloud apps are mostly web apps. So load Jolicloud alongside Windows, so he can see that it's possible to be a geek without being being loyal to any one platform, be it Windows, Mac, or Linux.

  • I've got a desktop in the basement with just a vga cable, usb cable and audio coming up through the floor. This way he (and, more importantly, his 2 year-old brother) can't damage the CD drive, etc. Tray-loading drives are immensely popular with the "break things" set.

    He spends the vast majority of his computer time in Chrome, at:

    Starfall [starfall.com] (by far my personal favorite, if you've got a toddler around, spend some quality Starfall time with them)
    PBS Kids [pbskids.org]
    Playhouse Disney [go.com]
    Nick Jr. [nickjr.com]

    We also have 2-3 Dora games instal

  • Scratch (Score:4, Informative)

    by Barkmullz ( 594479 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @09:46PM (#34370206)

    While Scratch [mit.edu] is geared towards 6 - 16 year olds, it may be worth a look.

  • by MikShapi ( 681808 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @10:00PM (#34370324) Journal

    Disclosure: I have 3 kids: a 7, 4 and 1-year-old. The first is a confirmed geek, second one is pending. The 1yo will, 10 times out of 10, find an IT device in a pile of non-devices and chew it.

    Boobs don't mean squat to a 4YO (other than vague memories of food). More serious stuff does. Top things I am incredibly concerned with re early age kids and computer:

    1. Teaching them to control and ward off gaming addiction. Yes, there is such a thing as gaming addiction, and it is completely not trivial to (teach them to) keep it at bay while having a life.
    This is not a no-brainer when you're a gamer dad - they see me dump 300 game hours into a large-scale RPG, despite it being after their bedtime etc.
    I need to minimize their exposure to ultra-violent games (Fallout, Borderlands), while focusing on games that have SOME developmental value. Spore and Civ are awesome from the moment they can read (they figure it out way faster than you'd think). Before that... I'll let other people answer.
    I'm not against "non-realistic" 3D shooters and getting their competitive shooter skills up to scratch, even from 4yo, despite what my wife says, so long as it doesn't emphasize the violence too much (Unreal Tournament is marginally ok in my books, as is "Prince of Persia") (sidenote: they both do Karate and Parkour classes, so anything Parkour-related is generally liked).

    The real problem comes in the form of MMOs, which, in year/grade 2 in school, everyone plays. It's lame dumb-ass web-based MMOs (Penguins and Mushy Monsters) with a multitude of flash games, but all their friends hang there, and the BIG problem is that the games are built around them NEEDING to be there to maintain their avatars more often than not, which undermines (read: DESTROYS) my ability to teach them to have a life alongside a game. So I passionately despise them and do my best to entice the kids with real games or non-gaming activities.

    2. YOUTUBE. When they find the badger song, you're DONE. You can seek a good asylum at that point, and plan to come back when they're 35.
    (ask me how I know).

    3. Internet - I'm a believer in monitoring their usage rather than filtering it. Yes, there's a lot of nasty shit out there, and they're growing into a world where it's part of the backdrop they need to be able to contend with. From 4yo? You make that call with your own kids. I say might as well. If not at your place, they'll do it at their best mate's on a sleepover. It's not hard to find an unrestricted device nowadays. Any stuff I forbid will pull attention to itself, entice and pull them. If I don't, it'll just be "Yes, it's there, not a big deal, now where's the interesting stuff". .

    Another thing that I found incredibly helpful (this was for the 7yo tho) - he got his computer in parts. He also got a paper with an OS matrix (with WinXP, Win7 and Linux), against their RAM requirements and gaming capabilities. And the CD/DVD for each. And I let them choose. Next project is to cut his wifi access on his PC, give him and old box and, if he wants networking, build his own linux wifi router.
    As I share time on the first two kids with my ex-wife, they only live with me some of the time. I routinely pull bits (and break stuff) on my older son's computer, to train up his troubleshooting skills.

    My 2 cents.

  • by suprcvic ( 684521 ) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:05PM (#34370830)
    Give him some toys and send him outside where he belongs! Kids these days have no imagination because they have technology shoved in their face from the time they can grab it.
  • by Slackenerny ( 1949440 ) on Monday November 29, 2010 @05:52AM (#34372596)
    My daughter is four and a half and I have an old work laptop built up for her. She's got some good mousing skills and scored an OCD ranking in one World of Goo level while I was doing the washing up.

    Anyway....I've scoured around trying to find good content and have a good list. Steer clear of all the Disney and other commerical stuff, that stuff will rot their brains. It's also badly coded and mainly a vehicle to advertise to the kids.

    This is what I have installed on her laptop. They are all links to flash sites as almost all good kids stuff is on-line now. Anything that you have to install probably lists Windows ME as the system requirement on the box:

    1) Poisson Rouge (http://www.poissonrouge.com/ [poissonrouge.com]) - This is a French/English flash site with has no instructions and just encourages the child to explore the pages and work out what to do. It's probably the best site on-line for the 3-5 age group.

    2) Boowah & Kwala (http://boowakwala.uptoten.com/ [uptoten.com]) - This is another French/English site originally made by a husband and wife for their daughter and has grown from there. It's more instructional in its activities, but has an enormous amount of content delivered in a great way. The two main characters (see the names) are voiced by the parents and are very funny.

    3) Sesame Street (http://www.sesamestreet.org/ [sesamestreet.org]) - This one is a no-brainer...they have a great variety of games for different ages.

    4) StarFall (http://www.starfall.com/ [starfall.com]) – A reading site that runs from letter recognition all the way to full reading. It’s got some very fun stuff in it.

    5) WordWorld (http://pbskids.org/wordworld/index_flash.html [pbskids.org]) – A very rich and interactive reading site with lots of fun characters made out of letters.


I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel