Free Edutainment Software

Free Edutainment Software


This is a list of free entertaining yet educational software for your kids and computer, and is intended for a general (read non-computer-geek) audience I start in 2008. Most of these programs are available for the three most common operating systems, Windows, Max OS X and GNU/Linux (e.g., Ubuntu, Debian). Everything listed here is at least available for Ubuntu, and much of it is "built-in." For Ubuntu/Debian, install these via "add/remove programs" or via "sudo apt-get install <package name(s) here>" from the command line (e.g.: sudo apt-get install stellarium stellarium-data).

This is just a tiny sample of the free educational and kid-related software available. Google is your friend.

A Word About "Free"

"Free" can mean many things, especially in the context of software. The argument is usually simplified as, "free as in beer or free as in speech." That is, some software is free of cost, but does not allow modification. Other software may not only allow but encourage you to take it, modify it, give it away, or whatever. In-depth discussion of this issue, or why people choose to "give away" their work is out of the scope of this document. Google for "free and open source" to learn far more than you want to know about it. (In particular you can see this long discussion.)

In scope, all of the software listed here is completely free (without cost) to use on your computer, and almost all of it allows the freedom to do just about anything you want with it. Check the individual web sites for licensing details if you are not sure. And note that however you define "free" does not preclude a license to which you must agree, though most times that license is simply to guarantee the aforementioned freedoms. This is sometimes called a "copyleft" (as opposed to a copyright), see for details.

A Word about Operating Systems and Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a "distribution" of the GNU/Linux "operating system" and is an alternative to paying Microsoft (and/or your computer dealer) lots of money to run Windows, then paying lots of other folks for all the anti-virus, anti-malware, etc. software required to protect Windows from itself. This not only wastes a lot of time and money, but the overhead of these programs make your brand-new computer run like a 486. And we're not even going to talk about the Vista and Windows 8 disasters.

If Ubuntu looks too different for you, you can run a different spin like the vaguely Mac-like Xubuntu or more the Windows-like Lubuntu or Linux Mint (which is based on Ubuntu anyway).

As for Apple, they make nice-looking (but expensive) hardware that works well if you choose to do things exactly the way they want you to, and if you accept the associated loss of privacy, control over your own device and your own contents and their censorship. (See details.)

So take an old PC that is either too old or too malware infested to run Windows anymore, download Ubuntu or Mint (for free), and try it. It isn't perfect, but it is constantly improving. It is not susceptible to the vast amounts of Windows malware out there, so it's great for kids. But on the other hand, it doesn't run programs written only for Windows (well, actually it does, using Wine, but that's getting out-of-scope here), so custom programs for school may not work. As you'll see if the Windows/Mac-only program won't run on Ubuntu, there is almost certainly an alternative, which is almost always free and often (but not always) better than the Windows/Mac program it replaces.

In particular, LibreOffice (sort-of used to be, but you don't actually care about the details) is a free replacement for MS Office that is improving all the time. It can trivially "File > Export as PDF" which is very handy and can read and write all versions of MS Office documents, though it's not always perfect (though MS Office isn't always that great between versions of itself either). And importantly, it looks like the "old" versions of MS Office, not like the totally new Office interface that will require a lot of re-learning things you used to know how to do.

So check out and, (for education), (Mac-ish), (Windows-ish) or (Windows-ish).

Software we personally use

Name Description OS Debian/Ubuntu Packages
Childsplay is a suite of educational games for young children.
[Highly recommended]
GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Windows (98/ME/2K/XP) childsplay childsplay-plugins childsplay-plugins-lfc
GCompris is an educational software which provides over 100 different activities to children from 2 to 10 years old.
[Highly recommended]
GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, LiveCD gcompris gcompris-data gcompris-sound-*
Tux Paint is a free, award-winning drawing program for children ages 3 to 12. It combines an easy-to-use interface, fun sound effects, and an encouraging cartoon mascot who guides children as they use the program.
[Highly recommended]
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows tuxpaint tuxpaint-config tuxpaint-data tuxpaint-stamps-default
LibreOffice is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
[Highly recommended]
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows libreoffice
(and too many more to list)
Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.
It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go.
[Very highly recommended]
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows stellarium stellarium-data
"Mr. Potatohead" for your PC
GNU/Linux, Windows ktuberling
(or ktuberling-kde4)
GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages. [Same concept of Photoshop, but with a different interface]
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows ( Gimp
(and too many more to list)
"Tux, of Math Command" ("TuxMath," for short) is an educational arcade game starring Tux, the Linux mascot!

Based on the classic arcade game "Missile Command," Tux must defend his cities. In this case, though, he must do it by solving math problems.

GNU/Linux, Unix tuxmath
"Tux Typing" is an educational typing tutor for children. It features several different types of gameplay, at a variety of difficulty levels.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows tuxtype tuxtype-data
GPeriodic is a periodic table application for Linux. It allows you to browse through a periodic table of the elements, and view detailed information on each of the elements. 118 elements are currently listed.
GNU/Linux gperiodic

Other Software

(Largely from comments in

Name Description OS Debian/Ubuntu Packages
2D Animation Software
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows (N/A, see ktoon?)
A 3D content creation suite. You can do video compositing, and sound, and a whole lot more, but the interface is extremely complex. Older kids only.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows blender
Record and edit sound
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows audacity
Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows (N/A)
Phun is an educational, entertaining and somewhat (!) addictive piece of software for designing and exploring 2D multi-physics simulations in a cartoony fashion.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows
(Free for non-commercial use)
Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows (N/A)
OpenTTD is a clone of the Microprose game "Transport Tycoon Deluxe", a popular game originally written by Chris Sawyer. It attempts to mimic the original game as closely as possible while extending it with new features.
GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows openttd