Already packaged for Debian Jr.

This list and the comments attached are the personal opinion of the Debian Jr. developers, and don't represent a formal pronouncement by Debian on their suitability for children. The age range for this list is age 8 and under, although some of the more complex programs require help from an older person.

The initial list and comments have been drawn up from packages list members have tried with their children and they like. More will be added as we look more systematically at Debian. Because the lists are manually maintained, they are more than likely out of date. Please email any submissions to and I will have them updated.

In Debian

gimpA bit complex for the 5yo, and even the older ones, but they all do have fun with it.
xpaintNot quite as complex as the gimp, but a bit clunky in the GUI and not nearly as dazzling effects.
gcomprisA basic skill-building game suitable for age three and up. Helps develop mouse, typing, math and time-telling skills.
ssystemA solar system and celestial body viewer. Ssystem uses OpenGL models of the planets and various other objects. A 3d video card is recommended, but it is quite usable (at ~3fps) on my P133 machine. The interface is a bit difficult and confusing.

Openuniverse is the successor to ssystem, so we are working on having that packaged.

bcA calculator that can be used from the command-line, which can be quite handy.
Education - Math
drgeoThis is a Euclidean geometry program. Because it is interactive, it is quite fun to use.
gnome-utilsThis package contains gcalc, a calculator which is similar to xcalc, but will integrate with your GNOME desktop, and has a more modern look and feel.
mathwarThis is a math flashcard game. If you take too long the computer will "guess", at which point you choose whether the computer is right or wrong. This twist makes the game more engaging than a simple flash-card drill.
snowflakeChildren will enjoy generating a snowflake that matches their name or the names of friends and family. Any sequence of characters can be used to generate a graphical cryptographic key in the form of a snowflake pattern.
xaosWith this program, you can interactively zoom in on a fractal. It even comes with tutorial. Kids may enjoy such mathematical beauty.
xbase-clientsThis package contains xcalc, a basic gui-based calculator with a clean interface and scientific functions.
Education - Typing
gtypistThe young children in our household (eldest, 10) find gtypist a bit dull. It is more suited for older children or adults.

The gtypist package is the new version of typist. It has been renamed since it has now become "GNU typist".

tipptrainerA touch-typing program which may have more appeal to children than gtypist.
tuxtypeEducational typing tutor game starring Tux. The children enjoy using this game to learn how to type. It has funny sound effects and graphics that keep their attention. It doesn't really teach touch-typing, though.
bugsquishSwat the bugs before they suck all of the blood from your arm. My little boy loves this because it is gross. My eldest daughter hates this because it is gross. ;)
bumpraceA bouncy maze with nice sound effects and graphics. Challenging at the higher levels, but some levels are easy enough even for my boy of six years age.
circuslinuxA clown is fired out of a cannon onto a teeter-totter which you control to bounce a second clown up into the air to pop balloons under a big-top circus tent. The game is funny and had my children in fits of giggles.
Games - Arcade
heroesSpectacular graphics and sound. A 2D "tron" type game with lots of powerups and special effects.
lbreakoutA newer "pong" game. It is a bit more difficult for children than xboing because you cannot adjust the speed. A milder expletive is used at the end of the game ("damn"). We haven't bothered trying to fix this, as it is not quite as obvious or frequent as in xboing. Furthermore, it appears a source-code change would be required to make the fix. We have worked around the problem by suggesting creative mis-hearings of the word (we have offered "dead", "jam", "jammin'", "toe-jam" :))
luxmanA classic, loved by the whole family. (J, only 2, loves the sounds and bright colors while others play :)) In our opinion, the best "Pacman" clone. However, it has the disadvantages that come with being a svgalib program. That is, it cannot be played in X, and is a security risk, since it must run as root (or suid root).
madbomberCatch bombs in a tub full of water to snuff them out as the "mad bomber" zips back and forth, dropping them from atop a wall.
pingusFree Lemmings(tm) clone
thrustThis is a clone of an old Commodore 64 game where you pilot a space ship, blow things up, and try to retrieve a weight. I don't have any kids, but I enjoy it. The package contains both svgalib and x binaries.
xboingAn excellent "pong" type game. Parents may not appreciate the expletive ("aw shit") used when a ball is lost. However, this can be easily fixed /usr/lib/games/xboing/sounds by copying "" on top of "".
xsoldierXSoldier is a very fast 2-D shoot-em-up game similar to Galaxians and other space games.

The down-sides are:

  1. It can be more memory-hungry than other games. The response is sluggish under 16M of memory.
  2. It requires 1024 X 768 to fit on the screen.
Aside from those two drawbacks, it is a fast-paced, engaging and enjoyable game for many age groups. My 11 Year old Daughter has great fun playing it, when she can get me away from it : )
armagetronYou need a good 3D accelerated graphics card for this one. The controls are fairly easy to work, but the game is a bit shy on help. Compared to gltron, this one is a bit easier to control. Networked play is also possible, though with only one system in the house with a decent 3D card I haven't tried it yet.
Games - Arcade - 3D
gltronAnother 3D tron game requiring acceleration. The crashes are a bit more interesting than armagetron and the sound effects appeal to the children.
tuxracerOur children's favourite 3D accelerated game. Tux zooms down an icy mountain race course gobbling up herring. Sometimes he gets stuck, which is a bit frustrating. The "practice" mode is what the children prefer to use.
Games - Arcade - Network
xblastChildren probably need parental help to set up a match on a network. With a network of old 486s and the parents' K6-2's, this game provides some nice family networked fun. Based on the classic "bomberman" game, there are virtually limitless levels. The neighbor kids have nothing like this at home (possibly because they don't have a house full of old PCs :)
ace-of-penguinsSolitaire-games with penguin-look.
Games - Cards
codebreakerHaven't yet shown them this, but *I* like it :)
Games - Puzzle & Logic
gbatnavA "battleship" game.
gnome-stonesA game based on "Diamond Run". It gets more challenging on higher levels. It lacks sound at the moment, which was a part of the appeal in the original game.
gtansA "tangram" puzzle. Stimulating and challenging. Tangrams encourage creativity and geometry skills both at once.
lmemoryClassic "memory" card-matching game. Suitable for younger children.
rocks-n-diamondsLike Boulderdash, this is a 2D scrolling puzzle game in which you guide the hero with simple directional controls through one of seemingly countless numbers of levels. The hero must avoid falling rocks and other hazards and collect enough diamonds or meet some other objective to open the exit and escape before the time runs out. Children must use logic to work through a number of perplexing situations in each level to guide the hero safely to the end of the level. Being able to start at any level helps keep frustration in check, as a difficult level can be simply left until later and a different level chosen at any time. The integrated level editor is lots of fun and relatively easy to use (although designing good levels can be tricky for a child). The children love to play with the level editor as well as play with the game.
xjigA favourite for my 5 and ups. But "2 sided" puzzles are confusing for the young children. I'd like to be able to save as a default config for the children the "-side 2" switch to force all of the pieces to be flipped over to side 2 at the beginning so they don't have to manually flip them over. Also, I'd like to be able to disable the middle-mouse-button mapping to flip pieces, as they sometimes accidentally hit it, much to their puzzlement (no pun intended) and frustration. A gui-based puzzle launcher that allows the child to point-and-click to choose the puzzle image and size would be great.
Games - Simulation
freecivPolishing could be done by setting game parameters and maybe we could give a slight hint in the docs on how to become a millionaire ;-).
bsdgamesText games and puzzles the children love: boggle, hangman, worm, snake, arithmetic, fish. Some of the more challenging ones like quiz are hard even for adults, and therefore may only be suitable for your oldest children.
Games - Text
moon-buggyA simple text game. You control a moon-buggy and make it jump over craters and bumps; you can also blast the bumps. The game gets difficult quickly. The esd version plays sound effects.
moon-buggy-esdA simple text game. You control a moon-buggy and make it jump over craters and bumps; you can also blast the bumps. The game gets difficult quickly. The esd version plays sound effects.
Games - Toys
fortuneFortune could be polished to display only jokes which children would like more than general ones.
ktuberlingA KDE toy "Mr. Potato Guy" that is suitable for all ages.
llettersGreat for my youngest (2yo). Infants can start using this as soon as they can be held on your lap to look at pictures either as they click or you click for them. Even random pressing of keys produces results.
onekoMy nine-year-old girl's favourite desktop toy. Tiny cats and dogs chase a mouse-shaped or bone-shaped pointer across the desktop and fall asleep when you bring it to rest.
penguineyesThis is an xeyes-like desktop toy which supports a number of fun themes including Linus, Tux, Dust Puppy and a GNU. In addition to resizing, you can flip the character with movable eyes upside-down or left-to-right, or put it in "guilty/paranoid" mode in which the character always looks away from the pointer instead of towards it.
xbase-clientsThe xeyes toy is included in this package. Even the very youngest children (aged 1 or 2) will appreciate this classic interactive desktop toy. With some parental help, eyes can be resized by clicking and dragging. Whole armies of eyes can be created which will all obediently follow the pointer as the child moves the mouse.
xfireworksDisplays fireworks (as in the familiar xscreensaver hack) on your root window. Unfortunately, there is no "stop xfireworks" at this time in the menu. That's OK, though, as it was an opportunity to teach the children how to use killall. Also, the fireworks "eat" the image behind it, much as xhangglider does.
xfishtankMore desktop fun. Colorful fish swim around on your root window.
xhanggliderFly hanggliders and paragliders around your root window. Although I find that the gliders leave a black trail through desktop image backgrounds, that bug might be considered a "feature" by many children. :)
xpenguinsLittle penguins walk on your windows. You can "herd" them by moving windows around.
xscreensaverIn addition to using the screensaver hacks as screensavers, they can be started with various command line options as toys for your desktop (e.g. using the -root switch). On slower systems, screensaver hacks may be more successfully run in their own window than in the root window because they take less CPU to refresh. Use the -demo option to try out different screensavers.
xteddyCute, cuddly desktop toy.
bplayWhen the eldest children were very small and my most powerful system was a P100, we downloaded some wav sound-bytes from the net and made appropriately named commands for bplay to play each of them. They could then use the VT-420 terminal in the livingroom to play these from bash. They learned how to play several in a row using semicolons between them. They also learned to use tab command-completion to help view and select the right one. The youngest, then aged three, could simply press up-arrow and enter to play them over and over again until the parents had enough. :)
cdtoolThe children have a number of their own CDs and can use the simple commands "cdplay" and "cdstop" to start and stop playing. Although a number of gui-based players exist, it just seems simpler to use this tool.
gripGrip is a rather easy to use, once set up, ripper and CD player. Copying your children's favourite CDs to your hard drive can make it much easier for them to select and play their own music.

Use the patent-free, open-source ogg-vorbis for encoding. Grip supports ogg as well as the patent-encumbered mp3 format. It refers in the menus everywhere to mp3, but if you look closely, oggenc is one of the possible encoders. Remember to change the output file extension from mp3 to ogg.

timidityTimidity++ is basically a command-line based MIDI file player that will give you a new respect for the MIDI format. Rather than use the built-in instruments of your sound card, which can sound rather poor, Timidity++ uses software-based instrument patches which sound extremely good. Timidity++ by itself has no instrument patches but timidity-patches will provide them. Timidity++ does not depend on Timidity-patches because you can use many different patches available free and for a price from various sources. Playing a MIDI file with Timidity++ and the Timidity-patches will sound very like the real thing! You will never what to use the built-in instruments of your sound card again! Timidity++ also has a few different GUI's available, but these need to be compiled in. They are based on gtk+, motif or lesstif, even an ncurses interface can be compiled in. I've played with a few of these and find the gtk+ GUI to be quite easy to use, although it does generate a few errors, I've never had it crash or hang on me. And I have used it quite a bit. You would need to try the different interfaces and see which would be best for the Debian JR project.
vorbis-toolsThis contains oggenc, which you'll want if you use grip to encode your CDs in ogg format.
xmmsXMMS is for Linux what WinAmp is for Windows and a whole lot more!

Starting out as just a WinAmp clone for Linux, XMMS initially provides the exact same functionality for playing compressed audio files. It has a playlist and equaliser as well as being skinable. Thanks to the modular nature of Linux, Lots of different input, process and output modules are available for XMMS to expand its usability. It even has an OpenGL 3D spectrum analyser display available, but be warned!!! This is memory hungry without a great 3D graphics card to share the load.

Again, like grip, although originally intended for the patent-encumbered mp3 format, xmms can be used with the patent-free ogg format which is what we recommend.

Tools - Internet
mozillaAn indispensable research tool for school projects. Parents will likely need to offer guidance to help children find appropriate and accurate information via search engines and portals. Mozilla is now stable enough to consider using it as a replacement for the non-free Netscape.
Tools - Reference
dictLook up words from the command line. My 10-year-old loves words and uses this frequently.
Tools - System
lavapsVisualize your processes in colorful blobs in a "lava lamp". This is a great way to appreciate what's happening inside your system in a more concrete way. The blobs use color to relate processes of the same kind, size to indicate memory consumption, and speed to indicate cpu usage.
mcIncludes mcedit. Helps give children a good understanding of filesystems.
xcruiseZoom through 3D "galaxies" of files to perceive visually how your filesystems are organized.
Window Managers
fvwmA simple, lightweight window manager. The fvwm buttons allow easy single-click access to applications for the very young. At the same time it is powerful and configurable so it scales well as the child matures. There are more modern window managers available with prettier features, but that usually comes at the expense of bloating the window manager.
wmakerWmaker is stable and lightweight. It is a modern, themeable window manager with a fairly easy-to-use interface. It seems to be the most popular window manager that parents use with their children at this point (and for themselves as well). My only complaint with it is that icons on the wharf need to be double-clicked to launch an application, whereas single-click would be better for the very young. I find the wharf easier to configure than fvwm buttons because a new icon box that can be dragged onto the wharf is created automatically as you launch new applications either from the command-line or menus.
xfceThis is more than just a window manager. It is a lightweight desktop environment that will actually run on low-end hardware (unlike KDE or Gnome). It is themeable, easy to use and configure, and has been tested with our children with favourable results. Some work is required to make the default panel that ships with it more child-friendly.
KDE & Gnome In looking for a desktop environment, we realize that many parents will want to try either KDE or Gnome, but in the interests of keeping Debian Jr. a simple base, we have left those off the list for now. Naturally, any programs in Debian, including the vast amount of material available for KDE and Gnome may be added to enhance a Debian Jr. system, just like any other Debian system.
emacsNo, this is not a joke. Why not start them out with the "ultimate" editor?
nanoA nice lightweight editor. This is a free replacement for pico. When the kids were switched to it, they barely noticed the difference.

In non-free or contrib

These packages are not a part of Debian or Debian Jr. We list them here for reference because there is no suitable alternative in Debian yet.
Games - Arcade
xmameUnfortunately it looks like this will forever be non-free, the license is really ugly. The kids all love it, and there's nothing like it in main. We have finally decided to ditch this due to non-freeness and the ethical issues surrounding use of proprietary roms. Besides, there are so many new free arcade-style games now that we hardly miss it.
Games - Toys
xearthThis displays a globe with placenames in your root window. The children have fun making oneko walk all over the world. By default, the globe turns once every five minutes so eventually you see the whole world. There are command line options to change this and other parameters, but if the Debian menu is used to start xearth, there is no opportunity to deviate from the defaults. It would be nice for this and other toys started from the menu to have a popup for the toy that allows you to select different settings before it starts.
xsnowA seasonal desktop toy.
lyxLyX is a very good WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean)text editor. It should be good for any age for writing anything from letters, to short stories and for later years writing essays and such.

LyX comes with an excellent tutorial and help structure. The documentation is the best I've seen for ANY software on any O/S!

For the younger audience, they can just start typing away and see the result with a ps or dvi preview. The sections can be selected from a pull-down menu for easy formatting and there are a lot of tool-bar buttons for most functions. There are a few different document types available and as the child uses it more, they can learn how to create more document types to suit their needs. Being LaTeX based, it gives a good introduction to the TeX based world of text editing in a very easy to use manner. Together with the tutorial and help documents, the child can advance at their own pace until they are ready to move to TeX or LaTeX for a truly professional DeskTop publishing tool.