A USB key is a very practical thing for having data available to you everywhere you go. You want to have all kinds of data available to you at all times. Keeping that data safe is another matter. It's all too easy to loose a key or have it stolen from your person. Are you sure that all the data you put in the key is harmless, even when the data it contains is put on the internet for the whole world to see?
This series of articles will show you how I solved this problem.
A computer to be used by children is at best a dedicated PC. You will not have to worry about protecting your data or other resources. There is simply nothing there for the child to erase or reconfigure. Whatever you do, never, ever let children use a computer you use for work, no matter what their age is. Accidents happen and you will be the only one to blame for allowing it. If necessary, use a USB key or external hard drive to boot from. An 8GB USB key is enough to put the OS and plenty of software on. A key like this is very cheap and certainly a lot cheaper than lost data.
If you use the free and open operating system Linux, you can get away with older hardware. I have recently used a PIII of 700MHz with 384MB of RAM with great success. It ran all the educational software without a hitch and even ran Flash at acceptable speed. This machine is an exception though but in general I can say that any Pentium processor with at least 512MB of RAM is enough to get a more than acceptable speed. This puts the Kids PC in the category of “old PCs too slow for a modern Windows OS”. Many people throw these PCs out the door so you can easily get a PC like this for free if you ask around.
Some people are scared of letting their children use a computer because they think it's a bad influence. They have been confronted with images unfit for young eyes or they think the child will be at the computer all the time playing violent games and not play outside anymore. I tell you that neither of this should scare you away from setting up a PC for the kids. You are in control and decide what the child can and can't do. if you don't want the child to go on-line, just don't plug it in. If you don't want it to play certain games, just don't put them on there. it's all very simple really.
I have had two types of requests when configuring a PC to be used by a child: make sure the PC can only be used a certain length of time or make sure he/she is not confronted with porn or violence when being on-line. I want to add a third one: protect the identity of your child, yourself and your family.
Once my kids were two and a half I introduced them to the computer. The first attempts were made to try the mouse and pictures were shown on the screen. It wasn't until I heard the Linux Link Tech Show guys interview the lead developer of gCompris that I saw that there's a lot of good educational stuff out there that can greatly benefit my children. The sooner a child grasps certain concepts a better base he or she has to understand more. It's a snowball effect you start the sooner the better.
I set up a PC specifically for the kids and spent some time introducing them to some basics. Bit by bit I added more applications and features. The results were pretty good with my oldest daughter. She got an exceptional score in her last year in kindergarten. She is a very bright kid, but I'm very much convinced the Kids PC has helped her with concepts like groups, numbers, shapes, colors, dexterity, language and abstract thinking.
There is one rule I live by and I want to pass on to my children: Try things that are above your level, it's the only way you will learn new things. I try to have my kids see learning as a positive thing by having them associate it with fun. At the same time I do the reverse by using “not showing a new thing on the computer” as a punishment.
The games I show my children are at or slightly above their level. I don't mind if they can not complete a level or even play the game as it should at first. The first goal is that they try the new software, all the rest is irrelevant. Always keep your primary goal in mind!
I fail to understand parents who teach their kids that learning takes effort and anything that takes an effort is not good. Those children are destined to become lazy, fat and dumb. Not a very good start in live, is it?
If you invest the time and energy to set up a computer with educational software and help your kids use it I'm sure they will benefit from it in one form or the other. Once you get them going you will benefit on the short run - the kids have something to do - and on the long run - they will become brighter people.