Build a cheap computer for your kids with Kano OS and a Raspberry Pi

Instead of repurposing an older computer, help your kids build one of their own without spending too much.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
2 min read
Jason Cipriani/CNET

Kano is a platform that's designed to teach kids how to build a computer, what every part of a circuit board does, and finally how to code apps or games. The platform is available in predesigned kits made for kids.

Watch this: Raspberry Pi projects

Kano's computer kits are attractive simply because each one includes the core of what you need to get started with the kid-friendly platform. The basic kit includes a Bluetooth keyboard with touchpad and all necessary cables. The Computer Kit Complete includes a 10.1-inch display for a laptop-like setup.

However, if you have a Raspberry Pi or would prefer to let your child pick and choose the various parts of a computer just for them (yes, Minecraft is included!), then putting together your own Kano OS computer is the way to go.

What you need

  • Raspberry Pi 1, 2, or 3 (enclosure optional)
  • USB Keyboard
  • USB Mouse
  • HDMI Cable, microUSB cable with wall adapter for power
  • Monitor or television with HDMI input
  • 3.5 mm speakers or headphones
  • microSD card (8GB or bigger)

If you don't have an extra keyboard or mouse collecting dust in a drawer somewhere, I've found the inexpensive Amazon Basics version of each more than sufficient. If you plan on helping your child go through the different games and lessons Kano offers, hooking up a Raspberry Pi to a television is an easy way to avoid buying a monitor.

Download, install Kano OS

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Despite selling computer kits, Kano's operating system is open-source and available for anyone to download and install. I had no idea the OS itself was available and mistakenly believed the only way for my kids to experience what Kano has to offer was to purchase hardware from the company. I was wrong.

Kano walks you through installing KanoOS on a microSD card, which is then used with your Raspberry Pi 1, 2 or 3 on this page.

The gist is this: Download the image file from Kano. Use Etcher to properly install Kano OS onto the microSD card. Once finished, place the card into the Raspberry Pi and power it up.

It's installed… now what?

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The first time you boot up Kano OS, your child is walked through some basic terminal commands and creates a user account. With an account setup, your child now has access to a computer he or she built (with your help, of course) as well as dozens of free educational apps and services.

Navigating through Story Mode, a character walks across the digital version of the Raspberry Pi's circuit board, with stops at places like the power port or HDMI connection, and full explanations through games of each one's purpose.

My kids and I have found the way Kano OS teaches to be fun, interactive and insightful all at the same time. Also available on Kano OS are shortcuts to a Chrome browser, a music app, and a hackable version of Minecraft (complete with tutorials).