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How to Explain Object-Oriented Programming to Kids

Everything’s an object, right? Well, almost everything. The assertion that everything is an object is the concept which underlies object-oriented programming, or OOP for short.

The whole paradigm of object-oriented paradigm is the concept of objects. These objects contain data, which we also refer to as attributes or properties, and methods. Objects can interact with each other.

Object-oriented programming is one of the most complex parts of programming to learn and to teach. If it is so difficult to learn and to teach, how do you explain it to a kid?

When you explain coding to a child, it’s helpful to use something they already know. It’s the same when you want to know how to explain object-orientated programming to a kid, you make it relatable.

By using something familiar, it will help you explain programming concepts. Also make it simple and entertaining. This will help to prevent boredom and keep them engaged in what you’re explaining.

In this guide we will delve deeper into how we can explain object-oriented programming to a child. We will deal with the basics of object-oriented programming, its main principles and how to easily explain them to a child.

The basics of Object-Oriented Programming

Object-oriented programming is based on the concept of objects. In object-oriented programming data structures, or objects are defined, each with its own properties or attributes. Each object can also contain its own procedures or methods.

Software is designed by using objects that interact with one another. This offers various benefits, like:

  • being faster and easier to execute;
  • providing a clear structure for a program;
  • making code easier to modify, debug and maintain; and
  • making it easier to reuse code.

Object oriented languages are diverse, but the most popular ones are class-based languages in which objects are instances of classes. Significant object-oriented languages include Java, C++, C#, Python and Javascript.

The simplest way to explain object-orientated programming to a kid is to use something like a car as an example. A car has a model name, a colour, a year in which it was manufactured, an engine size and so on.

We would therefore create a Car object with the name, colour, engine size and year as attributes.

For every new car we use, we would use the car object. For instance, we can have a 2019 Blue BMW or a 2017 Red Audi. In each instance we would reuse the code contained in the original object.

The main principles of object-oriented programming are encapsulation, abstraction, inheritance and polymorphism. We will now deal with these four principles and how to explain them to a child.

Encapsulation

The principle of encapsulation entails that all the properties and methods of an object is kept private and safe from interference by other objects. In each object we can have both private and public variables and methods. Private variables and methods cannot be called or used by other objects, whereas public ones can.

To explain this, let’s again use our car example. The attributes such as colour, year and model would be private variables. They can just not be changed by other objects.

In turn we can have a public method called Start. Other objects, for instance a Person object, would be able to call this method.

We can use a computer game as an example that would be more relatable to children. Let’s look at a role-playing game as an example. In a typical role-playing game, we may have a main character or hero.

This hero will have several variables like name, outfit, hair colour and skin colour. The hero may also have methods like attack, walk, run and talk. Typically, these would be private variables and methods that can’t be modified by other objects in the game.

The hero may also have a variable Health and a method called Damage. These would typically be public variables and methods which can be modified by other objects. An enemy object would be able to call this method and change the value of the variable when it attacks the hero.

Abstraction

Abstraction can be seen as an extension of encapsulation. Oftentimes, programs are very large with thousands of lines of code. This is difficult to maintain, but abstraction helps with this.

Abstraction means that every object only exposes a high-level mechanism for using it. Thus, the code within, to a large extent becomes irrelevant to other objects interacting with the object.

Let’s use our car example again. As stated, it might have a Start method attached to it. This Start method may have some code inside it which provides what happens when the method is called. The object calling that method does not need to know it works or what code makes it work, but only that it works.

Using the game example, the Attack method may have many lines of code contained in it. This code can specify how the hero can be attacked and what effect the attack may have on the health of the hero.

The enemy object does not need to be aware how the attack works, just that it works and that it reduces the health of the hero.

Inheritance

As stated before, programs often contain thousands of lines of code which is complicated and difficult to maintain. Another problem often encountered is that we have similar objects. They can share some code or logic, but they are not exactly the same.

If we had to create a brand-new object for every object we use in our program it would lead to more code and complexity. In order to prevent this, we can use inheritance. With inheritance we extract the logic in one object, called the parent, to another object, called the child.

Using our car example, we can, for instance, extract the features like year, colour and model into another object. We can thus use our car object to create other objects like trucks, busses or vans due to their similar nature.

In our game example, we can have a variety of enemies. These enemies can all be child objects of a parent enemy object. Each enemy may have similar attributes, but also different attributes like outfit or weapon.

Polymorphism

We have now seen how inheritance enables us to use a parent object to define a child object. The problem is that the child might have a different way of implementing a method.

Polymorphism gives us a way to use an object exactly like its parent but keeping its own methods as they are.

As an example, let’s look at a Vehicle object. We can use this object to create other objects like a Car, a Truck or a Motorcycle. If the Vehicle has a Start method, it may be implemented by each child object differently. Polymorphism enables each child object to implement the Start method differently.

In our game, our enemies may each have an Attack method which it inherits from the parent, but each with its own implementation.

Object oriented programming may be complicated to learn, not only for adults, but also for children. However, the more you use examples and something that is relatable to children, the easier it will be to explain.

How FunTech can help your child learn programming

We run both holiday and term-time classes for kids who want to learn how to program. Our virtual lessons include the popular PureCoder series.

Many kids who take our programming courses end up taking a computer science GCSE or A Level early.