Do you want help with how to choose a telescope for a child? With Christmas rushing towards us once again, many of us will be thinking of what to give our families and loved ones. In this article, we look particularly at what is available for a young child who is showing an interest in astronomy and space.
If you’re thinking of choosing a telescope for a child, it would be helpful to know how serious their interest is. Is stargazing going to be a passing fad, just a phase as they grow up? If so then you won’t want to spend a lot on an expensive telescope that might just end up in a box under the bed.
But also, you need to be careful that you do not buy a cheap and nasty telescope that is of poor quality and difficult to use. Be wary of some advertised in daily papers that promise unrealistic magnifications or have flimsy mounts/tripods.
Here are some options that offer good value for money, plus a useful educational instrument for the budding stargazer, with links to where to buy them which can help this site.
If your youngster is set on having a telescope, then Celestron have a great little instrument that will give nice views of the Moon, planets and stars. The Firstscope is a reflecting telescope, using a curved mirror instead of a main lens. (See our guide to different types of telescope.) You can place it on a table, then look through the eyepiece at the side. It is a usable instrument despite its very low price, so won’t break the bank while you wait to see how interested your child really is in astronomy.
You can also buy an accessory kit for this telescope, including a finderscope that makes it easier to point at your chosen target, extra eyepieces, and a Moon filter to cut down its bright glare when near full phase. Here is the link to buy this in the USA and here to buy it in the UK.
What about binoculars?
Another option in choosing a telescope for a child, if you are uncertain how long-lasting their interest in stargazing will be, is to buy a pair of binoculars instead! Remember that binoculars are basically just two small telescopes attached and aligned with each other, one for each eye! The virtue of buying binoculars is that if the interest in astronomy wanes, they can still be used for other interests such as bird-watching or viewing sporting events.
Binoculars will give your child lovely views of the sky, collecting enough light with their wide lenses that star fields look rich and bright, and will show the four main moons of Jupiter. They will also show some of the larger craters and mountain ranges on the Moon, as well as the dark dry “seas” that give the Man in the Moon his face.
If you manage to get away from streetlights and observe under a clear dark sky, then you can spot some of the brighter galaxies and nebulae, or gas clouds, too as smudges in the sky. And they are ideal for observing the brighter comets that come along at random intervals.
For a child starting out in astronomy, don’t be tempted to buy too powerful binoculars. You can find them with magnifications of 20x, or with extra big lenses, for example, but these are not easy to hold and will generally require a tripod mounting to hold them steady (and to stop your arms aching). Far better to go for 7×50 or 10×50 binoculars.
What do those numbers mean? The first figure describes the magnifying power, and the second is the diameter of each light-collecting lens in millimetres. So 7×50 binoculars magnify by a factor of 7 and the main lenses (furthest from the eye) are 50mm wide each. (More advanced amateurs, with tripods, can find a reasonably priced, more powerful pair of binoculars from Celestron here.)
This sort of size is far more manageable and will make observing the sky a pleasure. One tip is that you can steady your view even more by leaning against a wall!
With binoculars, you tend to get what you pay for, but economies of scale in manufacturing tend to make them very good value. If your budget is low, then one pair that receives good reviews for the price is the Bushnell Falcon 10×50. You can buy them from Amazon here if you are in the USA, or via this link if you are in the UK.
If you have a slightly bigger budget when choosing a telescope for a child, then binoculars by the well-regarded optical company Nikon will give your child splendid views of the night sky. The Nikon Aculon A211 7×50 binoculars have coated lenses to improve the light transmission, which should make the images a little brighter and sharper. You can buy the Nikon 7×50 binoculars here if you are in the USA, or here if you are in the UK.
For a little more power – remember, don’t overdo it – you can purchase the 10×50 versions of Nikon’s range. Here is the USA link to buy the 10x50s, and here is the link to buy the 10×50 binoculars in the UK.