So you are looking to buy a telescope for a child but you really are not sure what to get. I will give you some guidance on what you should look for and what kinds of telescope you should get. And I won't lose sight of the fact that the real goal here actually isn't buying a telescope. The real goal is to give a child a rewarding and enriching experience. Using a telescope isn't just a fun thing to do. It is also a learning experience and buying the wrong telescope can be detrimental to that experience. And of course the price is a factor so I will cover the prices of telescopes too.
Here are the criteria I am using for this article.
First, A telescope for a child should be reasonably durable so I will give you my thoughts on the durability of the various telescopes that I recommend.
Second: Price is a factor so I will make recommendations depending on the price versus value of the telescope. The raw price isn't as important as the price versus value but I will break things down by price so you can fit things into your budget.
Third (and most important) is the usability and performance of the telescope. what I mean here is whether or not the telescope actually works and how well. This is the most important because it is the reason why you are buying a telescope in the first place! You want to find something that actually works. With a decent telescope that performs reasonably well you (and the child) get an enriching experience. But if you get a scope that just shows blurry and fuzzy objects then the whole experience of the telescope is ruined - and for no good reason other than the purchase of the wrong scope.
One Strong Recommendation first
Using a telescope can be a bit of a challenge for anybody of any age. When it is taken out on that first night what do you do with it? Well, if the moon is out then that will be the first thing you look at of course. After that what do you do? You probably point it at various bright stars. Then what do you do? The night sky is extremely rich with all kinds of things that you can look at but finding them is not easy for a beginner. You need some kind of a guide! So, if you want to unlock the mysteries of the night sky you really should get some kind of a book or a guide. Just think of this as part of the cost of the telescope. There are lots of wonderful books about astronomy and they stories and the history and activities. What I am recommending here are a few books that will go well with the hands on experience of actually using a telescope. Here are my recommendations:
Find the Constellations"A 'must' for public and school libraries and a wonderful book for an individual or family to own." Reading level (ages 9-12)
I also have a wider recommendation of books that includes activity books and learning about astronomy
Dipping your toes in the water
It is actually a wonderful idea to just start out buying a book. There are plenty of things that can be seen without a telescope and lots of things that can be learned. You can also use binoculars to get some really good viewing. And you could just start out with a book!
But let's take a look at some telescopes...
A good first option is a small telescope as a learning and exploring opportunity. Children are curious about absolutely everything and that means that todays interest might not be tomorrows interest. So, as a way to be a bit pragmatic about it you might want to consider just getting something small and interesting to get started; This is before you dish out a hundred or more dollars for a telescope that ends up being used just once or twice.
- One kit
- Unique classroom project for young astronomers
- Create activities and lessons through the instruction guide
- Perfect art project for home or classroom
3X Refractor Telescope Kit - This fun learning kit includes everything students need to assemble a 3X power telescope based on Galileo's original 1690 design. -- Construction of the 18" scope takes less than one hour and is simple to complete. Once built, the telescope offers widefield viewing and easy zoom focus, with capabilities powerful enough to show craters on the moon, Jupiter's moons, and many stars invisible to the naked eye. -- Includes instruction manual, along with star and planet indicator, and activity cards.
Now lets move into some more serious telescopes for kids
Here is my first recommendation. I chose this one because the company (Celestron) has an outstanding reputation for superb optics. For this price you simply cannot go wrong. It also comes with two eyepieces and a barlow lens. The alt-azimuth mount means it is easy to move the tube around and point it at different things.
Very nice entry level beginner telescope and very suitable for children. And at a very reasonable cost.
This telescope is the next model up from the 21041 and it is a little more expensive but an excellent value. It too comes on an alt-azimuth mount that is sturdier and it comes with some very user friendly extras like the handle for easy motion of the scope and an erecting prism that give you right side up images when viewing terrestrial objects. If you can spring for a little more money you should consider this one.
Now let me recommend a couple of telescopes that I like because of their size. These scopes use a mirror rather than a lens and this is why the eyepiece is on the side of the tube rather than on the bottom end. They are small, table top sized and easy to use. A thing to consider is that you will need to put them on a surface that is the right height for a child like a picnic table.
Celestron 21024 FirstScope Telescope If you are new to telescopes and are looking for something at an extremely reasonable price yet want something that works pretty well then this might be the perfect choice for you. First off, it is made by Celestron, which is a premiere telescope making company. This also comes with two eyepieces which is a valuable addition. It is very portable and I can't say enough about this scope being a great way to dip your toe in the night sky. They call this a firstscope and they have got it exactly right.
What they have to say about it: ( I agree 100% with all of this) and you really can't go wrong with this telescope. It is an extremely good value.
FirstScope Telescope Official Product of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Ideal astronomical entry level telescope. The FirstScope Telescope pays tribute to Galileo Galilei and may of history's most notable astronomers and scientists. We honor these men and women for their contributions bringing us one step closer to understanding the universe around us. The compact design makes it easy to take with you on your next outdoor adventure. The FirstScope is also stylish enough to be used as a decorative fixture on your bookshelves or desk.
I have used one of these and I have to say that it is just an amazing little telescope. It is very easy to use, has a nice 3 inch mirror for good light gathering power, comes with two different eyepieces, and most importantly gives a very rich and a very wide view of the night sky. This makes it very easy to use. One of the biggest hurdles any would-be astronomer faces is the tunnel that is created when looking through a telescope. It's kind of like trying to find things through a narrow tube. You have to hunt around. But with the incredibly wide field of this telescope the problem disappears.
The nerd recommends if traveling, backpacking and ultra convenience are a big factor for you then this is a great beginners telescope. The price is higher but getting this compact size requires better and more complex optics.
Here is Celestrons description of this scope:
Sky's the limit with this portable and easy to use Newtonian reflector. A perfect gift for kids & families, the impressive aperture allows users to explore the craters on the moon, marvel at rings of Saturn or, with the built-in erect image lens, use it as a land based spotting scope to view the wonders of nature. And best of all, you can bring this scope anywhere you feet can take you!The ExploraScope is packed with cool features that make it easy and fun to use. You can use your ExploraScope on the included swivel base, hold it on your lap or mount it on a photo tripod with the included adapter to observe your world. This durable scope comes with a protective dust cap and carrying strap that make it the perfect companion for hiking and backpacking.