Astronomy and telescope ownership will become a topic of discussion and a shared bond between you and the child. Eventually, the kid becomes the leader of the hobby, taking you on a tour of the sky. Seeing kids achieve this level of self-reliance and drive is rewarding for both of you.
Considerations When Getting That First Telescope For Your Kid
For the purpose of this guide, we are not looking at toy telescopes. If your kid is under the age of 10, the assumption is that an adult will be involved to supervise a young child with the telescope. There are toy telescopes and some even have moderately acceptable optics but they are not included here.
It is important to understand that a telescope, or binoculars, used during the day can be dangerous. Even a toy telescope with working optics, if turned to the sun, can result in permanent eye damage. So, for this review, we are going to assume that the telescope is something that is going to be used and managed with an adult for children under 10, especially if that telescope is accessible during the day.
However, even a motivated 7 year old can begin to take command of the instrument once they have learned enough. If that is your goal, take size and weight into consideration so that, when they are ready, they can physically handle the telescope. All the scopes listed for the under 10 age group should meet this criterion.
If the children are under the age of 10, I suggest you consider any telescope as a family telescope. Yes, at some point you may give the child some independence, but treat this as a family resource and be prepared to make this a shared experience.
To give you a basic understanding of what these are,
- The optical tube – this is what most people think of as the telescope consisting of a lens in the front or a mirror in the back to gather light
- The focuser/diagonal is where you place the eyepiece and turn a dial to bring the image into focus
- The eyepiece magnifies the image. Typically, you will have more than one.
Of the various types of optical tubes available, refractors are the most rugged and stand up to some abuse including a few minor drops and bumps. These are what most people think of as a telescope. Refractors have a lens in the front and the eyepiece in the back. Also, refractors can be used during the day as spotting scopes for family outings. Reflector/Newtonian types, the ones that use a mirror in the back, are great for astronomy but are not suitable for daytime use.
The diagonal is where you place the eyepiece. It can either be angled at 90 degrees, which is best for astronomy, or at 45 degrees which is best for daytime use but can be awkward for astronomy use. If this is primarily for astronomy you want a 90 degree diagonal, sometimes called a star diagonal. Most refractor telescopes will allow you to buy a second diagonal so you can switch between daytime and nighttime use. Diagonals can be purchased separately from the initial telescope package and don’t have to be the same brand. A second diagonal can be added later.
The mount is the part of the telescope that holds the optical tube. A manual mount is one where the optical tube, the part you look through, sits on the mount that you move and direct. When using an optical tube on a manual mount it is your job to direct the scope and to find the targets. As the earth rotates, you will need to nudge the scope to keep the target in the eyepiece. This is not hard to do once you get used to it. Some manual telescope mounts have slow-motion controls, dials that you turn to help you track smoothly. Other manual mounts require you to move the scope to track the target.
I suggest you avoid telescopes on equatorial mounts. Many entry-level scopes are sold on equatorial mounts but they are heavy and non-intuitive in their use. The lower cost, entry-level equatorial mounted telescope packages are typically of poor quality. In addition, they add counterbalance weights which make things heavy and awkward to move.
Any scope that has an EQ in the name or refers to an equatorial mount would not be recommended as a first scope for a child. Equatorial mounts are probably best avoided as first scopes for most adults too due to their non-intuitive use.
A PushTo mount adds a level of computerization but lacks motors. When you start each observing session you do a quick alignment to help the mount know where you are. This typically takes five minutes or less. After that you just enter your desired target into a handset, a computer, or into a smartphone, depending on the system. The system shows you where to point the scope to find the target you want to see. You will still have to track the target but this design can help take some of the frustration out of astronomy by making it easier to find the things you want to see. Examples include the Orion Intelliscope series or the Celestron StarSense Explorer series.
GoTo scopes take the PushTo design and add motors so that you have a fully robotic system. You enter what you want to see and the motors turn the optical tube to point at your target. GoTo scopes add tracking to the feature list. Once the scope is on the target it will track it as the earth turns. This will keep the target in the eyepiece. Examples would include the Meade ETX series and the Celestron NexStar series.
Best Kid's Telescope Recommendations
The following are recommended family scopes that might eventually be taken over by your child. Some are tabletop designs and some are on tripods. Some are manual and some of the ones that are for children over 10 years old incorporate computer assistance. Some are refractors and some are reflector or Newtonian designs. If you want the scope for both day and night use, then select one of the refractors.
I have made suggestions across a range of budgets so you can begin to narrow down which one(s) might be appropriate for your family and your budget. There are certainly more expensive systems, but these would be great starter scopes for your family that could eventually be taken over by your child.
Under 10 Years Old
For those under 10, the below recommended best telescopes for kids are all light enough and compact enough that a 7 to 10-year-old should be able to handle it, physically, on their own, when they are ready. All of these suggested scopes might require some adult involvement initially.
Over 10 Years Old
Today’s children are very accustomed to using technology and might prefer instruments using computerized technology. The average 10-year-old has mastered the use of a smartphone, video games, and likely a computer or tablet. While manual scopes are always appropriate and recommended for adults, a responsible pre-teen may be able to operate a computer-assisted PushTo or GoTo telescope system with some initial help from an adult to learn the system. A lot depends on the child. In some cases, they may pick it up faster than you. If these sound like your kids’ case, we recommend you read our Best Computerized Telescopes Guide and pick on based on your budget.
If not, we have the ‘Best Telescope Guide‘, which consists of mostly manual telescope recommendations. Those would be far more superior in providing quality views when compared to a similar priced GoTo/Pushto computer-controlled telescopes and we will always recommend them in normal circumstances. GoTos are typically recommended only for a budget of $1000 and above.