Dads, young and old, are quickly rediscovering old hobbies and picking up new ones with their children. One of those, in particular, is stargazing, otherwise known as astronomy.
The British Astronomical Association reported a surge in the number of viewers on its YouTube channel, and some retailers have seen a 50% increase in sales of telescopes.
We all heard and read about how mankind ‘reconnected with nature’ during the pandemic, and lockdown certainly helped astronomy to take off as a popular hobby. Dramatic falls in road traffic around the world reduced air and light pollution, leading to clearer skies has made for a perfect environment to search the night sky for planets and galaxies millions of miles away.
With that in mind, and with a lot of different things to consider, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on buying a telescope for your child and reviewed 10 of the best you can buy. Happy Gazing.
What to look for in a telescope for kids
Just like most hobbies, starting out can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to what to do and what to buy.
Interestingly, the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that buying a telescope isn’t the first step in starting an astronomy hobby. Instead, it recommends getting familiar with the night sky with a star chat, monthly sky guide or apps, followed by purchasing binoculars because they’re simple to use. In fact, RAS fellow Theresa Cooper recommends spending a year using binoculars before moving to a telescope.
If your little one is ready to take the next step and move onto a telescope, there are some things you need to consider. Get it right and you might spark a lifetime of wonder and interest. Get it wrong and you might stop that hobby dead in its tracks.
Theresa Cooper warns that telescopes can be complicated, which sometimes leads to newcomers giving up altogether. When buying a telescope for your child, you need to think about how easy it is to use relative to their age. A teenager will certainly find it much easier to grasp more complicated aspects of higher spec telescopes, while younger children will simply want to look and see something cool.
Naturally, price is a factor with any new hobby. It’s understandable that many parents don’t want to splash out on an expensive new gadget with no guarantee it will be used. On the other hand, too cheap won’t offer the quality experience required to entice youngsters back the next night.
Typically, the really basic start telescopes marketed for kids cost anything between £/$20 and £/$100. Higher spec ones start to move into the 100-400 range, with telescopes for serious hobbyists can move into four figures.
The aperture is widely considered to be the most important specification of a telescope. It refers to the diameter of the lens or mirror of the telescope that collects the light. Put simply, the higher the aperture, the more light it can collect and produce a better, brighter image. According to experts, a good aperture is between 80-300mm for an amateur telescope.
Put simply, the focal length of a telescope - usually measured in millimetres - is the distance between the lens or mirror and the point at which the image of the sky is created. The longer the focal length, the higher the magnification and lower the field of view. Typically, a longer focal length results in a longer telescope. However, more modern telescopes are being built in a way that allows for larger focal length in a shorter, fatter telescope.
This is probably what you’re most familiar with, given that it’s a term we see all the time on our phone’s camera. It’s simply how far your telescope can zoom. But more magnification doesn’t necessarily mean a great telescope, it is balanced with aperture and focal length.
Experts recommend that you should look for magnification of no more than 50x the aperture measurement (in inches). Anything more and you’ll end up with a dim and fuzzy image. So, if the aperture of the telescope is 4”, anything more than 200x magnification is fairly pointless.
The 10 best telescopes for kids
“Excellent quality for a great entry price!”
The PowerSeeker 50AZ Telescope by Celestron is a refractor designed to give the first-time telescope user a great combination of quality, value, features and power at on a budget. It includes the tripod, mount, a 5x24 finderscope, three eyepieces (20mm, 14mm and 4mm), three Barlow lenses which triple the magnifying power of each eyepiece and accompanying educational software.
“The combination of larger aperture and eyepiece offer great images for a beginner scope."
The Aomekie 70/400 refractor offers great images for a beginner scope thanks to a large aperture and reduced light reflection and chromatic aberration. The kit comes with a Kellner multi-coated eyepiece, aluminium tripod, 5x24 finderscope, moon filter, star chart, phone holder and erect-image diagonal to present images the right way up.
“Not only a great telescope, but it comes pre-assembled and is easy to use, meaning your child can dive straight in.”
The Orion StarBlast 4.5 is a table-top reflector telescope that offers excellent optical range, clarity and ease of use at a mid-range price. The mount is sturdy and allows smooth tracking, while a battery-operated red dot finderscope makes find targets a breeze.
“Works brilliantly in the day if you want to look at wildlife.”
The EMARTH 70/360 is a wide-view refracting telescope that offers 51-128x magnification through the 25mm and 10mm eyepieces. It’s lightweight and easily transportable for camping trips and star gazing from the family tent.
“Easy to move and ideal for younger hands!”
The Celestron FirstScope is a reflector telescope that is simple and quick to use for youngsters right out of the box despite the lack of a finderscope. What it lacks in magnification (75x and 15x) through the supplied eyepieces, it makes up for with great wide views that are easy to find. To make the most of it, though, you might want to buy a finderscope and eyepieces that enable the 180x and 11x optical limits.
This classic refractor telescope from Bresser is an excellent choice for planetary and lunar observation. The included eyepieces offer incredible magnification of up to 338x on nearby planets and stars, but it really excels when viewing the moon.
7. OYS 80mm
"If you want the hi-tech, top of the range telescope, this is it!"
The OYS Telescope is an impressive bit of kit. An 80mm aperture with both tripod and phone adapter which means you can not only see the moon in hi-grade definition, but you can use the phone to get even closer.
"A great way to learn about space through play when the clouds stop the real fun."
Certainly a toy and not a working telescope, the GeoSafari Jr Talking Telescope is an excellent alternative to keep kids engaged with stargazing while the weather isn’t great. The child-friendly dual eyepiece shows stunning images supplied by NASA, with over 120 fun facts and quiz questions encouraging learning.
This portable refractor telescope from Celestron is a great option for families who want to take their scope on the road with them. It’s lightweight and comes with a bespoke carry bag, which allows for super quick assembly in any environment. It has two eyepieces (8mm and 20mm) that allow for high and low-power viewing day and night. It comes with erect-image diagonal and a 5x24 finderscope.
"Offers a new avenue of learning and play."
If you’re looking for a very cheap option that offers something different, this kit from Build Your Own is a great alternative that encourages educational and STEM play. Made from high-quality sustainable cardboard, the kit contains 29 press-out parts that don’t require glue. The sliding focus tube extends up to 72cm and the glass optic lens provides 16x magnification. It comes with a built-in finderscope as a well as angle finder.
The different types of telescope
There are two types of telescopes; reflection and refraction. While we won’t bore you with the technical differences in how they work, here are the key differences and the reasons for each one.
This is probably the shape you picture when you think of a telescope - a long, thin tube with an eyepiece at the end.
Refracting telescopes use lenses, and as a result are sealed at both ends of the tube. This means that no dust or dirt can enter the telescope, and neither can air which means steadier, sharper images. They’re usually lighter and therefore more mobile, if you wanted to take out to a quiet spot at night.
Because they are typically much longer, refracting telescopes can sometimes be unwieldy and suffer from chromatic aberration, where a rainbow of colours appear around an image.
Reflection telescopes are usually shorter and fatter in size. They use mirrors, rather than lenses to convey light to the eyepiece. Although they’re often heavier and less mobile than refractors, reflection telescopes are capable of much larger apertures.
Unlike refraction telescopes, the one end is open, meaning it can be prone to dust and air interfering with the image. However, they are typically cheaper to make and don’t suffer from chromatic aberration.
What else you need to know about kids telescopes
All telescopes require a sturdy mount to support it. And there are a few different types used on telescopes.
Alt-az - Allows the telescope to swing side-to-side and up-and-down, just like a camera tripod
Equatorial - A slight variation of an alt-az mount that turns on a single axis. It requires users to align it to the North Star, and sits on a wooden platform called a ‘Dobsonian’.
Motorised - Allows you to turn the telescope using a small keypad.
Go To - Automatically move and follow thousands of objects in the sky.
Just like every hobby, telescopes have all manner of accessories which you may or may not deem essential depending on your level of enthusiasm.
Accessories include everything from interchangeable eyepieces and colour correcting lens filters, to counterweights for heavier scopes and red dot scopes.
If you're planning on taking the telescope with you on a family trip, such as camping with the family or even hiking, then be sure to also look out for extra accessories to ensure a safe travel with them.
Best telescopes for kids - a dad's experience
Andrew Davies, a 35-year old father of seven-year old Seren and baby Evelyn, discovered the night sky during July’s Perseid meteor showers.
“Lockdown meant that focus on family and wellbeing became more important than ever and so it was down to us as parents to make the most of what we have available to us at home,” he began. “So with that in mind, I decided to make use of something readily available on my doorstep. I looked up.”
Andrew explained: “I’ve always been fascinated by the stars. Indeed, we named our first daughter Seren, meaning ‘Star’ in Welsh. But it never led to any further than gazing up in wonder.”
“I camped out in the back garden until the early morning hoping to catch a few shooting stars. I managed to spot quite a few and was amazed.”
He went on: “The following day I told my daughter all about it and we soon decided to spend that night in the garden looking up at the stars in bivouac mode (sleeping bag and no tent). We spent the whole night together in awe of what took place above us.”
He freely admits that what dad often thinks is cool is the polar opposite of a seven-year old thinks is cool. But Seren was hooked too and it quickly led to a search for a budget telescope.
Andrew said that he downloaded a few free, highly-rated apps to help them along in their new hobby. “Being able to use the app to understand the constellations we were looking at was a fantastic way to make the night sky more interactive and helped to engage Seren.
Conscious that a seven-year old could get bored of looking at white dots quite quickly, Andrew decided to introduce a few simple games to keep it fun and engaging.