Updated 22 August 2023
Dads young and old are quickly rediscovering old hobbies and picking up new ones with their children. One of those is stargazing, otherwise known as astronomy.
Over the course of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the British Astronomical Association reported a surge in the number of viewers on its YouTube channel, and some retailers saw a 50% increase in sales of telescopes. People everywhere were becoming obsessed with deep space objects.
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, reduced air and light pollution, led to clearer skies and made for a perfect environment to search the night sky for planets, galaxies and celestial objects millions of miles away.
With that in mind, and with a number of key considerations, we’ve pulled together this comprehensive guide on buying a telescope for your child as well as 10 of our favourite starter telescopes for different ages and stages. Happy gazing!
Our top three kids telescopes
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 becoming a young astronomer. Instead, it recommends getting familiar with the night sky and our solar system with a star chat, monthly sky guide or apps, followed by purchasing binoculars. In fact, RAS fellow Theresa Cooper recommends spending as much as 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 and undoubtedly some questions you'll be looking for answers on - 'What makes a good telescope?', 'Is a kids telescope any good?', 'Do I need a professional telescope?'.
If you get the right telescope, you might spark a lifetime of wonder and interest. Get the wrong one 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. The best telescopes for kids are ones that are relative to their age. When buying a telescope for your child, you need to think about how easy it will be for them to use. Teenagers 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.
Sure, there will an element of parents setting things up for their young kids to allow them to simply look through.
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, if it's too cheap, it probably won’t offer the experience required to entice youngsters back the next night.
Typically, a really basic starter telescope marketed for kids cost anything between £/$20 and £/$100. And toy telescopes may even cost less than £/$20. Higher spec ones start to move into the £/$100-400 range, with a professional telescope for serious hobbyists moving 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 telescope's 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.
You can usually either get tabletop telescopes or ones that sit on an adjustable tripod. Tabletop telescopes are great for young kids because it will be nice and secure - and not topple over easily. However, they are usually less mobile so it'll be difficult to take it out.
Ones that sit on an adjustable tripod are great because they offer so much flexibility - especially if you have children of different ages - and portability. They can, however, topple much easier.
The 10 best telescopes for kids
Now you know what to look out for, it's time to look at the best telescopes for kids, whether it's a toy telescope for younger kids or 'proper telescope' for older kids and teenagers who want higher quality optics to view the lunar surface, star clusters or distant galaxies.
“Excellent quality for a great entry price!”
The PowerSeeker 50AZ Telescope by Celestron is a refractor designed to give the first telescope user a great combination of quality, value, features and power on a budget. It includes the tripod, mount, a 5x24 finder scope, three eyepieces (20mm, 14mm and 4mm), three Barlow lenses which triple the magnifying power of each eyepiece, and accompanying Starry Night Astronomy Software.
“Easy to move and ideal for younger hands!”
The Celestron FirstScope is a reflector telescope that is simple and quick and easy to use right out of the box despite the lack of a eye piece, making a great starter telescope for young astronomers. What it lacks in magnification (75x and 15x) through the supplied eyepieces, it makes up for with great wide views. To make the most of it, though, you might want to buy a finder scope and eyepieces that enable the 180x and 11x optical limits.
"A great way to learn about space through play when the clouds stop the real fun."
Certainly a toy telescope and not a working telescope, the GeoSafari Jr Talking Telescope is an excellent alternative to keep young 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 about celestial objects.
“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 a lightweight and portable telescope, making it ideal for camping trips and star gazing from the family tent.
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 finder scope.
- Custom backpack designed for quick assembly and easy travel.
- An "Amazon's Choice" voted product.
6. OYS 80mm
"If you want the hi-tech, top of the range telescope, this is it!"
The OYS 80mm 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.
- Ultra clear image, and also comes with two replaceable eyepieces.
This classic refractor telescope from Bresser is an excellent choice for lunar and planetary viewing. The included eyepieces offer incredible magnification of up to 338x on nearby planets and stars, but it really excels when viewing the moon.
“The combination of larger aperture and eyepiece offer great images for a beginner scope."
The Aomekie 70/400 refractor offers great image quality for a first telescope thanks to a large aperture and reduced light reflection and chromatic aberration. The kit comes with a Kellner multi-coated eyepiece, aluminium tripod, 5x24 finder scope, moon filter, star chart, phone holder and erect-image diagonal to present images the right way up.
- It has the latest multi-coated Kellner eyepiece which boosts light transmission, reduces light reflection and chromatic aberration.
“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 reflector tabletop telescope that offers excellent optical range, image quality and ease of use at a mid-range price. The mount is sturdy and allows smooth tracking, while a battery-operated red dot finder scope makes find targets a breeze.
"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 main types - refractor and reflector telescopes. But there is a less common third type - compound telescopes. 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.
Refractor 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, a refractor telescope can sometimes be unwieldy and suffer from chromatic aberration, where a rainbow of colours appear around an image.
Refractor telescopes are best for observing deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae.
Reflector telescopes are usually shorter and wider in shape. They use mirrors, rather than lenses to convey light to the eye piece. Although they’re often heavier and less mobile than refractors, reflector telescopes are capable of much larger apertures.
Unlike a refractor telescope, 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.
A reflector telescope is better for brighter objects, and so is more commonly used for lunar and planetary viewing.
Formally known as 'catadioptric' telescopes, compound telescopes are effectively hybrid versions that use both a telescope's mirror and lenses. As you might have guessed, as they're hybrids between reflectors and refractors, compound telescope users can enjoy views of objects both near and far away in our solar system.
An optical tube, also known as an 'optical tube assembly', is a standalone telescope that doesn't come with any kind of stand or mount. They are typically for more advanced telescope users rather than young kids, and are usually bought to fit with an existing telescope setup. An optical tube is usually among the most expensive type of telescope costing several thousands of pounds or dollars, with some evening reaching five figures. There is a budget end to the market, however, available from as little as a couple hundred pounds or dollars.
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 mount - Allows the telescope to swing side-to-side and up-and-down, just like a camera tripod
Equatorial mounts/Dobsonian telescopes - 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’. As a result, these mounts are commonly referred to as 'Dobsonian mounts' and even 'Dobsonian telescopes'.
Motorised mount - Allows you to turn the telescope using a small keypad.
Go To mount - Automatically move and find 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.
What is the best telescope for teenager?
A teenager is understandably more likely to want a more advanced telescope than younger kids. Either the BRESSER Classic 60/900 EQ or the OYS 80mm would be great choices for a teenager - both can be used with a smartphone, which will no doubt help your them to explore things in their own way.
What is the best children's telescope?
The GeoSafari Jr Talking Telescope is definitely the best children's telescope (for young astronomers, at least). It's not a working telescope, instead opting to present thousands of images on a screen inside. It means you don't have to keep your little one up late to start their fascination with the sky.
For older kids (perhaps from the ages of 7-12), we'd recommend the Build Your Own Telescope model. They'll love putting it together and it's simple enough to use on their own.
However, any of the telescopes on this list are more than suitable if you're planning to stargaze with them.
What are the best telescope brands?
While there are plenty of brands and manufacturers in the telescope market, Celestron is often the go to brand for those chasing views of celestial objects.
What is the best portable telescope?
Our pick is the Celestron TravelScope 70mm. The lightweight nature of the telescope itself and the bespoke carry bag make it absolutely ideal for taking on camping or hiking trips. It's one of the quickest and easiest to setup without a significant drawback in quality.
What is a moon map?
Considered an essential basic for astronomers, a moon map details lunar features. It helps you to learn and navigate the moon's many craters and know exactly what you're looking at.
What are celestial objects?
Celestial objects are essentially any object you might see in the night sky - the sun, the stars, moon, planets, comets and asteroids, meteors and meteorites and galaxies. Typically they were considered to be any natural object you could spot in the night sky. However, satellites now tend to be included.
Can you use your phone with a telescope?
In short, it depends. Some telescopes - like the OYS 80mm - are designed specifically to be used with a smartphone, allowing you to see what the telescope is seeing through your phone rather than the small eyepiece. For some, you'll need a smartphone adapter in order to do this. Of course, there are some models where it's not possible to use your phone.
There are also plenty of great apps you can use either to aid young kids specifically while they're looking at the night sky, or when the telescope has been put away.
What is the best telescope type for looking at the moon?
Reflector telescopes are definitely best suited to looking at bright objects like the moon or the planets.
What is the best telescope type for deep space objects?
It's certainly a refractor telescope that you'll want if your amateur astronomers want to look beyond the moon map and want to focus on distant objects.