Is an eclipse coming up?
Has your child expressed interest in astronomy?
Looking to start a family tradition with a hobby that everyone can start and enjoy together?
It might seem like an easy task to get online and buy a telescope for your kids or for the family, but it’s also easy to get fooled into buying a dud.
Avoid buyer’s remorse that stems from finding out after the fact that your new telescope can’t resolve a thing or it’s too difficult to handle or understand.
Discover what gems are within the telescope market aimed to kids. Learn a few things, check out the good telescopes, and save some money while you’re at it.
Here’s what you need to know.
Best Telescope for Kids In 2020
There are kids telescopes and then there are junk telescopes. It’s unfortunate that it seems like they go hand in hand, but it’s not the case if you educate yourself before you buy.
What separates good telescopes for children from the scam models in the market lies in the fundamentals – good optics, good mounts, and understanding the specs. While price is a major factor in how much quality you can buy, usually a parent is looking to spend as little as possible. Hence the need to provide a lineup of telescopes worth checking out.
A large part of buyer satisfaction will come from obtaining knowledge to help you understand what to expect from a budget telescope. Too often you think you’re getting a telescope that will help you see beyond the stars to find out it can’t provide resolution past the moon. This may not be the telescope’s fault and may very well be yours.
Get some tips down below so you don’t end up disappointed.
This is how you will be able to identify between a scope that’s good for your kid or one that ends up in the attic or in the next yard sale.
The Best Kids Telescope Reviews
1. Meade StarPro 80 AZ
The StarPro is a more than decent refractor to start your amateur astronomy journey with. It’s on the pricier end of the spectrum for a telescope for a kid, but if you want to see more than just moon, you’ll need to pay a little more.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Good control of CA
✔️ Slow-motion control
✔️ Limited astrophotography
The price is not bad at all for a complete telescope package that works for both beginner adults and children, but it is more expensive than other options in this lineup. However, it offers great performance for a starter refractor.
This model is a slower scope with a focal ratio of f/11, and when paired with the 80 mm aperture, you can expect that the field of view will be on the narrow end of the scale. But, it does a better job of controlling chromatic aberration with its longer focal length.
The sleek, minimalist single fork arm on an alt-azimuth mount gives it some flair and likely weight reduction benefits. The mount features slow-motion controls so that a user can make fine adjustments when following an object.
All the fixings are included with the Meade telescope and a nice addition is the 90-degree erect image diagonal. You can observe terrestrial targets instantly without having to spend more money on the much-needed accessory.
As a refractor, it’s very easy to look after and use. It’s the smart choice with value if you’re looking for a telescope that can serve both adults and kids.
2. Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro
The StarBlast 4.5 Astro is an excellent telescope for beginners. Yes, you will need to collimate it which requires research, practice, and understanding the need for it, but at least it can be done on this inexpensive scope.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 4.5” aperture
✔️ Tabletop mount
❌ Limited mounting options
To start with, the StarBlast has a great aperture that a child will appreciate. It collects more light than smaller refractor models at this price point. However, as a Newtonian, it will require a little more TLC to ensure you can take advantage of the 4.5” aperture.
The Orion telescope covers the fundamentals with a parabolic primary mirror that reduces spherical aberration, and it’s collimatable. Many of its fast alternatives have a spherical primary mirror which means it will be difficult to see anything of quality through the blurriness. Many models also have a fixed primary mirror, so you cannot collimate it. Fortunately, the StarBlast does not follow the trend of cheap scopes.
The StarBlast Astro has a tabletop mount that’s well-suited to beginners since it’s lightweight, portable, and easy to use/handle. Unfortunately, it can’t be mounted to a tripod as it has no threading to receive a tripod post. If you were to switch-up setups, the OTA would be the only transferable component. As it stands, it provides value and ease of use with its tabletop design.
A big aperture to see with better resolution at a larger scale, ease of use from a tabletop mount, and good optics for a cheap Newtonian – sounds like a great deal to any parent.
3. Orion SkyScanner
The SkyScanner is a 4” tabletop Dobsonian. Yes, it’s fast scope with a short focal length, but it has a parabolic primary mirror to provide viewing confidence and satisfaction.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 4” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ Mounting options
The SkyScanner is an excellent starter telescope for an older child. The low price point with adult-like beginner quality should catch a parent’s eye. With 4” of aperture, you have a decent size to see bright objects up close with good fields of view, so yes you’ll be able to see more than just the moon with the SkyScanner.
Like its name suggests, you can scan the sky and it should be easier to do this with the Orion scope since it comes with a finder – not always included with entry-level scopes.
One of the best features it can brag about for its price point is the parabolic primary mirror. Coming into focus across the magnification range should be spot on as light rays come to the same focal point. However, like many in its price range, the primary mirror cannot be collimated.
While the Orion telescope has a Dobsonian tabletop design, it’s been outfitted to be extremely versatile. You can mount the tube on another mount, put the base on a tripod, or put the tube on a tripod!
The Orion SkyScanner is a favorite, budget telescope. It comes with all the essential accessories, it’s lightweight and portable, and it has some (although not all) primary optical features needed to acquire better than good viewing quality.
4. Emarth 70 mm Travel Scope
The Emarth Travel Scope is a good, cheap refractor telescope package. It’s the real deal for kids that fits a parent’s budget.
Pros & Cons
✔️ For young kids
❌ Poor instructions
Some users rely heavily on user instructions and manuals and others completely discard them. If you fall into the former category, you’ll be disappointed with the lack of quality education regarding telescope use, assembly, and other essential information. Either research online or put your own knowledge to use.
The Emarth scope is a short focal length fast refractor and we know what that means – chromatic aberration. This is color fringing or color bleeding that you will see around bright or high-contrast targets like the moon and birds. For imaging this is unacceptable, but for kids and visual use, it’s no big deal.
As a refractor, it’s well-suited to beginner adults helping out their beginner kids. It has closed optics, requires no collimation, and it’s super easy to use. It has a 70 mm aperture which is small, but you can still see the brightest astronomical objects.
The telescope also comes with an erect image diagonal, so you and your young one can observe land-based targets like animals from a safe distance. Of course, it can be taken along on hikes or other day trips since it’s so lightweight and portable.
The tripod does come up pretty short for an adult, and since its best to keep it retracted somewhat for enhanced sturdiness and reliability, you’ll need to stoop. The tripod can be swapped out if you happen to have a full-length one around, but this one is for the kids right? Get your own!
5. Orion FunScope
The FunScope is very comparable to other budget tabletop Newtonians. It’s right within budget, has a minimum 3” aperture, and it conveniently portable.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 3” aperture
✔️ Good mount
❌ Optical issues
Since this tabletop is much like others of its type, it shares the same problems – spherical aberration and a non-collimation. This is due to the spherical primary mirror and the inability to collimate it. This is a trade-off with scopes of this type at this price point.
Orion does throw in Barlow lens, along with many other accessories, that may be able to help alleviate the optical issues, and it won’t go over maximum useful magnification when used with the right eyepiece.
Because the FunScope is so small in aperture, there will be limitations on what you can see. Bright objects are the first and foremost targets to explore. With its aperture size, it naturally comes in lightweight and suitable for travel. You won’t even have to disassemble it for compactness when traveling. Besides, the scope comes preassembled out of the box.
The nice thing about Dobsonian-style telescopes is the mount and base. This model is designed to be placed atop a table or other sturdy and level surface. You don’t have to deal with tripods or the massive weights of larger Dobsonian bases. It’s easy to manipulate with its alt-azimuth movement, and a kid will get the hang of it in no time.
Is the FunScope perfect? Not in the least. Is it a good starter scope for a young kid? Yes, with supervision. Is it fun to use? The name says it all.
6. Celestron FirstScope
The FirstScope is not recommended for an adult but is entirely appropriate for a young child. It’s not a perfect scope, but at such a low price point, it’s a welcome option to consider.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 3” aperture
✔️ Good mount
❌ Optical issues
While kids may find the small size and decorative tube finish to be appealing, an adult will find the inexpensive price point even more so. So, what should you be prepared to be disappointed with right off the bat?
As Newtonian with a very short focal length, fast f/4 ratio, and spherical primary mirror, there will be spherical aberration. Technically, this is the inability for light rays to come to the same focal point. In practice, this is the blurriness and inability to focus for crisp resolution. Fortunately, this should only be apparent at high power. Staying under 40x will help to improve clarity.
And, you’ll likely have to stay at low power since the FirstScope does not have a finderscope. You’ll need to use a low power eyepiece to locate a target with the widest field of view. With 3” of aperture, you’ll have plenty to explore with a young child, especially so considering the price. If you already have a telescope of your own, throw some quality 1.25” eyepieces on to improve the image regardless of the fact that it comes with two eyepieces in the buy.
Since the Celestron scope has a tabletop mount, it’s fantastically sturdy and easy to use. Lightweight and portable, the telescope can be taken anywhere and pulled out anytime. No need to assemble or collimate as it comes preassembled and fixed in place from the factory. Easy does it, right?
7. Barska 300 Power Star Watcher 400X70
To be satisfied with the Barksa Star Watcher requires knowing your stuff and having realistic expectations. After all, it is a refractor telescope under $100. Even so, it delivers optical performance expected of its specifications which is only what you can ask for at this price.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Low power champ
✔️ Accessories included
❌ Magnification misconception
The Star Watcher boasts of 300x power. Can it get there? Spoiler alert – it cannot. It’s a low-power telescope, but at least it performs well with it. You can push useful power up to around 100x, but you won’t reach 300x with any sort of acceptable viewing quality.
The refracting telescope has an aperture of 70 mm with a 400 mm focal length making it a fast telescope with a focal ratio of f/5.7. It will show chromatic aberration, but it’s acceptable for visual use. Since it’s a refractor, of course you can use it as a spotting scope for multiple uses with an Amici prism.
It’s super easy to setup since the tripod is a tabletop. You may miss the full length of an adjustable one, but if compactness is essential, it might be for you. Besides, it can be swapped out to another tripod.
Multiple accessories are included from the finder to a diagonal and even a Barlow lens. There are a lot of plastic parts on the setup and accessories, so it’s not a scope that you want the kids to thrash. Even though it’s a budget kid’s telescope, it’s still a scientific instrument.
If you have some experience with scopes, you could make modifications to improve performance. At its low price point, it’s a telescope that can get your kid started in looking at the sky without exceeding the budget.
8. Meade EclipseView 60
This model of the Eclipse View 60 is a refractor on an alt-azimuth mount/tripod. It’s very affordable, so parents should have no problem pulling the trigger on the buy.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Solar filter
❌ Narrow field of view
Why choose the refractor model over the Newtonian? As a starter telescope that will mostly be handled by kids, you’ll need closed optics, no fussing over collimation, and you can use it as a spotting scope too. For the low price point, it’s not a bad buy for getting multiple uses out of it.
As its name suggests, yes, you can watch eclipses with the Meade telescope. It comes with the appropriate filter required to watch a solar eclipse safely and it has excellent quality. Observing eclipses is usually the primary reason this telescope is bought
As you can guess, it’s very easy to assemble and get setup within minutes. The mount moves in alt-azimuth and there is one slow-motion control included with the accessory package. While there are multiple accessories included in the buy, you may be better off replacing them with a few decent models.
However, with 60 mm of aperture and a focal length on the long-ish side, the field of view will be very limiting. While it’s obviously not made for DSO observation, you may be able to make out the brightest objects. Its strength will lie with observing lunar features and the process of an eclipse.
Do you have the next eclipse on your calendar? Better buy your telescope now before they sell out!
What to Look for in a Kid’s Telescope
How old are your children? Will you be using the telescope and learning alongside your kid? How much should you spend on a first-time telescope?
There’s a lot to think about whether you’re forking out 50 bucks or four times the price as the whole idea is to get something that will last and provide enjoyment. Here are some tips that will get you thinking and understanding the fundamentals of how to know if a telescope is a good buy for your kid or if you should move on.
Many looking for a telescope for a kid will likely look to the budget and cheap end of the scale. This is okay if your child is very young and things like chromatic aberration and plastic parts don’t bother them. It will annoy parents more than it will the kids.
Try to move away from the mindset that if your kid ends up not enjoying the hobby then you’re not out so much money. User satisfaction is largely dependent on user experience. The more you can see, the more enjoyable it may become, and good seeing and experiences can be the accelerant that ignites a passion for astronomy.
While there are some telescopes under $100 in this lineup that would work well for your child or family, these should only be considered if you cannot afford to spend a little more.
If you can save-up to acquire a budget of $100-$200, you can expect a noticeable jump up in quality. As it reaches the $200 price point, you will see perhaps one or two more additional features. Stay away from flamboyant claims and features that are over-emphasized. What you want to look for is quality in the fundamental features – better glass or mirrors and a dependable mount. There is no substitute for optical quality.
Level of Interest
Has your kid asked you to buy them a telescope? Are you looking to share a common interest with your child? How interested are you in stargazing?
How interested your child is in astronomy will influence your budget. How dedicated you are in teaching them necessary skills to use a telescope is also an essential consideration.
Think about things this way… It will be a team effort to make stargazing work to turn it into a hobby. I can tell you right now that if you buy a telescope and leave your child to figure it out themselves, it will end up unused.
Regardless of age, all children will require guidance on how to care for, use, and store their telescope. Just like an adult will need an instruction manual to get started, a child will require an adult to break it down and make it easy to understand.
Supervision is also required. Young children should never be left alone with small pieces. They should also not be left alone to handle the telescope unless you like burning money. Also, please teach your children to never look at the sun through a telescope. It can be done with the right filter installed in the right place, but you don’t want to leave room for accidents. Consequences can be permanent as they cause immediate and serious injury.
Older children will require basic techniques taught to them by an adult, but they may quickly pick up the ropes and will discover the joys of using a telescope independently.
Age appropriateness also goes along with budget. If your child is very young, say from 3-7 years old, you can get away with spending as little as possible. The telescope will not be of high-quality and the child will outgrow it at some point.
Older kids from 8-17 years old will want to see instant results when they look through a telescope. The quality you invest in can very well influence their interest or lack of it.
Dual-Purpose Telescope VS Single-Purpose Telescope
Some parents might not care what type of telescope they buy and instead will look to what they can get out of it. Is it dedicated to seeking out deep-sky objects (DSO)? Do you want to be able to watch animals and marine life? No one telescope does it all perfectly, but there are two types that will help you understand what you can expect.
A refractor telescope is made with glass lenses. Their apertures are rather small when you’re sticking to a budget. Expect to see 60 mm to 80 mm refractor telescopes. These types of telescopes can be used with erect image diagonals that allow you to look through the eyepiece and see an image in its correct orientation as you would see with your eyes, much like looking through binoculars, monocular, or a spotting scope. These are dual-purpose telescopes, and if you have intentions of using your telescope for land-based targets as well as sky objects, a refractor is for you.
A Newtonion reflector is made with mirrors. They can be made with larger apertures because mirrors are cheaper to make and less labor intensive. Unfortunately, they’re not made to look at land-based targets as they produce an image that is not only upside down, but it’s also reversed right to left. These are typically single-purpose telescopes designed for looking at sky objects as orientation is of no consequence in space. If you have other optics to observe animals and the like, then invest in a Newtonian specifically for searching the night sky.
“Dad, can we look at the stars tonight?” “Maybe tomorrow, it’s too much work to pull out the telescope.” That is a fast interest-killer right there.
While it’s tempting to go bigger in aperture to get more light and potentially additional performance benefits, you will have to deal with weight, size, and mounting difficulties. Don’t run before you learn how to walk.
Start off smaller as smaller scopes have greater portability benefits. A scope that’s easy to transport and setup will provide more opportunities to share stargazing experiences with the kids. The telescopes in this lineup are all very lightweight and compact. A kid will feel huge satisfaction in being able to tote around their telescope all by themselves!
There’s no getting around the fact that if you spend less you will be compromising somewhere. At low price points, these compromises come in the form of optical quality. Usually, junk scopes are aimed towards kids. Unusable telescopes with bad combinations of tube and mount aimed to ignorant buyers and wrapped up with an attractive price tag. The market is rampant with them.
To make the best decision on a telescope for your child means to educate yourself with the basics if you’re new to telescopes yourself. While price is important, quality and user experience will have the greatest impact on instilling interest in your kid. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t live with some compromises.
- Spherical mirrors in Newtonians with a short focal length are usually a bad idea due to the significant spherical aberration.
Livable solution? Use low power and upgrade eyepieces. Could experiment with a negative Barlow lens to improve viewing quality.
- Non-collimatable Newtonians puts a life-limit on your telescope. It means you can’t collimate the primary mirror when it becomes misaligned that can result in various optical ramifications. However, they should hold their alignment well since they’re fixed in place. Usually, the secondary mirror is collimatable even though you will likely not need to do this. For non-collimatable scopes, the manufacturer usually includes a clause to send it in for repair or replacement under the warranty. Look for this before you buy.
- Short focal length refractors at a low price point will inevitably suffer with chromatic aberration (CA). This is a colored fringe or bloat around objects.
Livable solution? You can use a special filter to help minimize CA, although kids aren’t necessarily concerned with this.
- Unfortunately, it’s fact that included accessories will be mediocre if scopes are directly marketed for kids or the scope package comes at a significantly low price point. Upgraded eyepieces are usually always recommended even on telescopes that cost three times as much.
Livable solution? Use some of your own eyepieces. Best solution? Buy new eyepieces, even relatively inexpensive ones, to improve viewing quality.
What is the Best Telescope to Buy for a Child?
The best telescope to buy for a child is one that can provide good optical and solid mounting performance. Usually, refractors are easier for both an adult and child beginner as they require little maintenance. That may be important for new users.
Newtonians on the other hand can offer larger apertures allowing greater visibility performance on deep-sky objects. However, they require more maintenance in either collimating mirrors, or if they’re fixed in place, being sure to care for it so that the primary mirror does not become misaligned.
Portability is a major factor since it can impact how often you use the telescope, how easy it can be to setup/packup, and how transportable it will be. Convenience in size/weight and handling can make a big difference in suitability for a child.
What is the Best Telescope for a 10 Year Old?
It may depend on how interested your 10-year old is and what they want to observe. A 10-year old and older child may make good use of a $200 telescope or one that’s more expensive. With the ability to acquire a larger aperture and better telescope quality, user satisfaction and enjoyment increases.
This may come in the form of a Newtonian reflector. If they can be taught how to use exposed optics and collimate, can easily move it from the house to the backyard, and you’re willing to provide supervision, they may enjoy the larger aperture of this type of scope.
However, if you feel the 10-year old would do better with ease of use and they would also like to observe land-based targets, a refractor is the best way to go.
Are Kids Telescopes Just Toys?
Legitimate question. There are many telescopes that are kid’s toys and borderline kid’s toys, especially the ones that are marketed directly towards kids. Many of them have plastic lenses, tiny apertures, and are offered at very low price points. It’s best to stay away from those models.
To identify the differences between kid’s toys and good telescopes suitable for kids, look to the quality of the fundamental features. Does it have real glass? Is the spherical mirror paired with a focal ratio slower than f/5? Does it have a metal tube?
Real telescopes are scientific and astronomical instruments and can be offered at reasonable and affordable price points. They belong outside under the skies. A kid’s toy is nothing more than a kid’s toy that ends up in the toy box where it belongs.
Is Astronomy a Good Hobby?
Astronomy is an interest, hobby, and profession, but if it’s a good hobby will depend on you. It will only be rewarding if you’re willing to learn, and there’s no better way to learn astronomy than to get out there with a telescope and self-teach. It requires practice, patience, and tons of research of the enigmatic night sky.
Turning stargazing into a good hobby will require effort, learning, and quality equipment. How much you’re willing to put into it will determine how much you get out of it.
One challenge you may be unaware of is putting your own expectations on your child and telescope setup. Your child just may not be interested in astronomy.
A cheap starter scope will not compare to one that costs ten times more. Take things easy and see this as an opportunity to acquire memories of togetherness even if the hobby doesn’t last for as long as you thought it would.
Whether it’s the moon, a distant nebula, or the rings of Saturn you happen to get within your eyepiece, it’s your child’s excitement and feeling of achievement that brings satisfaction. When you look at it this way, it’s less about the telescope and more about the moment that will be remembered for a lifetime – it’s priceless.
Since a quality telescope may be your vehicle to acquiring these experiences, I wish you clear skies