Top 10 Telescopes for Kids (2019 Picks)

It’s getting into the Christmas season, and people are starting to think about presents. We made up this of top telescopes for kids  of between about 5 and 10 in mind to help you start your research.

You want to get your kid a present that encourages them to engage better with STEM subjects. You know that this is going to give them an advantage at school. At the same time this could provide a lifetime of enjoyment (and I’m talking from personal experience here).

After all, so far, no Nobel Prize winner ever spent hours at a time on a games console as a kid. This is why many parents consider getting a telescope for the kids. We know that parents are sometimes put off by the prices, or might be concerned that their kids won’t use the scopes. But don’t worry, a gift of a telescope gives that “wow” factor, and creates curiosity in the child, and you can get a pretty decent scope without paying an arm or a leg. They also develop skills that kids just can’t get anywhere else.

Here’s my list of ten suggestions. What might be a surprise is that they’re not actually all telescopes.

Criteria for choosing telescopes for kids

I was looking for things that would measure up to these four criteria:

Ease of use

Clearly, if it’s for a young astronomer, the simpler and easier the scope is to get going and start seeing skies, the better. Kids aren’t normally all that patient, and if it takes ages to adjust and align, they’re less likely to get out at night.

Magnification / what you can see

You can change eyepieces to change magnification, but the telescope itself has a basic level of magnification, determined by its focal length. Some scopes magnify a lot, and some scopes magnify less.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the higher the magnification the better the telescope. Too much magnification causes a light telescope to give a wobbly image. In addition, zooming in too much on a cluster is dull, it just looks like stars. For land viewing, over-magnifying things will only show you heat haze. As well as this, kids tend to find very powerful (short focal length) eyepieces harder to use, as they have to hold their eye in a very specific position to see the target.

In general, a telescope with a wide lens will gather more light, and this light is the raw material for the magnification. This will enable you to see dimmer objects like nebulas.

As a rule of thumb, a magnification of about 90 times on the Moon will fill the scope’s view. The same magnification will just give you a view of a very small Saturn with visible rings.

Size/portability

This gets back to the ease of use, I suppose. Obviously, if it’s a huge heavy telescope that needs two people to carry it out into the back yard (yes, we do have those), your kid is going to get sick of it in short order. We want something that is small and light enough to grab from the bedroom and just walk out into the yard

Price

Of course this is a consideration, and we’re aware that everyone has a budget. The quality optical equipment we sell isn’t usually cheap, so I’m not going to be suggesting any of our really high-end equipment here. None of my recommendations go over $500.

Refractor telescopes

A refractor telescope is the type that uses glass to bend the light into a focus. With a refractor, the eyepiece goes in the end of the tube. As a telescope for kids, they get a good intuitive sense of where the target is.

Refractors, like all telescopes can be used during the day as well as the night. With just an eyepiece, what you see will appear upside-down, so these telescopes come with prisms (either 45° or 90°) that flip the image back.

Large refractors also tend to give a higher quality image than other types of telescopes, but the disadvantage is that large refractors become very expensive.

saxon Novo 607AZ refractor telescope

saxon Novo 607AZ refractor telescope

The saxon Novo 607AZ refractor telescope is your basic refractor. It has a 60mm aperture out front, and a focal length of 700mm. It comes with three eyepieces, 4mm, 12.5mm and 25mm (producing magnification of 175x, 56x and 28x respectively), and an optical finderscope so you can find your target easily. This scope isn’t quite strong enough to get a good view of Saturn’s rings (they will be small but the 4mm eyepiece can be hard for kids to use), but the Moon will look beautiful and bright in this telescope.

For land viewing, this scope works well in sunny conditions, and comes with a 45° erector prism, so you won’t be looking at an upside-down image.

If you like this but want a bit more, you could consider the saxon Novo 707 AZ2 Refractor Telescope , which has a larger 70mm aperture, giving you more light and therefore a brighter image. The magnification will be the same. ($189.95)

 

Celestron Astromaster 70AZ Refractor telescope

Celestron Astromaster 70AZ Refractor telescope

Celestron’s Astromaster 70AZ is their entry level refractor. It has a 70mm aperture, and its 900mm focal length will provide reasonable magnification. The scope comes with two eyepieces, a 10mm and a 20mm, producing magnification of (90x and 45x respectively).

The scope comes with a red-dot type finderscope, where you look through the finder and see where the scope is pointed. This is an easy way of pointing the scope at your target.

This telescope is good for land viewing and comes with a 90° prism to flip the image the right way up. It also comes with a steel tripod, which is sturdier than the aluminium version.

For an upgrade to the Astromaster 70AZ, the Astromaster 90AZ ($419.95) provides a significantly larger aperture for brighter images, and a 1000mm focal length for higher magnification. Bear in mind this one is physically larger to accommodate the extra focal length.

 

saxon 70mm traveller scope

saxon 70mm traveller scope

The saxon Traveller scope was not originally designed for astronomy, having only a 400mm focal length, but with the 10mm eyepiece you’ll get an acceptable view of the Moon. It’s really meant for land viewing, and it does this very well. Small and light, it comes with a mini tripod and a backpack so you can take it on a hike up a mountain and get a great view at the top.

It comes with two eyepieces, 10mm and 20mm as well as a 45° erecting prism so views won’t be upside down, as well as an optical finder scope so you can get onto your target easily.

Reflector telescopes

Reflector telescopes use mirrors rather than lenses to bend the light from stars into a point. Mirrors are cheaper to make than lenses because they’re only ground on one side. This becomes more obvious as they get larger because large lenses get much more expensive. For this reason, if you want to see a dim object, you need a large aperture. The best way to do this is with a reflector.

One thing about reflector telescopes is that the eyepiece is set at the side of the tube near the front. This can be a little less intuitive for young kids, especially when they have to move the scope to follow their target as it moves out of view. For the same reason, reflectors are not really suited for land viewing, as even with erector prisms, the image is often at an odd angle.

 

saxon F767AZ Newtonian reflector telescope

www.opticscentral.com.au/saxon-f767az-newtonian-reflector-telescope.html

saxon F767AZ Newtonian reflector telescope

This is an entry-level, but fully-functional Newtonian reflector. Its 76mm aperture gathers loads of light, so the images you will see will be nice and bright. The three supplied eyepieces (4mm, 12.5mm and 25mm) give magnifications of 175x, 56x and 28x respectively.  Not only will you get to see the Moon, but distant views of the large planets are – possible. It comes with a Barlow for extra magnification, and an erecting eyepiece will help you try your hand at land viewing.

This is the only reflector in the list that comes on an alt-azimuth (left-right-up-down) mount. This makes it a lot simpler for kids to use than equatorial mounts.

For more information, have a look at a blog I wrote about this scope a while back.

 

Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ reflector telescope

Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ reflector telescope

To be technical, this is a “Bird-Jones” variant of the Newtonian reflector telescope, which has a built-in Barlow-like lens at the focuser. To be non-technical, this means more magnification and a shorter tube.

The scope comes with two eyepieces. The first is a normal 10mm (100x) eyepiece. But the second is a rather innovative 20mm (50x) with a built-in erector prism. Using this, you can see the image closer to the right way up and have a go at land viewing. The 10mm eyepiece will give you reasonable views of the rings of Saturn and stripes across Jupiter. It also comes with a red-dot-type finderscope for finding your targets quickly.

This scope isn’t quite as simple to use as others in this list, as it uses an equatorial mount. These take some alignment before each night’s use. I’d recommend you don’t do this in front of your young astronomers, as they might get disengaged by the time spent waiting. Once aligned, though, any equatorial will make tracking the stars as the Earth turns very easy.

If you want a better viewing experience, you can add a tracking motor to the mount for $89.95. Assuming the mount is correctly aligned with the South Celestial Pole, will track stars for you.

 

saxon F1149EQ reflector telescope

www.opticscentral.com.au/saxon-f1149eq-reflector-telescope.html

saxon F1149EQ reflector telescope

This scope is similar to the Astromaster 114EQ, but it’s a true Newtonian design. This means the tube is longer, but the images are higher in quality.

The scope come with three eyepieces, 4mm (225x), 10mm (90x), and 25mm (36x). The 4mm eyepiece might be difficult for kids to use, but you should get a reasonable view of Saturn with the 10mm eyepiece. It also comes with a 1.5x erector prism (so you can try land viewing). An optical finderscope will also help you find your target.

Like the Astromaster 114EQ, this scope uses an equatorial mount. This means it isn’t quite as simple as others to set up.

Also like the Astromaster114EQ, you can get a motor drive for the equatorial mount. Using this, if you’ve aligned the mount correctly, it will track the stars for you. The telescope with the motorised mount is sold as a bundle for an additional $20. Another upgrade is available, to the same telescope with a steel-legged tripod, which is much sturdier.

 

Maksutov Cassegrain telescopes

A Maksutov is a variant of a Cassegrain telescope. It uses two mirrors to fold a long focal length into a short tube. Also the eyepiece is at the back rather than the side. This folded optics makes the Maksutov a surprisingly powerful scope in a deceptively small tube. Maksutovs are the magnification specialists in this list, specialising in planetary viewing. As a telescope for kids, they’re small, powerful and manageable.

 

Sky-Watcher 90/1250 EQ1 Maksutov Cassegrain telescope

Sky-Watcher 90/1250 EQ1 Maksutov Cassegrain telescope

This Mak is a magnification specialist, with a longer focal length than anything else in this list. The two eyepieces (10mm and 20mm) give magnifications of 125x and 62.5x respectively. Not only is the Moon going to be huge, but also the larger planets are well within your grasp. It also comes with a red-dot-type finderscope.

If you want a better viewing experience, you can upgrade to the saxon 90mm Maksutov Cassegrain Telescope. For an extra $30 you get higher-quality Plossl eyepieces.

This scope comes on an equatorial mount. This means it’s not as simple to use as some other scopes in this list. But if your young astronomer gets the hang of aligning the equatorial mount, they’ll never go back.

Like the Maksutov, and want to take a serious step? You can upgrade to the Sky-Watcher Mak 127 Star Discovery telescope. This is a much larger Maksutov on a sophisticated, computerised tracking scope.

 

Dobsonian telescopes

A Dobsonian telescope is an unusual beast as a telescope for kids. It was invented to get the best optical bang for your buck. These scopes save money on the mount (which is essentially five bits of chipboard screwed together). This money then goes into the optics.

Optically, these are Newtonian reflector scopes, but much larger than the ones with the more expensive mounts.

Dobs are super-easy to use, as all you do is move them so they’re pointed where you want to look. However, they can get very (I mean seriously) large and heavy.

saxon 3″ (3-inch) Mini Dobsonian telescope with Accessory Kit

saxon 3" (3-inch) Mini Dobsonian telescope w Accessory Kit

Designed to be cute and fun, this is a miniature, but fully-functional Dobsonian that sits on a table top. It comes with two eyepieces, a 4mm and a 20mm. The accessory kit includes two extra eyepieces (6mm and 12.5mm), a moon filter, and 6×30 finderscope. The short focal length of this scope makes it great for land viewing. However, it’s less suitable for astronomy apart from the Moon.

There something that’s still a table-top, but more suitable for lunar astronomy. You can upgrade to the saxon 5″ DeepSky CT Dobsonian telescope for $349.95. This one also comes with a red-dot type finderscope so it’s easier to find your target.

 

Sky-Watcher or saxon 6″ Dobsonian telescope

saxon 6" Dobsonian telescope

This is the smallest full-size Dob, with an aperture of 153mm. Compare this with the reflector telescopes and you’ll appreciate the Dobsonian’s benefits.

Optically, this is a great quality scope. The aperture is 153mm, meaning you get a heap of light in the front end. This will give the brightest images of all the instruments in this list. It’s also got a long (1200mm) focal length, so it magnifies well – nearly as much as the Maksutov. You’ll be able to get good views of Jupiter and Saturn.

This scope comes in two very similar versions, a saxon and a Sky-Watcher. Both versions of this scope come with a 2” focuser. You use standard eyepieces using a 1.25” adapter, or investigate the world of monster 2” eyepieces. The Sky-Watcher version comes with standard 10 and 25mm eyepieces, but the saxon comes with the higher–quality Plossl design eyepieces.

The 6” Dob is not quite as easy as the smaller scopes to use. This is due to its sheer size and weight (although the 6” isn’t large as Dobs go). However, it’s on a simple alt-azimuth (left-right-up-down) base, so it’s easier to use as equatorial mounts.

The saxon 6″ Dobsonian telescope ($419.95) has the higher quality eyepieces, but a smaller (30mm diameter) straight-through finderscope.

The Sky-Watcher 6″ Dobsonian telescope ($449.95) has a larger (50mm diameter) straight-through finderscope.

A straight-through finderscope on a Dob doesn’t suit everyone. Some people like to upgrade the to one with a 90° angled view. This will cost $149.95, and depending on your body shape, might save you from some gymnastics.

The optics on this scope are such high quality. This means the budding serious astronomer can consider upgrading the mount later on. You can take the tube off the Dobsonian mount and put it on a sophisticated equatorial mount. This will give you a professional-grade telescope.

 

Binoculars

Yes, binoculars. These are a great way of learning about the sky. Kids with a pair of binoculars will sit and wander from one star to another. They’ll discover nebulas and clusters as they go. They’re the most portable item in this list, and can come on camping trips or hikes without any trouble.

They’re also perfect for land viewing. They’re easy enough to aim so you can do all the other things binoculars are good for, like sports or bird watching.

Binoculars are the easiest of all the instruments here to use, once you teach your kid to use them properly. To use binoculars, you need to adjust the distance between the eyepieces to match your eyes. You also have to get the eyepieces the right distance from your eyes.

Once your kids have got the hang of the binoculars, they’ll be away. You won’t hear from them apart from “ohhh, check this out”!

 

saxon 7×50 Wide Angle Binoculars

saxon 7x50 Wide Angle Binoculars

The saxon 7×50 Wide Angle is the entry level full-size binocular. This one isn’t waterproof, but it has a good wide field (123m at 1000m) and BaK-4 prisms. It also has multi coated lenses for bright images. They are easy to focus, and have a dioptre adjustment to suit nearly all eyes.

For a waterproof pair, you can upgrade to the yellow-trimmed saxon Oceanfront 7×50 binoculars. These have the same BaK-4 prisms, but don’t have as wide a field of view. They cost $149.95.

As another alternative, try the saxon 15×70 Night Sky Porro Prism Binoculars. These give you a lot more, both in terms of magnification and light gathering. They’d only be good for stronger kids though, as they’re a large unit, 280mm tall. The high level of magnification also means they need to be held steady.

Summary

Name Ease of use What you can see Size RRP Sale price
saxon Novo 607AZ Refractor Telescope Easy Moon, land Small $159.95 $129.95
Celestron Astromaster 70AZ Refractor Telescope Easy Moon, large planets, land Small $289.00 $229.95
saxon 70mm Traveller Scope Easy Moon, land Very small $179.95 $149.95
saxon F767AZ Newtonian Reflector Telescope Medium Moon Small $169.95 $149.95
Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ Reflector Telescope Harder Moon, planets Small $449.00 $339.95
saxon F1149EQ Reflector Telescope Harder Moon, planets Medium $299.95 $269.95
Sky-Watcher 90/1250 EQ1 Maksutov Cassegrain Telescope Harder Moon, planets Small $399.95
saxon 3″ (3-inch) Mini Dobsonian w Accessory Kit Easy Moon, land Very small $144.95 $129.95
Sky-Watcher or saxon 6″ Dobsonian Telescope Medium Moon, planets, nebulas Large, heavy From $499.00 From $419.95
saxon 7×50 Wide Angle Binoculars Medium Moon, star gazing, land Very small $79.95 $59.95

 

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