A telescope can make a great present for a child. It can stimulate interest in the sciences and the wider world and also give a parent something they can do as a family.
In this article, we recommend the best telescopes for kids of all ages and for a range of budgets and explain what you should look for when making your choice.
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Best Telescopes for Children
Best Cheap Telescope for Kids
This is a great little telescope that is intended as a first telescope for beginners and children (hence “FirstScope”).
It is lightweight, portable, and can be set up without tools. The 3-inch (76 mm) aperture is enough to provide views of the planets like Saturn and Jupiter, and detail on the moon.
It is a tabletop Dobsonian reflector telescope. This means that it doesn’t sit on a tripod like other telescopes, but rather has a built-in stand. This makes it easy to use, but means you’ll need a level table in your backyard to get the most from it.
Note that there are a few versions of the FirstScope on sale – the regular FirstScope, the Cometron FirstScope, and the Moon Signature Series version. These are all the exact same telescope with just a different paint job and possibly some different accessories included (check with the package you are buying).
You can watch a quick overview video of the FirstScope from Celestron here:
- Cheap – great value for the price.
- Small and light – easy to pick up and use at any time and easy to store.
- Easy to use – simple to get viewing with for all the family.
- Capable of smartphone photography with an adapter.
- Not that powerful at 3-inch aperture (although just about ok).
- Needs a good backyard table to get the best use from.
- Not ideal for travel as it has no tripod for different surfaces.
- Not GOTO/computerized. You’ll have to manually locate what you want to look at.
Overall, this is a great value budget beginner’s telescope and perfect for a beginner or child to use in the backyard.
- Type: Reflector / Dobsonian
- Aperture: 76 mm (3-inch)
- Focal Length: 300 mm (11.8-inch)
- Focal Ratio: F/3.9
- Weight: 3.6 lbs (1.6 kg)
- Mount: Manual Alt-Azimuth
- Accessories: Two eyepieces
Orion FunScope vs Celestron FirstScope
The Orion FunScope is virtually identical to the Celestron FirstScope above and so can be considered as an alternative with the same pros and cons.
It has the same 76 mm / 3-inch aperture and Dobsonian tabletop design that make it perfect for what we are looking for in a kid’s telescope.
You can watch a short video overview from Orion of the telescope here and see its size:
If you think this style of telescope is right for you then you can pick between these two based on preferred appearance and what accessories come included in your chosen package.
A bigger and more powerful model than the two above is the Orion SkyScanner.
It is another tabletop Dobsonian telescope, but with a larger 4-inch (100 mm) aperture. This will make a noticeable improvement in what you will be able to see through it.
The downside of this in comparison to the above models is that it is heavier and costs more, but it has many of the same advantages in terms of size and ease of use.
You can watch this video introduction from Orion below:
Best Travel Telescope for Children
The Celestron Travel Scope is designed as a travel telescope, rather than a kids’ telescope. But much of what makes it good for travel, make it good for children and families:
- It has 80mm aperture, which is good for providing good views of astronomical objects in the night sky.
- It weighs just 4.5 lbs and no tools are required to quickly and easily get it set up.
- It comes with a backpack included with space for all the accessories, including the tripod. This is an underestimated positive as many families will value being able to pack their telescope away nicely and declutter.
- It comes as a package with everything you need in one, including the backpack, tripod, and even a smartphone adapter and BlueTooth remote for photography.
Here is a quick video overview of the slightly lower spec 70mm version of this telescope:
We have a guide to the best travel telescopes if you want more options like this.
- 80mm aperture for good views
- Light weight and easy setup
- Packs up for travel or storage in the provide backpack
- Capacity to take photos with your smartphone
- Relatively inexpensive
- A bit more fiddly than a tabletop dobsonian like those above, and lacking the StarSense or GoTo technologies of those below
Overall, this is a great option for a family telescope to be taken on trips, or for a teenager to have but where you’d value them being able to pack it up and store it without taking up too much room.
- Type: Refractor
- Mount: Alt-Azimuth
- Aperture: 80 mm (3.1-inch)
- Focal Length: 400 mm (16-inch)
- Weight: 4.5 lb (2 kg)
- Tripod Height: 52-inch (132 cm)
- Accessories: Backpack, Tripod, Smartphone Adapter & Bluetooth Remote, Finderscope, Erect Image Diagonal, 2 Eyepieces, 3x Barlow Lens, Moon Filter
Best Telescope for a Teenager
The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ telescope is a great telescope for teenagers or for adults to use with younger children as it interacts with your smartphone to make it much easier to find things in the night sky.
Celestron’s innovative StarSense technology allows you to connect your smartphone to the telescope. Then, using the app provided, it scans the night sky above you and tells you what you can see that night and guide you to it.
For example, if Jupiter or Mars are above you that night, you can select them on the app and then follow the arrows on the app to point the telescope at them.
Here is a quick video that shows this:
This makes it significantly easier to find things in the night sky, which can be a major frustration for astronomy beginners. It also gives you something close to what you’d get with a computerized telescope, it’s just won’t move the telescope for you. An advantage is that it is cheaper and doesn’t require a power source in comparison to computerized telescopes.
This model has 80mm (3.1 inch) aperture, which is enough for great sights.
There are also three larger StarSense Explorer telescopes in the range. If you think you’d prefer one of the more powerful models see our article here to understand the differences between them. Essentially though, the higher aperture options are either heavier and bulkier, or more expensive, and so we think this is a great option for kids or teenagers.
It is a refractor telescope on an alt-azimuth mount which makes it simple and easy to operate.
Best Computerized Telescope for Children
The last option on this list is slightly different as it is a computerized (GOTO) telescope.
This means that it can locate an object in the sky from a database of thousands of astronomical objects like planets, galaxies and nebulae at the press of a few buttons.
This particular model is controlled via an app that you download onto your smartphone or tablet. See this range of telescopes in action here:
It has a 4-inch aperture for powerful viewing and is small and compact, and so won’t take up too much room at home.
How to Choose a Kids’ Telescope
Buying a telescope can be pretty bewildering. There are hundreds of different models with all sorts of different specifications, shapes, and sizes.
To help with this, we believe that you can narrow it down to three different things to consider:
- Aperture – this is the best measure of how good it will be to look through (the higher the better)
- Size, weight and ease of use – the practical aspects are more important than you might think to make sure you get a telescope that will actually be used
- Cost – You can spend anything from $50 to $500 (or even $4000) on a good telescope suitable for a child, so set your budget and work out what’s best for you within that price range
Aperture – the Power of a Kids’ Telescope
The aperture of the telescope is the key specification when it comes to how good a telescope will be for looking at the night sky.
You can ignore things like magnification, focal length, and focal ratio as they won’t mean much for this level of telescope. It’s all about aperture – the higher this is, the better you will be able to see through it.
This number is usually clearly stated – often in the name of the telescope model – in either millimeters or inches. Sometimes it might be stated on the sales listing page as the Objective Lens Diameter.
We would recommend an aperture of at least 3-inches (76 mm). Below this and you might be disappointed with what you can see.
The higher the better, but the cost tends to go up as the aperture goes up (although other factors can also increase the price).
Best Size and Weight for a Child’s Telescope
This is where you need to think about the age and capacity of the child who will be using it, where they will be using it, and where you will store it when not set up.
Some telescopes marketed to children are very heavy and bulky. This might be ok for a teenager in a house with plenty of space, but this won’t be for everyone.
With regards to the size, think about whether you have a good space at home for it to be set up all the time or whether it will need to be packed away. If it will be packed away, it’s worth considering if it comes with a bag or case so that it fits together properly. Telescopes, tripods and accessories are often awkward shapes for storing.
For the weight, think about whether you be the child will be using it on their own or with an adult helping. If it will always be with adult supervision then perhaps you can get something heavier as you will be the one setting it up and operating it. If it’s for a child or teenager to use on their own, perhaps it needs to be a bit lighter so they don’t drop it and hurt themselves and/or break it.
Most people will value telescopes being smaller and lighter, but you have to balance this with its capacity to provide good views as defined by its aperture. As aperture goes up, you see better sights but the telescope tends to get bigger and heavier.
Ease of Use – What Type of Telescope is Best for Kids?
This relates to the above points as telescopes can be frustrating if you can’t get them set up easily and start seeing some sights through them quickly.
For children especially, you want a telescope that is simple to set up and operate so that their enthusiasm grows and they want to learn about what they are seeing.
If the telescope is too advanced for their age and capacity they will likely just give up on it. (Note, as an adult I did this with my first telescope!)
Much of this will relate to the type of telescope and there are three main types:
- Catadioptrics (also called Compounds)
The name just refer to how they are built with refactors using glass lenses, reflectors using mirrors, and catadioptrics using both, but the key things to understand are:
- Refractors are the easiest to use and the most ‘traditional’ telescopes in terms of appearance
- Reflectors provide the best value in terms of power (aperture) to price, but tend to be bigber, bulkier and heavier (although there are some good tabletop models that we recommend below)
- Catadioptrics tend to be compact and light but are the most expensive
The Telescope Mount for a Child’s Telescope
The other thing to consider that relates to the above is the telescope mount.
This will come included when buying a telescope package along with the telescope tube (the OTA) and tripod. It is the part that sits between these things and is what you use to operate and point your telescope.
There are two main types of mount:
- Alt-Azimuth – this is the easiest to use and best for observing/astronomy
- Equatoral – these are best for astrophotography but are much more cumbersome and harder to use
You will almost certainly want an alt-azimuth mount for a child as it’s much simpler – you just point and look.
You can also get telescopes that come with computerized (or “GOTO”) mounts. These find objects in the night sky above you at the press of a button (usually from a hand controller or, more increasingly, a smartphone app). These are great but more expensive, more complicated, and also require a power source, which can make them less portable.
Cost – How Much Do You Need to Spend on a Kid’s Telescope
Your budget will help narrow down your options, but the cheapest telescope worth buying for a child will cost at least $50-60.
As aperture increases the price tends to go up and the sky’s the limit, but you could get a very good telescope for a few hundred dollars.
You can also get smart telescopes that cost thousands and might be perfect for some families but it’s a much bigger investment.
In Summary – What to Look For in a Kid’s Telescope
Bringing this all together, you will want:
- An aperture of at least 3-inches (76 mm). The higher this number is, the better the capacity of the telescope to provide good views of the night sky.
- The right size and weight for the child who will use it. You’ll need to look at the assembled weight of the telescope and also consider the telescope type (refractor, reflector, or catadioptric).
- A alt-azimuth mount. This best for astronomy and the easiest type to use. Steer clear of equatorial mounts (you always buy a new mount if you want to get into astrophotography later – see the best mounts for astrophotography). You can also consider a computerized/GOTO mount.
You then just need to consider your budget for how much you want to spend.
The telescopes recommend above all meet these criteria.
FAQs: Best Telescopes for Children
Which type of telescope is best for kids?
Refractors, tabletop dobsonian reflectors, and catadioptric telescopes are good for children since they tend to be smaller and lighter.
Large reflectors with equatorial mounts should be avoided as they are heavy, bulky and harder to use.
At what age can a child use a telescope?
This really depends on the child and only you really know. The tabletop telescopes like the Celestron FirstScope and Orion SkyScanner could certainly be used by young children, although they’d need help finding things.
If you have bigger telescopes on tripods or computerized models that require power then you have to start thinking about safety issues and also the cost if they get knocked over and broken!
What is a good first time telescope?
What makes a good kids’ telescope is quite similar to what makes a good beginner telescope for an adult, so the above options could easily be considered.
For more options, see The Best Telescopes for Beginners.
Are Smart/Hybrid telescopes good for kids?
Smart telescopes like the Stellina or eVscope are actually great for families to sit around and use together to find deep-sky objects and take photos of them. They are very expensive though.
See The Best Smart Telescopes (Stellina vs eVscope Equinox) for more info.
Can children use astronomy binoculars?
Yes, astronomy binoculars are a good option. High aperture models can give you everything a telescope can and low magnification models can give you a wide field of view that’s perfect for watching things like meteor showers.
See our article on the Best Astronomy Binoculars for more information.
Conclusion -What’s the Best Telescope for Kids
- The Celestron FirstScope is a great budget option that gives surprisingly good power for the price and is small and easy to use
- The Orion SkyScanner gives you everything the FirstScope above does, but is more powerful and you will see better through it
- The Celestron Travel Scope 80 is great if you want a family telescope to take on trips or just if your household would value something that packs away easily into a backpack
- The Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ interacts with your smartphone and will make it much easier to understand what’s in the sky above and find things to look at.
- The Celestron Astro Fi 102 is a good, compact, budget computerized telescope that allows you to take advantage of GOTO technology. You may alsow want to consider the smaller telescopes in the Celestron NexStar range.
Overall, for the price, the Celestron StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ is really a great deal and gives you many of the advantages of a computerized telescope without many of the downsides and so it’s worth considering for a family to use together of a teenager to use alone.
Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
You can find more articles like this in our astronomy hub.