We're eager, here at Love the Night Sky, to get the next generation of astronomers enjoying backyard astronomy. Because you're here, reading this, we know that you too are keen to get your kids or grandkids gazing through a backyard telescope.
But, we also know there are challenges in picking the best telescope for children. You need to strike a balance between not spending too much (kids can be rough) and not buying junk - you want them to love astronomy, not hate it.
Thankfully, we've investigated what makes the best children's telescope. Our top five are in the table below.
Quick Comparison of Top Kids' Telescopes
Orion XT 6" Dobsonian
|Check on Amazon|
Celestron 70az Refractor
|Check on Amazon|
Orion 70mm 'Go Scope'
|Check on Amazon|
Celestron 127 PowerSeeker
|Check on Amazon|
Celestron NexStar 90SLT
|Check on Amazon|
Below, you'll find our more detailed reviews. You can also click on the links in the table to check prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
What Makes a Great Telescope for Kids?
To answer this question, we need to think a bit differently than normal.
Whilst aperture might be the most interesting feature to us, we need to think about this from the child's perspective and our own.
When we want our sons or daughters (or grandsons/daughters, or nieces or nephews) to take up astronomy, we have to think about what's in it for them... from their perspective.
The youngest children, say three and above, will be content looking through your eyepiece at the moon and planets.
This Cloudy Nights forum thread shares many stories of backyard astronomers' young relatives enjoying their first telescope experiences.
Once kids get older, around six, seven or eight onwards, they are much more likely to want their own telescope. One which they can have complete control over and use to learn about the night sky at your side.
Then there are considerations that we, as the 'responsible adult' and budget holder have to account for. Most children astronomers share most of the following characteristics:
- A desire to learn
- Sense of awe and wonder at the world around them
- An early bedtime
- Short attention spans
- A need for instant gratification
- A disinterest in the boring (but often essential) elements of any activity
- Short height
- Weak muscles
- A lack of understanding of value / worth / cost
- A general likelihood to treat equipment more harshly than is good for it
This might feel disrespectful of our young relatives, but thinking about them will make sure we choose a telescope that's right for them and us!
Our task in buying their first telescope is to focus on the positives and lessen impacts of the negatives.
Practically, this means we need a telescope that is age-appropriate. For example, something small, easy and cheap is a lot better for younger children. They can use it to see craters on the moon and the brightest planets.
Give the very same telescope to a young teenager and they'll likely be bored of astronomy very quickly.
They need to feel like they're getting a great 'piece of kit' and they'll see some spectacular sights through it. Think how excited an older child might be at the prospect of seeing a galaxy or nebula!
You might also consider the rituals of telescope set-up.
Older children are often happiest treated as adults. In the world of telescopes, getting a 'kids scope' could be a turn-off. Instead, think about your relationship with the young person you're buying for.
Are they the kind to enjoy working with you on collimating, polar aligning and general set-up, or do they want instant, out-of-the-box, point-and-shoot gratification?
Whatever is best for your young astronomer, one of the five telescopes below should be a match.
We've reviewed them from the perspective of a child user and you as the purchaser/teacher. We're happy to recommend the five in our chart as the best telescopes for kids.
Take the time to make sure you read the reviews before you buy because they will guide you on the age group each scope is suitable for.
Kids' Astronomy Starter Video
Now you're ready to get the children in your life involved with astronomy, share the video below with them. It's a great youngster's introduction to looking into space and is only five minutes long.
Reviews of the Best Telescopes for Kids
This 6-inch Dobsonian 'SkyQuest' from Orion is an ideal choice first telescope for older children.
Dobsonian is actually the name of this kind of stand, rather than the telescope. Its advantage for children is in being really simple to setup and use.
This simple base swivels left/right and up/down. It uses friction to keep it in place, doesn't need polar aligning and is really easy for young arms to move.
However, the XT6 is not best suited to small children. It's a long tube and shorter children will struggle to reach the eyepiece when it points upright.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the Dob is more of your money goes into increasing the aperture of the mirror instead of a fancy mount.
With this Orion, you can grab your children a 6" scope (which is the top end of kids' scope sizes) which is robust and simple to use for under $300 (check Amazon's price by clicking here). If you've never used a reflector before, you'll need to learn how to collimate the mirrors, but it is a simple enough job.
They'll need your help transporting it and setting it up. But, once that's done, there's no reason the older kids can't enjoy this scope to themselves. And, with the whopping 6" aperture (the largest in this review) there is almost no end to the objects they can find... planets, nebulae and galaxies are all within easy reach of it!
The Sky-Watcher has a 6" aperture.
Is 1200mm, giving a focal ratio of f/8.0
Supplied with a Dobsonian mount.
- Large aperture for the cost
- Child-friendly Dobsonian mount
- Too long for young kids
- Bulky to move for children
The Amazon AstroMaster range is the most famous entry-level range of telescopes there is.
This 70mm altazimuth refractor from the range is the perfect first step into astronomy for younger children.
The altazimuth mount is a really simple design, allowing even little young arms to move the scope in every direction. There's also no need to worry about polar aligning.
The 90mm refractor is one of the most popular telescopes on the market, and it's easy to see why it's one of the best telescopes for young children. It is light, easy to move and the mount can be set up without the legs fully extended, making it easy for youngsters to reach.
This AstroMaster (there are others) comes with two eyepieces, allowing your budding young astronomer to zoom into lunar surface detail and take a wider view of a bright galaxy or two.
Whilst 90mm (3.5") is not the biggest aperture in this review, it will provide your children with awe-inspiring views of the moon and brighter planets. Be warned: you'll spend much less than $150 on this scope today... but you'll create a demand for a bigger scope in the future!
This scope has a 90mm aperture.
Is 1000mm, giving a focal ratio of f/11.0.
1.25" legs altazimuth-style.
- Great value for money
- Easy for even younger children
- Too small for keen, older kids
- Mount can suffer vibrations
This Orion TravelScope, at 70mm aperture (less than 3 inches) is the smallest in our review of children's telescopes.
However, it's here for a good reason: it is a great way of engaging the youngest children in backyard astronomy!
Supplied with its own carrying case, this little scope is versatile enough to set up just about anywhere you choose. That makes it great for vacations, days (nights) out, or even your own backyard.
The GoScope comes with two eyepieces, both provide low magnification best suited for the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. You could buy a lower sized eyepiece for a higher magnification of dimmer objects like Mars and even a bright star cluster or two.
Keep in mind that 70mm is a small aperture. The young stargazers in your life will never be able to see lots of faint objects through it! But, if the reviews on Amazon are anything to go by, this telescope may be the perfect way of introducing children as young as 4 to the wonders of the night sky.
Even as a grown up, you might like to have this stashed away in the car for whenever you're away, at well under $100, there's not a lot to lose!
This scope has a 70mm aperture.
Is 400mm, giving a focal ratio of f/5.7.
Altazimuth-style, built of aluminum.
- Very cheap and effective scope
- Friendly for even 4yr olds
- Only shows bright objects well
- Limits frustrate older children
It doesn't look much, but, believe it or not, the Celestron 127EQ Astromaster is consistently on the Amazon list of best-selling telescopes.
And it's with good reason!
With this model, Celestron has really played to their strengths, which is delivering decent quality for a fair price. In this case, the young astronomer in your life gets 5 inches of reflecting telescope on an equatorial mount and all for much less than $200.
An equatorial mount is not the best for younger children - it needs to be polar aligned and can be quite hard to set up (it's bigger than it looks!). However, for older children, say over 10, this is a great way to learn astronomy.
This large Newtonian telescope properly polar aligned makes finding and following planets and galaxies across the night sky so much easier.
This model is top of Celestron's PowerSeeker range. It's so popular that we've given it its own in-depth review, which you can read by clicking here. We're happy to award this telescope 5 stars as it is an almost perfect balance of cost, robustness and experience for the young teen astronomer.
This scope has a 5" aperture.
Is 1000mm, giving a focal ratio of f/7.9.
Equatorial: kids can track objects easily.
- Amazing value for money
- Let older kids feel like 'proper' astronomers
- Quite bulky to set up and align
- Not suitable for younger children
We finish these kids' telescope reviews with a price outlier: Celestron's NexStar 90SLT Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope.
It's understandable that you might be looking for a go-to scope for your children to use. After all, that does make it so much easier, right?
Well... yes. And, no.
Goto can be great. But, it is also expensive.
In this review of best children's telescopes, we have kept a sensible cap on the amount of money you should spend on your little budding astronomer.
Yet, it's not a complete review without including a compound scope. Unfortunately, the best 'cheap' one we could find is from Celestron's well-regarded NexStar range. The thing is, it's not that cheap!
As the name suggests, it does have a 90mm lens/mirror combination, making it the third largest in our review, but...
At over $400 (click here for today's price) it is over $150 more expensive than Orion's 6" Dobsonian. And, when it comes to aperture, six inches has 5x more light gathering power than the 90mm of this Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope.
Yes, it is smaller and has go-to features, making it great for all but the youngest children. But, they will not see anywhere near as many objects as the Dob or PowerSeeker will show them.
If you have your heart set on a compound, go-to scope, then we shan't stand in your way. But, if your goal is to get the children in your life hooked on astronomy, then give serious consideration to a larger aperture at a smaller cost.
This scope has a 90mm aperture.
Is 1250mm, giving a focal ratio of f/14.
Computerized go-to mount.
- Easy to find objects
- Small physical size easy to set-up
- Hugely expensive for kids' first
- Small aperture, get more for less
We've looked at five good-to-great examples of a first telescope for children.
Remember, our criteria was easy to use, effective (i.e. you can see exciting stuff through it), easy to set up, robust and not too expensive.
We've been careful to award stars from the perspective of the child using it and you as the parent/grandparent buying it. So the scores you see here might be different from elsewhere on the website. Scores on this page reflect how good we believe the telescope is for children.
Take time to read the reviews again, checking they are right for the age of your child. Even the best scope on this list is not suitable for younger children.
Overall, we salute you for investing in the child in your life. Making the time to share the experience of stargazing with them could have them hooked for life!