Budget, portability, and value for money should be the main deciding factors when you are trying to buy a telescope for your kid. Usually, we recommend a tabletop Dobsonian for children, but your unique requirements might call for a different model. Let’s get to the differentiators first.
First, there’s age. A young child under five is simply not going to be able to grasp the complicated concepts behind viewing anything besides the Moon and simply won’t be able to use the instrument at all on their own—furthermore, there’s a high risk of them being unable to understand the danger of viewing the Sun and blinding themselves. Adult guidance would be required from time to time since telescopes require a bit of knowledge and maintenance (storage, cleaning, alignment, e.t.c.).
If you have a budget of more than $400, an older child, or intend to always use the telescope along with your child, it may be worth reading our regular guide for purchasing telescopes. Over the age of ten or eleven, you might be better off picking a full-fledged, adult-sized telescope for your child to use.
Second, there’s the usage. Do they want to view land objects during the day? Only a refractor telescope can do that since reflectors (most of our recommendations in this guide are reflector telescopes with tabletop dobsonian mount design) give an upside-down image on terrestrial viewing. Kids aren’t as picky about things like chromatic aberration, so a short refractor, which I wouldn’t recommend for an adult, will be fine for a child. Refractors are more capable of withstanding rough handling by kids as well. But still, you’d be getting way less optical quality and value for your money if you go the refractor route.
Lastly, there’s, of course, the budget. For a real starter-quality telescope, one should spend at least $150. However, there are some kid-friendly, passable telescopes in the sub-$150 price range that I will mention here if you can’t risk losing a lot of money in case your kid loses interest in the hobby faster than you anticipate. On the other hand, if you buy them a cheap junk telescope, you risk killing their enthusiasm for astronomy and permanently turning them away from it. It’s a double-edged sword.
Best Kid Telescopes Overview
- $75 range: Celestron FirstScope Tabletop Dobsonian – While the FirstScope is admittedly a bit of a letdown for adults in terms of its usefulness and image quality, it’s at least stable, convenient, and easy to use. Its views of the Moon, planets, and a few select bright deep-sky objects will blow kids away if they’re patient, and if something happens to it, it’s not too expensive of a loss—which might be good if you have particularly young children.
- $150 range: Zhumell Z100 Tabletop Dobsonian – The Zhumell Z100 is the lowest priced telescope on the market with quality optics and comes with an easy-to-use and lightweight tabletop Dobsonian mount, some decent eyepieces and a red dot finder for aiming. There’s a reason we recommend it not just for kids but indeed for all ages at this price point. It can also be attached to a photo tripod.
- $225 range: Zhumell Z114 Tabletop Dobsonian – The Z114 is basically a scaled-up Z100, albeit unable to be attached to a tripod and with a properly adjustable primary mirror. The Z114’s views are just a bit bigger, sharper, and brighter compared to the Z100, without much of a difference in portability.
- $300 range: Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Tabletop Dobsonian – The whole telescope, though with a 6″ aperture, can still be picked up with one hand and fit in a duffel bag or suitcase. The collapsible tube means it can be stored virtually anywhere when not in use.
- $300 range, refractor: Celestron Inspire 100AZ Refractor – The Celestron Inspire 100AZ is arguably quite inferior to the similarly-priced and larger tabletop dobsonian reflectors available, but the Inspire is a little more kid-friendly with features like a smartphone adapter and focus markings, as well as not requiring any collimation (periodic alignment of the optics) as reflectors do. It also has a full-sized tripod.
Recommended Best Kids’ Products Individually Reviewed
1. Best Cheap Kids’ Telescope – Celestron FirstScope or its variants
The astronomy community usually considers FirstScope and its variants to be “toy telescopes.” But it’s one of the only few working telescopes for sale near $50 in the US, and it doesn’t have a shaky mount. However, it has many, many issues befalling it, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the price. For one, the primary mirror is spherical and thus fails to deliver sharp images at “high” (really over maybe 40) magnification.
Second, there’s no finderscope. The extremely low magnification provided by the 20mm eyepiece (15x) allows one to sight along the tube, but it’s not the easiest thing, especially for a child.
The eyepieces are… horrific. The 20mm Huygens (15x) works, but that’s about all I have to say about it. The 4mm Ramsden is literally useless and tends to get stuck in the focuser.
You can’t collimate the primary mirror. But you’re limited to such low power anyway that as long as it’s roughly correct, the images will be alright.
Celestron sells an accessory kit for the FirstScope, including some more junky eyepieces and a finderscope, but the finderscope is less effective than sighting down the tube, and the eyepieces are useless.
What is in effect a 15x monocular with relatively poor image quality is something I’d find difficult to recommend to an adult, which is why I typically suggest 50-60mm binoculars to adults with such a tight budget. But a child will have trouble holding binoculars steady, and, of course, they want a telescope, not binoculars.
With this scope, you can expect to see a good amount of detail on the Moon, Saturn’s rings, Saturn’s moon Titan, Jupiter’s moons, Venus’ phases, and maybe some detail on Mars and Jupiter if you’re lucky, but that’s about it as far as the Solar System goes – you’ll be able to identify Uranus and Neptune as star-like points and nothing more. Deep-sky-wise, the Pleiades and a few open clusters are nice, and you can see the Orion Nebula. But that’s really it.
The FirstScope will be crushed by a serious instrument of almost any aperture, even one slightly bigger. If you really must get a telescope for your child for around $60, the FirstScope or one of its clones (Celestron Cometron, Orion FunScope) will do it. But if you really want to give them a satisfactory experience, I’d suggest doubling or even tripling your budget.
2. Best $100 Telescope For Kids – Zhumell Z100 Tabletop Dobsonian
It’s true that the Zhumell Z100 is the best telescope you can get for your kid if your budget is limited to $150. But at the same time, $150 is not a great budget for a telescope and so there are some quality compromises. For one, the eyepieces are rubbish Kellners, and the “low”-power 17mm provides a bit too much magnification to be a good low-power eyepiece – a 20mm or 25mm would’ve been far more desirable.
Second, the primary mirror cannot be collimated. If the scope suffers a lot of bumps and jars during shipping or even just on a rough trip in the car, you will never be able to get sharp images because re-aligning the primary is impossible.
That being said, the Zhumell Z100 is still better than anything else at its price, and certainly beats the Celestron FirstScope by a mile. The Z100 has almost no competition in its price range except for the similarly featured Orion SkyScanner 100. The Z100 can even be mounted on a medium-duty photo tripod if one lacks a table. And its 4” aperture means it can show a lot of detail on the Moon and planets and a fair amount of deep-sky objects – assuming it’s collimated, of course .
3. Best $225 Telescope For Kids – Zhumell Z114 Tabletop Dobsonian
The Zhumell Z114 fits in a backpack, meaning it’s even perfect for travel and camping trips if you have access to a bench or picnic table to use it on.
But being a reflector, it can’t be used terrestrially, and collimating can be a bit of a pain, especially for a child. However, it is simply unmatched in value and, thus, is still my #1 recommendation in the price range.
The Z114 has a wealth of objects to show. Its wide field means it excels at open star clusters, but its large aperture allows one to see quite a handful of nebulae, galaxies, and globular clusters, the latter of which can even begin to be resolved into grainy stellar masses. In the Solar System, the Z114 will show the phases of Mercury and Venus, Mars’ ice cap and a few dark markings at opposition, Jupiter’s cloud belts and Great Red Spot, the 4 Galilean moons circling Jupiter, Saturn’s rings, and the division within them, Titan and a few other Saturnian moons, and Uranus and Neptune as tiny teal- and azure-colored disks.
4. Best Lifelong Telescope For Kids – Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P
The Heritage 150P’s aperture means it has twice the light-gathering ability of a 4” scope, and 1.5 times the angular resolution. It’s also made to a higher standard of optical quality, boosting the performance even further.
The Heritage 150P does require a table, but a stable table or other surface is far better than a shaky and wobbly tripod that makes aiming the telescope frustrating. The whole telescope can still be picked up with one hand and fit in a duffel bag or suitcase. The collapsible tube means it can be stored virtually anywhere when not in use.
A 6” telescope beats a smaller one in the Solar System in a number of aspects:
- When Mars is close to Earth, up to a dozen dark markings may be seen on the Martian surface – as opposed to maybe two or three with a 4” or 4.5”.
- Jupiter’s moons are disks instead of pinpoints; a smaller telescope lacks the resolution to perceive this.
- Saturn’s cloud belts are visible, as are several moons such as Rhea and Titan.
- Uranus and Neptune are obviously disks, and Neptune’s moon Triton may be seen.
A 6” will also show many galaxies (some even with detail instead of as mere smudges), can begin to resolve some of the bright globular clusters into stars, and many open clusters are visible. The Orion Nebula is truly spectacular on a winter night.
The Heritage 150P comes with decent 25mm and 10mm Plossl eyepieces for low and medium power, respectively, and a usable 6×30 finder – though a Telrad or Rigel Quickfinder may be preferable, especially for a child.
Drawbacks? Other than needing the occasional tweak to collimation, the Heritage 150P needs a sturdy table, bench, crate or other surface to hold it that can easily be walked around.
5. Best $300 Kids’ Refractor Telescope – Celestron Inspire 100AZ
The Inspire 100 is a 4” f/6.5 doublet refractor. Thus, it will have some chromatic aberration, though not severe. Thanks to being a refractor, the scope doesn’t require collimation like a Newtonian and can be used for terrestrial viewing thanks to its upright image—in fact, it includes an Amici diagonal, so images aren’t reversed left to right.
The scope is capable of showing you everything a decent 4” should – Mercury and Venus’ phases, lots of lunar craters and other features, some details on Mars, Jupiter’s bands and Great Red Spot as well as its moons, Saturn’s rings and the division within them (as well as some moons), and Uranus and Neptune as tiny bluish dots. In addition, there are numerous star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae to be seen.
The Inspire 100 has some unique features that I’ve never seen on any other scope:
- The lens cap doubles as an unwieldy, but functional, smartphone adapter, so you can take pictures of the Moon and planets with your smartphone through the eyepiece.
- The accessory tray is built into the telescope, so there’s no fumbling with attaching it.
- The accessory tray comes with a built-in red flashlight, which can be taken out and used as a red flashlight.
- The focuser has markings so you can easily return to the same focus point if you remember it for different eyepieces – though this is difficult when you can’t see the markings in the dark.
The Inspire also comes with a very nice “StarPointer Pro” finderscope, which more or less mimics a Telrad, projecting a “bullseye” reticle onto the sky rather than just a dot.
But as we all know, neat gadgets and gizmos don’t make or break a telescope.
The Inspire 100AZ’s main drawback is the simplicity of the mount. It’s actually perfectly steady, but it lacks the smoothness of a Dobsonian or the slow motion adjustments of most good alz-azimuth mounts. But considering the scope’s features, I think it’s acceptable.
Criteria For Selecting Telescope For Kids
If you are curious about how I picked which made it to the elite best kids’ telescope list, let me discuss them one by one below.
- The price
This is probably what most people think is the gauge to know if something is right for kids—if it’s cheaper. I know it might sound unfair to these innocent ones, but I would like to believe it’s more of being on the practical side than just wanting to spend less for a kid.
Let’s face it. Are we sure kids have that long attention span that we expect them to go gaga over it for a long period of time? That’s next to impossible. Kids’ interests shift as quickly and as often as they switch channels from Disney Channel to Nickelodeon.
That’s the reality. And it would be impractical to buy them something expensive that we expect to be in the storage room in a few weeks or even days. Unless we can use it ourselves, we would rather be called frugal than spend on something that won’t be used after the first few tries.
- The age appropriateness
We should ensure that the telescope’s features can be appreciated by kids so that they’ll likely enjoy it for a long period of time.
- The ease of use
Surely, there would be kids who would enjoy tinkering with things. But you cannot expect everyone to have the same interest and attention. So, the simpler the setup, the more kids would likely give it more time.
- The portability
Kids would likely enjoy any gadget as long as they can carry them around, or at least they can move it from one place to another by themselves.
All of these taken into consideration, I am pretty sure you will never go wrong with any of these choices. Unless, of course, you mess up the process by including your own “adult” expectations.
Buying Tips For Kid Telescopes
The world of astronomy can be breathtaking, but can be perplexing to some as well. In other words, telescopes are not for everybody. How to know if your kids like telescopes?
Test the waters first. It’s easy to gauge children’s interests if they talk about it all the time, if they ask questions, or when they directly ask you to buy them one.
That being said, before you buy your kids a telescope, make sure they are really interested. Don’t just assume that because you love the hobby, others do as well. This costly assumption will just potentially add junk to your attic.
Trust me! No matter how other people tell you that fruits don’t fall far from the tree, they sometimes do!