Here at Space.com, we've taken our expertise in telescopes and put together a selection of the best models and prices for young astronomers to choose from and where you can find the best price for them right now.
Aperture: Diameter of the primary mirror or lens, which allows a telescope to collect light.
Field of view: Area of sky visible through the eyepiece.
Focal length: A telescope's tube length. Short focal lengths offer a wide field of view and a small image.
Focal ratio: Also known as the telescope's speed. Small focal ratios provide lower magnifications, wide field of view and a brighter image.
Magnification: Relationship between the telescope's optical system and the eyepiece.
The great news is that there are many perfectly decent options at about $100 or less, which is great for those that aren't sure if young, budding astronomers will keep their new hobby up.
Rugged and portable, the best telescopes that suit children will be able to withstand the odd bump and night away camping. Better still, they're easy to set up and don't have lengthy alignment procedures that can put some youngsters off. So look below for some of the most suitable stargazing instruments you can buy.
Of course, telescopes are only one side of the coin with the best binoculars for kids also being a viable option. For those looking for something more significant, we also have guides to help you choose the best telescopes and even a way to save money by scoping out the best telescope deals.
Best telescopes for kids deal available today:
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Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ Refractor Telescope:
was $189.95, now $122.68 on Amazon (opens in new tab).
Save a huge 35% on the AstroMaster 70AZ which, as you can see below, we've rated as one of the best telescopes for kids. A 70mm aperture and a 900mm focal length mean views of the moon and other planets are good and you get the usual quality of build from Celestron along with a lightweight design and a collapsible tripod.
Best telescopes for kids 2023
What we love about Celestron's FirstScope is that it's easy to use and pack away. There's also no need to set it up since it already comes assembled straight out of the box: a fantastic feature for the impatient youngster and parents who don't want to keep assembling and disassembling a telescope regularly.
The FirstScope is portable, weighing in at 4.5 lbs. (2.04 kilograms), while the build is of good quality despite the low cost. As a prime example, the instrument's plastics are not glossy and cheap compared to other telescopes within a similar price range.
During our review of the Celestron FirstScope we found that it's ideal for little hands since the tube can be pushed to the desired target easily. Meanwhile, this tabletop reflector is fully equipped for good night sky observations: two basic eyepieces — 4mm and 20mm — are thrown into the package, along with a basic edition of Starry Night astronomy software. An excellent download for young skywatchers wanting to learn more about the universe.
Although there are screws to affix a finderscope to the tube, this FirstScope doesn't ship with one. A finderscope helps navigate the night sky and can be helpful for the budding astronomer. Without this, there's quite a bit of trial and error to align the telescope with the chosen subject. To alay this frustration for young stargazers, we would also recommend adding a red dot finder to aid hopping between stars.
With an aperture of 2.99 inches (76 mm), skywatchers can pick out bright solar system targets, including the moon, Venus and Jupiter, as well as luminous deep-sky targets like star clusters thanks to the optical system's fast focal ratio of f/3.95 that offers a wide field of view.
With the supplied eyepieces, which work with the optics to provide magnifications of 75x and 15x, astronomers won't get hugely close-up sights of targets — something we discovered when we turned our attention to the moon. However, we were able to pick out craters and, despite a view that isn't massively pin-sharp due to a loose focuser, young skywatchers are sure to be delighted with what this telescope can offer.
Hopping over to Jupiter, which dazzled at magnitude -1.9, views are basic but observers can pick out the moons of Jupiter comfortably using the FirstScope. Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa appear as bright points of light on either side of the gas giant's equator, though it is challenging to detect Jupiter's atmospheric bands and belts without using planetary filters. Meanwhile, Saturn is seen as a small, faint and fuzzy object and we could just about make out the gas giant's rings and yellow coloration with a steady eye.
If you want a problem-free skywatching experience for a casual viewer, then the Celestron FirstScope is ideal. To get the biggest bang for your buck, we'd highly encourage accessorizing with a finderscope, eyepieces that respect the optical limits of 180x and 11x and filters.
The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is a classic telescope that's both simple to use and assemble. If you know a kid who is happy to spend hours under the night sky, learning their way around without the aid of technology, then we thoroughly recommend this well-built instrument.
The Inspire 80AZ refractor is equipped with an alt-azimuth mount and a panning handle for fine movements, which enables the observer to accurately lock onto a target. Unlike other mounts that cause telescopes to jump from one extreme positioning to another, this refractor allows for incremental adjustments to the tube's orientation with ease. However, as patience is required for particularly young observers, we recommend supervision in helping them to navigate with the Inspire 80AZ.
The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is supplied with a tripod, two eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm and 10 mm (offering magnifications of 45x and 90x), a red LED flashlight to preserve night vision, star diagonal, StarPointer Pro red-dot finderscope and Celestron's Starry Night Basic Edition Software. If you know that your young observer will be looking to share images of their astronomical finds with friends or may want to try out basic astrophotography, a smartphone adapter is also included in the bundle.
It's not perfect though, and as we discussed in our Celestron Inspire 80AZ review, there's a little chromatic aberration (color fringing) hovering around the chosen targets, but overall it's not something to worry about too much for the price point. We were happy with the telescope's clear views of planets and stars. Impressively, Jupiter looks particularly radiant, with some of its belts visible. Uranus the ice giant is also identifiable as a faint star in the field of view.
The 3.15-inch (80 mm) aperture made short work of picking out Starbirth at the center of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), while magnified pin-sharp views of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus dazzled through the optical system.
Given Celestron's decision to create a basic telescope for the beginner, the Celestron Starry Night Basic Edition Software is provided on CD, making the Inspire 80AZ a touch 'old-fashioned' compared to instruments that make use of downloadable smartphone apps. Nevertheless, it'll suit skywatchers who are uncomfortable using advanced technology, making for a fuss-free observing experience.
The Inspire range is also available in apertures of 2.76 inches (70mm) and 3.14 inches (100 mm). If you're looking for an instrument that will take a few years to outgrow, the Inspire 80AZ is a great choice.
- Read our Celestron Inspire 80AZ review
A reflector is often advised as a first telescope since the design facilitates excellent light-gathering power for less financial investment. The Orion SpaceProbe II 76 is no exception, collecting 60% more light than most beginner instruments with apertures of 2.36 inches (60 mm).
The Orion SpaceProbe II provides an aperture of 2.99 inches (76 mm), which — just like the aforementioned Celestron FirstScope — will reveal the solar system, lunar surface and a selection of bright deep-sky targets up close. Weighing in at 7.05 lbs. (3.2 kilograms) the SpaceProbe is lighter than Meade's StarPro, which makes it a perfect grab-and-go telescope for kids: it's light enough to take on a camping trip or for quick observing sessions in the backyard.
While it's lighter than the StarPro, the SpaceProbe II doesn't suffer in quality, particularly since its optical tube assembly is made of steel. Additionally, for a little more expense, this reflector does come much better equipped: 10 mm and 25 mm Kellner eyepieces, a red dot finder and a moon map are included in the package. If you're looking to spend slightly more, several packages come with an extra planisphere, a red flashlight and 2x Barlow lens. The immediate setup provides magnifications of 28x and 70x, but there is the potential to magnify up to 152x with the right accessories.
Unlike some of the other scopes in this guide, the SpaceProbe II comes with a red dot finder making star hopping easy even when stargazing in skies with some light pollution. Adults will need to help young children to set the telescope up and align the finderscope, attaching the tripod legs to the alt-azimuth mount is a touch fiddly.
Orion's SpaceProbe II offers wide-field views, making it ideal for more diffuse objects like bright nebulas and star clusters, however, we find that this reflector performs best with lunar and planetary observations.
A word of warning though: due to the telescope's spherical mirror, views are not pin-sharp. Nevertheless, they are sure to please young skywatchers wanting to get a closer look at craters on the moon and small, fair views of Saturn. For any kind of extra detail on chosen solar system targets, we recommend furnishing the telescope with additional eyepieces and filters.
While the Orion SpaceProbe II is suitable for the whole family, it's especially suited to skywatchers younger than ten years old. Because of the low price point, it would also work well for individuals who are new to skywatching and aren't yet sure if it will be a long-term hobby.
The Explorer 130 EQ2 has a steeper learning curve than some of its rivals, so it is better suited to older children with supervision by adults with some knowledge of the night sky. Because of its sizeable footprint and weight, it will primarily be for backyard stargazing.
Because it comes with an equatorial mount, it is easy to track objects as they appear to move across the sky when aligned to the Earth's axis. Because of the alignment, it's easy to follow objects near the Ecliptic (the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun).
It also has a wide aperture, one of the widest at this price point, to take in lots of light, and good quality optics for exploring bright deep sky objects. It is supplied with two eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens. The f/7 aperture allows it to get to high magnifications with sharp views. In our hands-on Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 review we could see reasonably sharp views of the Jovian System, with Jupiter's moons easily visible. Saturn's rings also looked impressive.
- Read our Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 review
If you have a child that is interested in looking at the Moon, and perhaps Jupiter and its moons, this is a good telescope, and you don't need to break the bank. Be mindful though, as with other Encalife products, the price can fluctuate quite dramatically, for no apparent reason. We wouldn't pay more than $100 for this scope. Keep an eye on Amazon (opens in new tab), especially around Prime Day and Black Friday/Cyber Monday as Encalife is a brand that tends to drop the price of its products quite substantially.
Compared to other models in this guide, this model is one of the most basic. It is a 2.75-inch refractor mounted on a small, portable and lightweight tripod. It is meant to be taken out and about to get good views of the moon, but that is about it.
Everything neatly packs away in a lightweight travel bag and it is easy to set up and dismantle.
As we concluded in our SVBONY 501 70 review, your child will get good views of the moon thanks to the 400mm focal length, but if they are serious about astronomy and want to develop their knowledge and interest over time, this model is somewhat limiting.
- Read our Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 review
The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ is a no-frills telescope that makes a good starter instrument for skywatchers aged seven years and up — particularly those who prefer not to stoop down to use a tabletop telescope. Some youngsters will need to be supervised while using the AstroMaster 70AZ.
Like many starter scopes, the AstroMaster 70AZ doesn't require any setup tools and comes with everything the skywatcher needs to kick-start a rewarding hobby, including 10 mm and 20 mm eyepieces, an erect star diagonal as well as a battery-operated red dot finderscope.
A download of Starry Night Basic software is also included and features a database of 36,000 targets to explore, including printable sky maps, three-dimensional renderings of galaxies, exoplanets and stars. Whichever way skywatching pans out for your young astronomer — whether it's a passing phase or a lifelong passion — this refractor is a great option that doesn't break the bank.
During our review of the Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ we found there are more plastic features on the AstroMaster 70AZ than we'd like (the star diagonal feels particularly cheap), but given the low cost and good overall build, the telescope will last for many observation sessions to come — provided it's treated with care. It'll be able to withstand a few knocks, but be wary of giving this instrument to youngsters who are unlikely to respect the delicate optics.
The steel tripod can be height adjusted for a comfortable observing experience, while the optical tube assembly provides good magnified views of the solar system, star clusters and bright naked-eye nebulas like the Orion Nebula (Messier 42).
While handling this telescope, we found that the alt-azimuth control operates smoothly, with no stiffness. And, when the time came to lock onto a chosen target, the pan handle tightens sufficiently to prevent any sagging of the tube. A feature that ensures young skywatchers can take in the views without the need to continually re-adjust the positioning.
Thanks to the multi-coated optics, we achieved bright and clear views of the moon, Jupiter and Venus. With sufficient fine-tuning of the focuser, we were able to bring moon craters, the Jovian moons, a hint of Jupiter's cloud bands and a Venusian phase into clear view. As with many entry-level refractor telescopes, there's a certain amount of color fringing, and we noted purple-blue tints appearing around the brightest targets, but it doesn't spoil observation.
Given the telescope's 2.76-inch (70 mm) aperture and useful magnifications of 10x and 165x, the optics can be pushed that touch further without compromising the image quality. We recommend looking to invest in a selection of eyepieces to show your young skywatcher more dazzling sights of the universe.
- Read our Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ review
Best telescopes for kids: What to look for
When searching for the best telescopes for kids, we need to consider a few aspects. First off, we need to establish what kind of subject our budding young astronomers want to observe — this will allow us to determine what kind of telescope to purchase, whether it be a refractor, reflector or catadioptric telescope.
A refractor is a great option for observing high-magnification targets such as the moon or planets. Small, lightweight and inexpensive they are also simple to operate.
A reflector is better for observing fainter objects, like nebulae or distant galaxies, which require more light-gathering capabilities.
Catadioptrics (a hybrid between refractor and reflector telescopes) come in two forms: Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain.
Catadioptric telescopes can often be more user-friendly, are more modern and often computerized and are great for viewing a wide range of objects.
However, they are often more expensive, and if your young astronomer is just starting out, this extra cost may be a little too much to ask. But you can find some in our best beginner telescopes guide. Some children don't always take to astronomy as we would hope, so our recommendation would be to stick to cheaper (but still reliable) models.
Of course, if you want to spend a little more money or a little more time looking at other telescopes which the whole family can enjoy, you can always check out our best telescopes guide. Don't forget about checking out some of the best binoculars too, they are a cheaper alternative and still offer great views of the night sky.
How we test the best telescopes for kids
Here at Space.com, we rigorously review each telescope to ensure that our recommendations for the best telescopes to buy are honest and current. Our reviews are based on various criteria, including construction and design, optical function, and field performance.
Each telescope is carefully tested by our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each telescope and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 10-inch Dobsonian to a 2.76-inch refractor wouldn’t be appropriate though each telescope might be the best pick in their own class.
We look at how easy it is to set up, whether computerized or motorized mounts are reliable and quiet, and if the telescope comes with appropriate eyepieces and a functional tripod. We also suggest if a particular telescope would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best experience possible.
With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on telescopes, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.