The best telescopes for kids are more than just toys. They can be valuable tools for learning about astronomy and the night sky. With so many affordable options available, often less than $100, there's no need to break the bank to get your child started in this exciting hobby.
The best telescopes for children will be models that are rugged enough to withstand the odd accidental knock and bump and be portable enough for nights away camping under the stars. Of course, even the most durable telescope needs to be treated with care. The delicate optics inside can be damaged if the telescope is dropped or mishandled. Make sure to teach your child how to properly care for their telescope, and supervise use to maximize longevity.
Kid-friendly models should be easy to set up and not have lengthy alignment procedures that can put some youngsters (and their parents/guardians who have to assist) off. But we don't think that should impact true instrument quality which is why we've tried and tested the best kids telescopes with real-world hands-on experience from our experts.
Of course, telescopes are only one side of the coin with the best binoculars for kids sometimes being a favorable more portable option. We also have a full guide on the best telescopes overall and the best telescopes for beginners.
Best telescopes for kids 2023
Why you can trust Space.com Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test and review products.
Best telescopes for kids 2023 ranked
The Explorer EQ2 comes with an equatorial mount, which makes it more difficult to use than some other telescopes listed in this guide. An equatorial mount requires more setup and alignment than a simpler alt-azimuth mount. As a result, the Explorer EQ2 is better suited for older children with supervision from adults who have some knowledge of astronomy.
The equatorial mount has its advantages. Once it is set up and aligned, it can track objects as they move across the sky much easier than an alt-azimuth mount can. This is because an equatorial mount is aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation, so it can track objects in the same direction that the Earth is rotating. This makes it easy to follow objects near the ecliptic, which is the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun.
The Explorer 130 EQ2 has one of the widest apertures at this affordable price point. It can take in take in lots of light and offers good-quality optics for exploring bright deep sky objects. It is supplied with two eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens. The f/7 aperture enables you to see 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.
Because of its sizeable footprint and weight, it will primarily be for backyard stargazing rather than traveling around to multiple dark sky areas. Please note — this telescope is pretty hard to get your hands on. If you want it and see it available, don't wait too long.
- Read our full Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 review
The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is a classic telescope that is both easy to use and assemble. It is perfect for kids who are interested in astronomy and want to spend hours under the night sky, learning their way around without technology — great for minimizing screen time.
The Inspire 80AZ refractor is equipped with an alt-azimuth mount and a panning handle for fine movements, which enables the observer to lock onto a target accurately. Unlike some mounts that cause telescopes to jump from one extreme positioning to another, this refractor allows for gradual adjustments to the tube's orientation with ease. As a fair amount of patience is required for particularly young observers, we recommend supervision from adults in helping them to navigate through the sky with the Inspire 80AZ.
The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is supplied with everything kids need to get started. It ships with a tripod, two eyepieces with focal lengths of 20mm and 10mm (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, albeit on CD, which seems a bit dated.
A smartphone adapter is included in the bundle, handy if your young observer wants to take and share images of their astronomical finds with friends or try their hands at basic astrophotography.
In our Celestron Inspire 80AZ review we found a little chromatic aberration (color fringing) hovers around bright) targets. Still, for the price it's not too concerning. We were happy with the telescope's clear views of planets and stars. Jupiter looks particularly radiant, with some of its belts visible. The ice giant Uranus 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.
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 an excellent choice.
- Read our full Celestron Inspire 80AZ review
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 arrives assembled in the box: a fantastic feature for the impatient youngster and parents who don't want to keep assembling and disassembling a telescope between skywatching sessions.
Despite its low price tag, the FirstScope is good quality. The instrument is also portable, weighing just 4.5 lbs. (2.04 kilograms). The plastics used are not glossy and cheap, as is commonly seen in other telescopes within a similar price bracket.
During our review of the Celestron FirstScope 76 Tabletop telescope, we found that it's ideal for little hands since the tube can easily be pushed to the desired target. 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 which is an excellent download for young skywatchers who want to learn more about the universe alongside their parents.
Frustratingly, this FirstScope does not come with a finderscope — a device that helps beginner astronomers align the telescope with the desired subject. Because trial and error can be offputting for younger stargazers, we suggest adding a red dot finder to make it easier to jump between stars.
With an aperture of almost three 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 fairly loose focuser, young skywatchers will surely be delighted with what they can see compared with the naked eye.
When observing with the telescope we found Jupiter dazzled at magnitude -1.9, views are basic, but the moons of Jupiter can be found comfortably using the FirstScope. Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa appear as bright points of light on either side of the gas giant's equator. That said, detecting Jupiter's atmospheric bands and belts is challenging 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.
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 and improved eyepieces.
- Read our full Celestron FirstScope 76 Tabletop telescope review
A reflector is often recommended as a telescope starting point since the design facilitates excellent light-gathering power. The Orion SpaceProbe II 76 is no exception, collecting 60% more light than most beginner instruments with apertures of 2.36 inches (60 mm), and it's on the market for less than $100. This is why we think it is one of the best telescopes for kids.
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. Weighing in at 7.05 lbs. (3.2 kilograms), the SpaceProbe is lighter than Meade's StarPro, which makes it an ideal grab-and-go telescope for kids: it's light enough to take on a camping trip or for spontaneous observing sessions in the backyard.
While it's lighter than the StarPro, the build quality of the SpaceProbe II hasn't been compromised (which can often be the case), particularly since its optical tube assembly is steel.
The immediate setup provides magnifications of 28x and 70x, but there is the potential to magnify up to 152x with the right accessories. Additionally, this reflector does come much better equipped: 10 mm and 25 mm Kellner eyepieces, a red dot finder and a moon map are all included. If you want to spend slightly more, several bundles come with an extra planisphere (star chart), a red flashlight for helping preserve night vision and a 2x Barlow lens.
Unlike 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 also touch fiddly, so best done before dark.
Orion's SpaceProbe II offers wide-field views, making it ideal for more diffuse objects like bright nebulas and star clusters; however, this reflector comes into its own for lunar and planetary viewing.
It's worth mentioning that due to the telescope's spherical mirror, views are not 100% sharp across the frame. 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. We recommend furnishing the telescope with additional eyepieces and filters for any extra detail on chosen solar system targets.
The Orion SpaceProbe II it's especially suited to skywatchers younger than ten. Because of the low price point, it would also work well for beginner astronomers who are new to skywatching and unsure if it will be a long-term hobby.
- See our best eyepieces for telescopes guide for optional upgrades
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 won't break the bank.
During our Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ review, we found there are more plastic features on the AstroMaster 70AZ than we'd like (the star diagonal feels particularly poor quality). Still, 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 adjusted to the desired height for a comfortable viewing experience. The optical tube assembly provides high-quality magnified views of the solar system, star clusters, and bright naked-eye nebulae, such as the Orion Nebula (Messier 42).
While handling this telescope for our review, we found that the alt-azimuth control operates smoothly, with no stiffness. And, when the time came to lock onto a chosen target, the panhandle 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 small level of color fringing. We noted purple-blue tints appearing around the brightest targets, but it doesn't spoil the overall observation enjoyment.
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 the best eyepieces to show your young skywatcher more dazzling sights of the universe.
- Read our full Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ 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 telescope. Keep an eye on Amazon, 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 around these sales events.
This telescope is one of the most basic models in this guide. It is a 2.75-inch refractor mounted on a small, portable, and lightweight tripod. It is designed for taking with you on trips and outings to get good views of the moon — everything neatly packs away in a lightweight travel bag, and it is easy to set up and dismantle. However, it is not nearly as powerful as other models in this guide, so it is not suitable for viewing other celestial objects.
As we concluded in our Encalife SVBONY 501 70 telescope 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 models potential is pretty limited.
- Read our full Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 telescope review
Best telescopes for kids: What to look for
When searching for the best telescope for kids, there are a few things to consider before making a final decision. First, you need to establish what kind of objects your budding young astronomers want to observe. This will help you determine what type of telescope to purchase, whether it be a refractor, reflector, or catadioptric telescope.
Aperture: The diameter of the primary mirror or lens that allows a telescope to gather 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, a wide field of view and a brighter image.
Magnification: Relationship between the telescope's optical system and the eyepiece.
A refractor is a great option for observing high-magnification targets such as the moon or planets. Small, lightweight and generally inexpensive, they are also simple to operate.
A reflector is better for observing fainter objects, like nebulas 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. They can often be more user-friendly, are more modern and usually computerized and are great for viewing a wide range of objects.
However, they are often more expensive, and if your young astronomer is 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 that 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 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.