Shoot for the stars. Aim high. Dream.
It's advice parents and grandparents have given children for centuries. And what better way to inspire your children to dream big than to show them all the possibility the universe has to offer through the hobby of astronomy.
Buy a child a book about the Milky Way and they'll learn a lot of facts about planets, solar systems and stars. Buy a child a telescope, and they'll see it first-hand--the beauty, the intrigue, the inspiration. They'll dream. They'll wonder. They'll literally set their sights on the stars. And who knows, they could even be the next Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride.
There are, of course, a lot of telescopes to consider. Here are three things to keep in mind to help make sure you buy the best-suited telescope for your child or grandchild:
A good "starter" telescope for a child doesn't have to be expensive. One of the nice things about astronomy for kids is that it is a relatively inexpensive hobby--but the lessons it teaches are limitless.
When selecting a "starter" telescope, make sure not to overpay or underpay. Most telescopes well-suited for kids range in price from around $60 to $600 while some more advanced starter models can be more than $1,000. Paying too little will get you a telescope of questionable quality. Paying too much could get you a telescope that's too complicated for a beginning astronomer to use.
Look for a telescope that costs between $60 and $300. You'll get quality parts. Your child will get breathtaking views of the universe. And you won't break the bank getting into astronomy for kids.
Ease of use
Kids have short attention spans. One of the last things they want to do when it's time to explore the night sky is ... wait.
Look for a telescope that is easy to set up and use. Also look for a telescope that is easy to carry. Buying one that is too large for a child to lift or too large to fit in a car will mean that it won't get used very often. You want a telescope that you can take on "field trips" to areas with skies darker than those found in urban neighborhoods. Viewing the planets and star clusters from home is fun, but astronomy for kids gets even better when you make it an adventure to a dark sky site.
Refractor or reflector
For most people just getting into astronomy for kids, there are two types of telescopes to consider: refractors and reflectors.
Refractor telescopes are like eyeglasses. They use a glass lens to magnify and focus on the object being viewed.
Reflector telescopes use mirrors to magnify and focus on the object.
But which is the best? Good question.
Both can deliver breathtaking views, although scientists and experienced hobbyists argue about which is best. But we're not dealing with scientific research. We're dealing with astronomy for kids and getting the best starter telescope.
The best advice is to take your child to a local astronomy club meeting and try out different telescopes. See which one he or she likes best--which one is easiest to use, delivers images of the sky the way he or she likes to see them and is most affordable.
Once you have an idea of which type of telescope your child prefers, you can make a more-informed decision.