Teaching Children How to Use Binoculars

In getting children started with astronomy, I recommend beginning with what you can see with just your unaided eyes, sometimes called naked eye observing. You can learn the constellations, learn to pick out the planets, and follow the moon through its phases without any kind of optical aid.

binoculars in spaceAfter learning your way around the sky this way, you might consider a telescope, but I recommend trying out binoculars. You might even have some lying around the house. With binoculars you could point them at the Moon, see what you can see in regards to planets, star clusters, and double stars–but knowing your way around the night sky first can be a big help.

I recently posted “If you already have binoculars” which addresses the above and links to an EarthSky article on the “Top tips for using ordinary binoculars for stargazing.” But neither I nor EarthSky addressed specifically how to teach kids to use binoculars.

I just came across a blog called OutsideMom.com which has a post on teaching children how to use binoculars. It’s not geared for astronomy, but for wildlife, and I think this is a smart way to start with binoculars. Teach kids good daytime binocular skills first–using them to look at wildlife will be a rewarding introduction to using them for astronomy, and the same skills and tips apply to astronomy use. In short, binoculars work best for children ages 4 and up, but it can still be tricky to get them started. Go where you’re sure to see wildlife–near water, at a zoo. Use binocular straps. Make sure the binoculars are fitted to their eyes. Stare at an object without binoculars first and then bring the binoculars up to their eyes without looking away. Adjust the focus. And do not walk while holding binoculars up to your face. Also, do not stare at the sun. For more details on these, see OutsideMom.com’s post.

My kids are a bit young yet. We have toy binoculars, and I have found that at age 2 and 3 they have had a tendency to place toy binoculars or telescopes up to their noses instead of their eyes. Toy binoculars don’t really do much, but they’ve been having fun with them anyway. Today I brought out a magnifying glass and some cheap, low-quality binoculars as an introduction to taking better care of them–don’t touch the glass, treat them gently, put them away when done, etc.

Do you have any other tips or stories on teaching children to use binoculars?

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