Choosing a first pair of binoculars for a child or grandchild can be an overwhelming experience. Here are some tips to ease the process with this brief buying guide to binoculars for kids.
Belgium is still in lockdown, as are over 100 countries throughout the world. This has resulted in an increase in online courses and home-based hobbies and projects that children can get involved in. I’ve introduced a few on this blog. These include watching garden birds, building a bee hotel and listening to the sounds of nature. Here is another idea for a home-based nature project for children. Buy a pair of binoculars for kids! It’s a great way for children to watch the local birds in their garden or from an apartment, or during a local walk, perhaps to the city park. And in the clear spring nights, taking a closer look at the moon and stars can be a fun and uplifting experience for children (and adults!).
I love my binoculars. I bought them as a teenager from the proceeds of weekend gardening jobs. It was a job that paid the princely sum of 50 English pence per hour. That’s equivalent to 56 eurocents per hour! That shows how long ago it was! It was tough work, especially when it involved sweating over a heavily weed-infested vegetable patch in the hot summer sun. But worth it, because I bought these Heron 10 x 40 binoculars:
I have carried them around my neck over thousands of kilometers and probably for hundreds of thousands of hours. I’m on my fourth neck strap. The other three wore out and broke.
Why buy a pair of binoculars?
Even though I’ve been using binoculars for decades, I still get a thrill virtually every time I lift them up to my eyes. I believe that every child may experience the same excitement. The reason is simple. When a child looks through a pair of binoculars, they enter a new world. It’s the world “out there” – whether it’s ten meters or 200 meters away.
For a child showing an interest in nature, binoculars brings them much closer to the birds and therefore makes identifying them easier. Only when a child looks through their binoculars at a black crow will they discover it isn’t a crow at all. It’s a rook. Because now they can see its bare white face, and not the all-black face of a crow.
Those unidentifiable little birds at the far end of the garden suddenly become recognizable. Maybe a wren, a dunnock, a male chaffinch, and three greenfinches. When a child looks through their binoculars on a female kestrel hovering above a meadow, they’ll be amazed at how the bird can keep her head perfectly still while her wings are beating furiously into the strong wind.
Aren’t binoculars for kids expensive?
Some are. But don’t be put off by the expensive price tags on high-end binoculars. A major investment is not necessary. For anyone looking for a perfectly decent pair of binoculars for kids, I mention some models below that cost between 20 and 75 euros. So what to look for when you consider buying your first pair of kids’ binoculars?
Choose the right magnification
A key factor in buying binoculars is the magnification. You might think that the higher the magnification the better. But it’s not necessarily the case. A magnification of over 10x and any slight movement is greatly exaggerated. These stronger binoculars can also be quite heavy. Binoculars with a magnification of 6x are perfectly adequate – and lighter – for a child.
Understand objective lens size
The second figure in the specification of binoculars (e.g. 6 x 21 or 8 x 32) refers to the size of the objective lens. The higher the value, the larger the lens, the more light can enter, and the brighter the image. So you might assume that the second value should be as high as possible. Again, not necessarily, because larger objective lens lead to heavier binoculars. And a young child in particular will not want to be carrying a heavy pair of binoculars for any length of time. So it’s a trade-off. Anything between 20 and 40 should be fine.
What binoculars are best for young children?
When I purchased my binoculars way back last century, binoculars all looked the same. They were black. And they were made for adults. The concept of special children’s binoculars just didn’t exist.
Nowadays, a brief search on Amazon for children’s binoculars will lead to a plethora of models of varying shapes, sizes and colors. Some are obviously “toy binoculars” and are very low in price. While fun, I’m not sure how durable they are. If dropped on the floor for example.
Others look like excellent binoculars for children. Magnifications start from 6 or 7, and objective lens sizes are around 20 or 30. They are made from soft rubber so won’t hurt the child’s face if they bring them up to their eyes too quickly. These binoculars are ergonomically designed for easy grip and easy focusing. Moreover, they are extremely lightweight so are comfortable to hang around the neck. And they are designed to be shockproof so shouldn’t be damaged if accidentally dropped. What’s more, they are attractively colored and so look more modern and fashionable than standard black binoculars. Finally, they are reasonably priced at 20-35 euros or so.
What binoculars are best for older children?
For older children who may be more advanced in their birdwatching skills, a more traditional black pair of binoculars of say 8 x 40 and costing around the 50-75 euro mark should be perfect. However, take note of their weight, as binoculars might spend a lot of time hanging round the child’s neck. Trying out a pair of binoculars in a shop is always advisable, if possible.
How to use binoculars
Any new pair of binoculars should come with tips on how to use them. There are two focus wheels to adjust. The central focus wheel brings the bird into general focus. But there will be another wheel to adjust, usually on the right eyepiece: the dioptre focus. This compensates for the differences between your eyes. When you buy a new pair, you should get a little instruction booklet to help you set-up the binoculars the first time you use them. If you are buying second-hand, you can follow these simple instructions.
Once the child has the binoculars perfectly adapted to their eyes, they can begin using them seriously. Using a pair of binoculars does take a bit of getting used to. Any vibration or movement gets magnified. So the goal is to keep them as steady as possible to avoid shake. A common error is for the child to grip them as tightly as possible, but this makes it more difficult to keep them steady. The trick is to hold them fairly firmly but with a relaxed grip, if that makes sense.
Another initial challenge is how to get the binoculars pointing in the right direction. Let’s say the child has spotted a bird on a sandy beach. They can just about see it with the naked eye. But as soon as they bring their binoculars to their eyes, it’s not visible in the small field of view of the binoculars. No amount of moving the binoculars around seems to bring the bird into view. All that can be seen is an empty beach.
The trick is to get the child to raise up their binoculars without taking their eyes off the bird on the beach. As with everything, practice makes perfect. They will soon be doing this automatically, and getting the bird directly in view every time.
Taking care of binoculars
My final suggestion is to encourage a child to take care of their binoculars. Here are some tips:
- Wipe them dry if they get wet
- Clean the lens gently with a soft lens cloth
- Keep them safe and dry in their case when not in use
- Avoid leaving them in direct sunshine.
Using binoculars to look at the night sky
So far I have only mentioned using binoculars to look at birds. This is probably one of the main reasons for buying binoculars. Especially if you’ve been reading my recent posts, such as watching garden birds. But binoculars can also be used to look at other things in the natural world. For example, take a child outside on a dark, clear night to look at the moon and stars through their binoculars. They will be amazed at what they can see. It may encourage a child to become an astronomer!
Recommendations of binoculars
Since I started preparing this blog post, I contacted a few manufacturers of binoculars to ask if they would be willing to send me a pair to review on Discovering Belgium. I selected these particular firms on the basis of highly positive reviews of their products on Amazon and elsewhere. I have tried out all these types and can thoroughly recommend them. If you are intending to buy your first pair of binoculars for your children or grandchildren, I add some links to Amazon. I’m an Amazon affiliate so anything purchased through these links gains me a (very) little commission.
Binoculars for younger children
Bresser Junior 6 x 21 binoculars
For children aged from approximately three of four onwards, these are a great pair of binoculars. They magnify six times, are easy to use, and look pretty tough. Their rubberized construction should withstand some rough treatment. Lightweight, they weigh a mere 170 grams. They come with a strap and carrying case. If you live in Belgium or the Netherlands they are available from Bol, otherwise from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
National Geographic 6 x 21 binoculars
Perfect for a child’s small hands, these cute binoculars are made from safe glass and shockproof rubber. They weigh only 170 grams. Included is a belt pouch, wrist strap, lens cloth, simple instruction booklet, and even a safari game and coloring sheet. I found them easy to use and the image very clear. I would say they are ideal for a child of around four to eight years old. Again, available from Bol in Belgium/NL, otherwise Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Levenhuk Rainbow 8 x 25 binoculars
Slightly heavier than the previous two models, these weigh in at 280 grams. I would think they are suitable for slightly older children, maybe around six to twelve years of age. As you can see they have a higher magnification. What I like about them is their smart, foldable design. So they will easily fit into a pocket or small bag. This makes them great for older children to take with them on a country walk. They are called Rainbow because they come in a range of colors. Available from Levenhuk USA or Levenhuk Europe. If you go on the Levenhuk Europe website you can choose your preferred country and language, such as Levenhuk Belgium.
Binoculars for older children
Opticron Adventurer T WP 8 x 32 binoculars
I loved the look of these as soon as I unpacked them from the box. Made from stylish leather-look semi-rubber armor, these binoculars are compact and fairly lightweight. Indeed, at 545 grams they are 120 grams lighter than my old Herons. That may not seem a lot, but I tell you, when you’ve been hiking for 20 km with binoculars around your neck, the lighter the better! The lenses are fully multi-coated and offer a clear, bright image. I think these would make the perfect gift for a teen. Available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
This is just a brief introduction to what to look for when choosing a pair of binoculars for kids. The above statements are all based on initial impressions. If you have specific questions on these or other models of binoculars, just drop me a line. And if you would like to read more articles like this, add your email below to get all new Discovering Belgium posts in your inbox.