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Choosing Binoculars for Kids

Children are some of the most enthusiastic birders. Their wonderment of seeing and learning something new, especially in nature, is exciting to watch. The biggest regret of most birders is that we didn't start younger. In addition to the topics discussed in Choosing Binoculars, there are special considerations for choosing binoculars for kids.

The binoculars that you choose for children will vary depending on their age and interest level. The most obvious considerations are size and weight. If binoculars are too heavy, children will have trouble holding them steady. The binoculars also need to fit the child's hands and face. Pay close attention to the child's ability to get their hands around the barrels, reach the focusing knob, and get the oculars close enough for their eyes. Kids' binoculars should also have lower magnification (4x to 7x depending on age) and a wide field of view. This will help them find and stay on birds.

For toddlers, whose biggest interest is in imitating Mom and Dad, you should look for an indestructible pair of toy binoculars at a toy store. Several manufacturers, including Fisher-Price in the US, make toy binoculars. At this age, the main requirement is that the binoculars stand up to the abuse that they are sure to receive. Optical quality is not an issue. You do, however, want to look for a break away strap to prevent accidental strangulation.

For preschoolers, who actually want to be able to see something in the binoculars, you should focus on weight, fit, and ease of use. The requirements for these youngsters are light weight, low power (easier to hold steady), large exit pupil (easier to keep the view over the eyes), wide field of view (easier to find things), small size (little hands and narrow interpupillary distance), rugged, easy-to-focus, and cheap. Perhaps the most important of these requirements is a wide field of view. Again, optical quality is not really an issue. Look into the cheapest plastic binoculars you can find. Consider autofocus or toggle focus (instead of wheel focus). Also consider compact binoculars for their small size and low weight (but remember, field of view and exit pupil are pretty limited in compact binoculars).

For young grade-schoolers, the view becomes important. These kids will have trouble getting their binoculars on birds, so it is very important to have a wide field of view. They will also have a hard time keeping the binoculars steady, so a large exit pupil will help them keep the image centered over their eyes. Look for low power compact binoculars of reverse porro prism construction.

For pre-teens, it is time to consider their first pair of "real" binoculars -- that is, optical quality starts to matter. If your child is serious about birding, you should start to think about the US$75-US$150 entry-level birding binoculars from the major manufacturers, but still look for toggle focus rather than wheel focus, 7x to 8x magnification, and wide field of view.

Once your child reaches the early teens, his or her head and hands should be large enough to handle adult binoculars. If they want, it would be okay to step up in magnification as well, but this decision should be made by using the adult criteria on the Choosing Binoculars page.

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