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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