Friday, May 1, 2009

Choosing Binoculars for Children

My children are interested in bird watching, but I've read conflicting opinions about getting binoculars for young children. Alicia Craig, director of the Bird Conservation Alliance for American Bird Conservancy, suggests using a spotting scope instead of binoculars when birding with kids. She says that having kids look through binoculars can be problematic because they tend to play with them more than actually use them and they have trouble spotting birds through the lenses.

Laura Erickson, author and staff ornithologist for, recommends not investing in binoculars until a child is in at least third grade. She finds that the optics are too complicated for young children and that they don't really need them anyway because their keen eyes see a surprising amount of detail on their own. For children three to eight years old, she recommends actually making binoculars out of two cardboard tubes (like from paper towels or toilet paper). Erickson argues that the cardboard-tube binoculars provide a "tunnel vision" to focus on one thing without distractions, and emulates what mom and dad are using.

When they are ready to graduate to real binoculars, here are Laura Erickson's recommendations for choosing binoculars for children (from Good Birders Don't Wear White: 50 Tips from North America's Top Birders):
  1. 7 to 8-power magnification
  2. Weatherproof and have a rainguard
  3. Shockproof
  4. Help children set the barrels for the distance between their eyes.
An article titled "The Right Fit" in WildBird Magazine (Nov/Dec 2008) also offers their tips for choosing binoculars for kids.
  1. Choose an IPD range of 50mm to 55mm, providing a full field of view.
  2. Avoid a compact model. The smaller diameter focus dials on compact models make the binoculars actually focus "faster" making the image more challenging to refine. Also, small eye pieces can be titring to use over prolonged periods of time and small objective lenses might yield a smaller exit pupil diameter.
  3. Find a lower magnification with a larger field of view, 6 to 8-power. Viewing birds or other small (and often moving) wildlife through a binocular with a wide field of view is less challenging.

You can check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's article "The Age of Binoculars" for a more comprehensive review of binoculars for birders at

Hopefully this helps you choose a binocular that will help your little one enjoy birding more. For now, my little birders will be using their inexpensive toy ones when they want to feel like a grown-up. They spot more with their eyes than I do with my binoculars anyway.


  1. Thanks for the advice as I am researching binoculars for our family, children included, right now. Birdwatching and a love for things out-of-doors runs in our family, and I am hoping to pass it down to the next generation!

  2. I'm really glad my kids have become interested in birdwatching. I still haven't bought binoculars for them yet (they share our's), but I'm thinking maybe next year. Good luck with your research. Let me know what you decide to get if you have a chance. I think noticing and appreciating the natural world isn't as common as it once used to be. Good for you!