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What would be your approach to getting kids involved in astronomy?

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#1 aeajr


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 01:22 PM

We see people posting on this forum asking for help in getting their children started in astronomy.   What telescope should they buy?  What books should they get?  Where can they learn about astronomy.   They don’t want to spend too much because the kids may lose interest quickly.   So we advise them as best we can.   


I was having a private message exchange with someone on this topic and what I have posted below evolved out of that discussion so I share it here.  But you may have a different approach and I would love to hear it.   We could build a resource here that could help parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends  who want to get the kids involved in astronomy.


Offered for your consideration





Children have short attention spans are easily distracted and can move from interest to interest quickly.  So many introductory telescopes are given as gifts only to be put in the back of the closet after a week or two. This plan is intended to avoid that.


There is a base assumption that an adult will be involved, at least in the beginning, and we want to enable the children to share this experience with friends or siblings.  Sitting alone, studying charts and books and observing the Orion Nebulae may sound good to us but probably not to our children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren.


I have set a starting budget of $200 or less.  This is focused on 6 year olds to 16 year olds but applies equally to getting older kids and adults engaged.  For many, hearing they need to spend a lot of money to get started in astronomy can be a turn off before they even take a look.  You can substitute other products where you like and you can do this in phases so that it doesn't all have to happen at once.  Some for Christmas and some for the next birthday works too.


The other part of the plan is to provide introductory tools that are not exclusively used in astronomy.   Having these address more than astronomy provides a way for the kids to get to know how to use telescopes and binoculars in ways that are not exclusive to astronomy.  This also addresses the concern that if we spend a bunch of money and they are not interested in astronomy the money has been wasted. 


Let's see how this strikes you.


Binoculars - Binoculars are a great place to start.  They are fun and intuitive, even for young children.  They can be used for astronomy, bird watching, sports and all sorts of things.  Getting the child engaged with the tool is just as important as getting them engaged with the subject.   I have listed 3 different binoculars that are low cost but of a quality that will enable, not frustrate the kids.  The intent is to match the size of thebinoculars to the size and ability of the child.   Clearly a 12 year old canhandle larger binoculars than a 6 year old.   First binoculars don't have to be expensive.   My 10X50s cost $20 and I use them all the time.


Celestron 7X35 - $35 - Perhaps 6-10 year old



Celestron 8X40 - $35 - Perhaps 8 to 12 year old


Celestron 10X50 - $35 - Perhaps 10 years and older



So, one pair of binoculars well matched to the child.  I will provide activities below to support their use.


Small telescope - I have selected a travel scope rather than a dedicated astronomy scope.  This will encourage both daytime and night time use.  I have selected the 70 mm Celestron Travel Scope but there are many other offerings that are suitable for daytime and night time use.  It is low cost, flexible, compact and portable.  This will provide wide FOV to provide context, but has enough aperture to see the brighter DSOs, like the Pleiades or the Orion Nebulae, and high enough magnification for planets and the moon.   Many of the things you might look at in binoculars can be seen here but at higher magnification.   In addition it is something that could be handled by a child as young as 8 with a minimal amount of physical help and a 12 year old should be able to easily handle this on their own.  It is easy to take on trips for family fun and stores away in its own backpack.


Celestron 70 mm travel scope - $85-  Included eyepieces offer 20X and 40X with wide field view.  A step up from binoculars.

https://www.astronom...rm=travel scope




Barlow - Optionally add a low cost 3X barlow lens for higher magnification.  I have this one.  Now you have 60 and 120X with the standard eyepieces which should be well within the capability of the 70 mm aperture for the moon and planets.

http://www.amazon.co...=3x barlow lens


Laser pointer for adult use only - This can help you point out things like the Orion Nebulae or the Pleiades to help the kids find them in the sky.   I use it when I am doing group presentations or when I am introducing friends to astronomy.  You can also use this, strapped onto the scope, to help you target the scope at a visible target.  They are extremely helpful but I would not hand them to a child.



Observing with friends, kids, visitors - The Wow factor of the ZOOM -

completely optional - read the report - $75





Group activity - Now you have two items, binocular and scope, which can be shared with parent and child, brother and sister, or allow multiple children to participate without the "waiting on line" that kids hate.  You can have a star party and get their friends involved.  You can invite them to look at the Pleiades with the binoculars.  Cool!  Now look at the Pleiades through the scope.   Multiple adults or children can be involved simultaneously.  Use the binocular like a spotter for the telescope.  And the binocular can probably go in the travel scope pack for travel and storage.





Turn Left at Orion - $19 just one of may possible first books

http://www.amazon.co... at ori,aps,137


Today's kids are very computer savvy so for their computer we have:


http://www.stellarium.org/     Probably the most useful tool.  Creates a planetarium in the computer that shows you the night sky as you would see it at your location today, right now, at this hour.   You can look at Stellarium then walk out side and see the same thing.  I use it almost everyday.  Put it on your laptop and compare the screen to the sky.


www.tonightssky.com  - You use this to develop a target list. 


Here is a post about how to Tonight's Sky  to create target lists that are appropriate to your interests and your equipment.



SkEye - This is for a smart phone or tablet.  Available on Android and I presume Apple as well.  Point the phone at the sky and it will show you the stars that are there, give you their names and things about them.  Really cool.  They will LOVE this.





Both the binoculars and the travel scope can be used for daytime activities so they are not restricted to astronomy as a more dedicated astronomy telescope might be.  They can use them for viewing birds and boats and sports.  They are light and travel easily on vacations.  If they never really get involved in astronomy the binoculars and the travel scope can still be supportive of other things that will interest them as they grow.  And perhaps birds or the like will be of more interest at first.  This will help them gain experience with binoculars and a telescope that can be leveraged later to introduce astronomy.


So, if you want to expand the appeal let's add bird watching to the starter package.  Most kids would LOVE that.   They can watch the birds in the yard, go into the woods or just walk the neighborhood and admire the birds.  Set-up or build a bird house or a bird feeding stand in the yard.  Use the  spotting scope and the binoculars to watch the birds.


When my girls where young they were fascinated by birds.  We had a book and a chart by the door and a bird feeder in the yard and they learned the names, the calls and such.  Keep the binoculars available or keep the travel scope set up and directed toward a bird house or a feeder and they will get to know these tools as they learn about birds.  Watch for the eggs to hatch.


I think we had this poster on the wall by the back door.

http://www.amazon.co...rds=bird poster


This might be good books to consider: Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists)

http://www.amazon.co...ng for children


Backyard Bird Watching for Kids

http://www.amazon.co...ng for children





Now you have a daytime use for the gifts and a night time use for the gifts.  Your child might love astronomy right away.  Or they may love birds.  Or maybe they will enjoy binoculars for sports.  Or the travel scope for looking at boats and ships on the lake or in the harbor.   No matter what gets their attention first you are getting them engaged in a new activity and they are becoming familiar with the use of these observation tools.


What did we spend?

Binoculars $35
Travel Scope - $85
Barlow - $12
Laser pointer - $5

Book - $19


$156 - well under our $200 budget


Add something about birds - maybe another $30 so perhaps $186 gets you there and you are now giving them two hobbies and a path to others.


Later their use can be expanded and your initial investment leveraged to keep them engaged as they grow. And of course there are local clubs or school activities that can increase their engagement.   If the sky does not interest them today, that's OK.  Perhaps it will interest them tomorrow Offered for your consideration.   Spend more time with children if you want to remain young. ;)

Edited by aeajr, 12 December 2015 - 12:35 PM.

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#2 Brian Carter

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Posted 11 December 2015 - 03:17 PM

I think it is simpler than that.

Take any optic you have. If it's a telescope or binoculars, doesn't matter. Throw some sleeping bags and a small tent in your car and take your kid someplace dark. Then start looking at what you can see. When you're done, go in the tent and sleep. Stop by Waffle House the next morning.

Up to a certain age, kids just want to have one on one time with each parent. If that translates into a love of the stars, great. If not, it wasn't meant to be, but it sure made your kid feel really special. Probably will benefit the parent too.
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#3 aeajr


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 03:38 PM


#4 JJack


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 04:00 PM

My advice after raising a child through the 90s and 2000s - have stuff out, make it available.  Get them started but do not guide them until they request help.


Let them fumble with it.  Share your wonder and your joy but leave it up to them to find the path there.


Incidentally, this works for everything. 

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#5 aeajr


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 04:14 PM

Good point!

#6 davidmclifton


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 04:14 PM

Good tips. For my 5 year old I think much in the way of binoculars is still beyond him.

What has worked has been a two scope setup. He has my old Celestron AstroMaster 70az - a really terrible mount situation, but it is "his scope". I point it at the moon or whatnot then let him do whatever with it. He loves that he can get his hands all over it, and point at whatever. I then next to it have my scope - an 8se - and step stool. On nights where I am focused on letting him see things, I drop the tripod all the way down and no step stool needed.

He does not really like bouncing around targets in my scope - he wants to do that himself in "his scope". So what I do is I start the night with a target in mind. The other night it was nebula. I will tell him at dinner something, like "want to see baby stars in their nursery?" Or "want to see where a star had a big explosion?"

The ring nebula was the other night - he could just barely see it, we talked about how it was hard to see (vs the moon keep in mind) but he stood there for almost 10 minutes looking - because he wanted to look while we talked about the story.

He will play with his scope, look at the one object in mine, go back to playing, ask to see my object again, ...

These are not long sessions but importantly he asks often if we can see this or that tonight, and is sad when it is cloudy and he can't.
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#7 aeajr


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 04:37 PM

That is fantastic!  Great report.   I love it!


Yes, I agree, there is a difference when they feel that the stuff is theirs.

Edited by aeajr, 11 December 2015 - 04:56 PM.

#8 Dadadee


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 05:20 PM

I have to agree with Brian, it is a lot simpler than that.  No need to over do it.


I do a lot of astronomy with both of my daughters (9 & 6).  But the oldest is hooked beyond redemption!  :-)


The way I did it with her, is lying on my back beside her, on the lawn or in the snow, and spending a lot of time telling her the stories of the sky.


Poor princess Andromeda who was tied to a rock by her mother Queen Cassiopea to be eaten alive by the whale while her father, King Cepheus did not do anything to save her.  Fortunately, the brave hero Perseus, on his flying horse (Pegasus) saved her!  (A story of queens, princesses and flying horses!  It works wonders with little girls!  Lol)


Big Orion followed by its two dogs chasing the Pleaides.




While I am telling her one of the story, I show her the constellations in the sky and give her the names of the brightest stars.  She always ask for more of those stories.


She loved it so much that she asked Santa for a telescope.  That is how we got our Dob, 2 years ago.  It is the family scope since all four members of the family put a telescope on our respective X-Mas wish list.  Santa got the message!  Hihihi  Unfortunately, a non computorized telescope is not great with kids.  My daughters want to look in the scope.  They have nothing to do with looking for stuff.  Waiting 3-5-10 minutes is too long for them.  Since I got a SCT6, they enjoy our stargazing sessions a lot more.  They can look at a new object every 2-3 minutes.


Stargazing with Juliette is quite something.  She wants to know the distance of every object we look at.  She wants to know the temperature of stars, etc. She loves details and she has an amazing memory.  It is too a point where last July, she told me she hated summer because she is always too tired and need to go to bed before darkness!  I also recall an evening last year where we spent 15 minutes going back and forth, arguing which of Almach or Albiero was the nicest double star.  (Think about it.  A passionate argument with a little girl of 8 y.o about the esthetics of two colorful double stars!  I am blessed!)


The funniest thing was when I had a single Televue eyepiece, a Delos 12.  She was always asking for: "the big black eyepiece with green letters", her exact words, translated from french.  One day, I asked her why she was always aking for that specific eyepiece.  She told me because the view was better than with my other two eyepieces (Hyperions 17 and 10).  Since then, my wife can not argue.  Honey, it is not for me, it is for her!  lol. I had to upgrade my eyepieces.



Edited by Dadadee, 12 December 2015 - 07:27 AM.

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#9 Feidb



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Posted 11 December 2015 - 05:20 PM

I'd slap the biggest and thickest book of math I can find down in front of them and tell them learn this first and maybe you'll begin to understand!




Seriously, I'd take it really slow and let the young whippersnappers learn what they want to. There is no forcing this passion. My grandson has a slight interest and being a kid, it is fleeting. When I try to teach him something he is all kid, only half listens and when there is the slightest effort involved, well... you all know the result. Yet he still makes attempts and has favorite objects with his punky little scope.


Recently he found that he likes a red dot finder better than that piece of junk 30mm monstrosity that came with the scope. Since I will NOT get him a laser at his age, I took the red dot finder I thought I threw away from my Lightbridge, which I found in the original box inside another box, and one weekend when he was out with his mom, in fact, two weekends ago, I adapted it to the punky scope. He has a bit of a surprise the next time we go out. Maybe that will encourage him a bit. At that point, I'll try again to show him how to use the star charts once again, which I'll admit are a bit more advanced than he can deal with, but I don't usual carry around the latest Astronomy or S&T magazines for the month and I keep forgetting my simpler charts.

Little by little, if he can learn to point it well, he can try for some of the brighter objects and maybe pick them up in the shaving mirror optics of the punky scope. That's a start.

#10 Kerman


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 06:20 PM

I agree with JJack. I would add that having good equipment is necessary if you don't want to turn kids away from astronomy. 

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#11 SeaBee1



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Posted 11 December 2015 - 06:41 PM

My 9 year old granddaughter got hooked this summer when I was rehabbing a friends inoperative 6 inch Dob mounted reflector... she wants her own scope now...


I think just EXPOSURE can do it for some kids...


Clear skies guys!



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#12 csrlice12



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Posted 11 December 2015 - 07:30 PM

Tak'em out to the middle of nowhere and tell'em to use the stars to navigate their way home. If they make it, then they just might be astronomer material....
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#13 Pinbout



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Posted 11 December 2015 - 07:45 PM

I like to run around and shoot them with a super soaker till they look thru the scope and draw a pic of what they saw...5x a night.

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#14 JayinUT


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 08:30 PM

First, what is your goal or objective with the kids? That will guide what you do with them. For over 8 years I ran a student after school astronomy club at the school I taught at.  We met twice a month to learn about astronomy and that was based on an inquiry method of learning. Are there things they kids have to learn?  Yep, like identifying the constellations, knowing the difference between deep sky, planetary, double stars etc.  How to set up and run a refractor and a reflector.  How to collimate a reflector etc.  The key is that today's young people expect to participate and be engaged in the learning process. The least effective teachers are those that do not realize that. They remain stuck in what I call the Peanuts Teacher method of teaching, lecture demo or blah blah blah blah.  You have to have activities that get the kids involved and engage them.  This includes guiding them on how to use the telescopes and then getting out of the way and letting them do it.  Don't show, let them show.  Let them learn how to find objects, to get them in the eyepiece and then to tell you about what they are seeing. In our program the highlight was a star party where the kids showed their parents a series of objects that were observable to their parents.  Think of scaffolding; teaching kids how to do something, then supporting them, more at first, less over time until they are doing it themselves. If you do that I believe you'll be successful.  

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#15 aeajr


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Posted 11 December 2015 - 08:39 PM

Friends, these are wonderful posts and brilliant approaches to getting kids engaged.  I just love it.  Keep 'em coming.  

#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 11 December 2015 - 08:51 PM

I think that kids are like adults, there is no one formula, there is no one equation.. and some take to it, some don't.  


Ben's story is touching, Juliette's love of the night sky is built on his relationship with her, when she is older, a night out under the stars will be a constant reminder of her father's love for her.. That is priceless.. 


Kids are inherently curious and at their best, they are purely in the moment, just looking, taking it all in.  I spent one particularly memorable night that happened purely by chance.. We were camped in our motor home at the Red Rock State park near Gallup New Mexico.. I had my 10 inch Dob along.  The family next door included a 10 year old boy who was hoping to get a telescope.  


After some time together looking at the various showcase objects, I just put in my low power "Finder" eyepiece and turned him loose. It was amazing to watch him, he quickly learned to point the scope using the Telrad and finder at interesting things.. He would just scan the sky with the Finder eyepiece, looking to see what he could see.  He was a natural.. 


Kids find their way, they discover what interests them. With our kids, my goal was to help them find that way.  Providing them with opportunities to discover the world around them, that is what being a parent is about.  Guiding them towards what interested me, that was never part of the agenda.. 


As a parent, satisfaction is watching them grow and prosper, becoming this marvelous being..  Oh, it would be nice if one them had been interested in stargazing but they all have their own interests and passions, developed in a free, open environment that allowed them to find their own way..  From them, I learn and appreciate the new worlds they have discovered, way beyond mine. That is what we share and it is truly wonderful.  


Jon Isaacs

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#17 buddyjesus



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Posted 11 December 2015 - 10:51 PM

Hoping to buy a year pass or something like that for the Denver Planetarium.  Also want to get my little discoverer a pair of binos and tripod for his February birthday.

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#18 charotarguy



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Posted 12 December 2015 - 09:13 AM

Three words - "Keep it simple".

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#19 jgraham



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Posted 12 December 2015 - 10:49 AM



Keep it simple.


Expose them to it through books, magazines, museums, and simple targets through a small, introductory telescope. If you get a chance, stay out at a state park after dark to let them see the Milky Way.


I would not rush out and buy them anything fancy. A huge part of being young is being curious, discovering things for yourself, and developing the desire to know and want more. My introduction was through my Dad's rickety Sears 50mm refractor. Having bad eyesight a telescope was the only way to bring my world into focus. I vividly recall seeing the Milky Way from the country when I was young and how beautiful it was, saving money to buy my own copy of H.A. Rey's Find the Constellations through Scholastic Books at my grade school, and saving up to buy my own telescope... an equally rickety 40mm refractor from a pawn shop.


What a wonderful journey this has been. :)

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#20 Cpk133



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Posted 12 December 2015 - 12:05 PM

I get my kids out whenever there is something special going on (meteor showers, lunar eclipse, conjunctions, etc.). That gets their interest.  Sometimes we go over to the lake to watch a moon or sunrise.  I park in the same spot and we talk about the position relative to objects in the park and why it changes throughout the year.  Of course we have to stop for breakfast or doughnuts afterwards.  Both kids are excited to go see the 2017 solar eclipse.  


I also recommend stellarium, and apps like moon globe, gas giants etc.  Lastly, take them to see StarWars!

#21 aeajr


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Posted 12 December 2015 - 12:44 PM

These are all good posts and great examples of how we, as people who are knowledgeable in astronomy, would get kids involved.    And please keep them coming as I think reading this will be helpful to those who are trying to get kids engaged but know nothing about astronomy themselves.  


People like Mom and Dad who know that their 9 year old likes to look at the stars and want to encourage that interest so they come here for advice on buying a telescope.  But Mom and Dad could not point to the big dipper, Orion or Polaris themselves.


Grandma and Grandpa who want to get a Christmas gift for their 12 year old granddaughter but have no idea what to buy or how to help the child after the package is opened.  They want to feel that their purchase can be put to good use and not end up in the closet in 2 weeks.


My first post was targeted at these folks.  People who know nothing of astronomy other than they know a child who is interested.


Your advice and stories will serve as inspiration to them, especially if they can find a friend, a teacher or a local club to help support the child's growing interest.  What you have reported is not about hitting the books or studying charts but about enabling exploration and the wonder of looking up and seeing it in all of its splendor.  It is about sharing time with a child and  being part of their discovery of all that is beautiful in the sky.

Edited by aeajr, 12 December 2015 - 12:47 PM.

#22 orion61


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Posted 12 December 2015 - 12:48 PM

Everybody has gotten close, but the bottom line is, "Your Time".

Nothing is as inexpensive, or as Valuable.

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#23 Dadadee


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Posted 12 December 2015 - 12:55 PM



I am sure you were full of good intentions with your first post.


But, according to me, what came across your post was that people had to do a lot of stuff, buy equipment, follow a formal process to get kids into astronomy.  And that is not the case according to me.


Get stuff, only when kids are hooked.  Naked eye astronomy is a treat!



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#24 charotarguy



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Posted 12 December 2015 - 01:49 PM



I am sure you were full of good intentions with your first post.


But, according to me, what came across your post was that people had to do a lot of stuff, buy equipment, follow a formal process to get kids into astronomy.  And that is not the case according to me.


Get stuff, only when kids are hooked.  Naked eye astronomy is a treat!




Exactly my thinking, why go on this hypothetical scenario about how to make them interested in your/our hobby, bottom line spend time with them (as aptly said by Orion61) and if you cant (nothing against it as is the case nowadays with a lot of working parents) let them have time on their own to figure things out. Dadadee your spending time with your daughter is and might be that trigger that got her interested in astronomy and your story about you and your daughter is very inspirational. 

#25 aeajr


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Posted 12 December 2015 - 02:35 PM

Good points guys.  


Is what you posted here what you will say when they post asking what telescope to buy for their child, nephew, grandchild for Christmas?    I have not see those kinds of posts in response to those kinds of questions, but I can definitely see the value in what you are saying.  


I don't see a pair of binoculars and a travel scope as a lot of equipment, but I guess to some it might appear that way.  Perhaps I took the wrong approach in my post. 


And I always recommend a book and some free on-line resources.  But perhaps that is not a good approach.  I will have to give this more consideration.


Keep the posts coming.

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