A young boy with binoculars

One of the biggest rewards of nature walks with kids is the joy they exhibit when they see things close up for the first time. Binoculars are the best tool for this but they can also be a frustrating challenge for children. If you have only one “”family”” pair of binoculars or if you are considering the purchase of new binoculars, you can help make binoculars a pleasant and easy tool for kids with a little knowledge. Here’s a little crash course to help.

The two numbers used to describe binoculars, such as “”8 x 40″” are the magnification and lens diameter. The first number (“”8x””) is the magnification, or how many times the image is magnified. Higher magnification results in more sensitivity to movement (like little shaky hands). The second number (“”40″”) is the diameter, or the distance (in millimeters) across each of the front lenses. The higher the second number, the more light the lenses let in and the brighter your image will appear. An 8×25 binocular is not as bright as an 8×40 binocular. But bigger lenses also mean heavier binoculars–and kids will quickly tire of heavy binoculars. A good binocular for young kids (K-3) would be one that magnifies less, like an 8x, 6x, or a 4x providing brightness without the weight.

The interpupillary distance (IP) is the distance between the pupils of the eyes. Most binoculars can be adjusted to be opened wide or narrow for different size faces. Kids need binoculars with a smaller IP distance. If you have only one pair and they are too wide for your child’s face, teach them to look through only one side of the binocular. Young kids can even turn the binoculars on their side so the lenses are “”top and bottom”” instead of “”left and right”” and look only through the top.

The eye cups on binoculars fold (if made of rubber) or twist (if made of plastic or another hard material) up and down. This is to accommodate both people wearing eyeglasses and those not. Don’t ever remove your eyeglasses to look through binoculars, instead, fold the eye cups down. Otherwise, you’ll see a narrow field of vision with vignetting around the edges. If you don’t wear eyeglasses, make certain the eyecup is up, or unfolded-otherwise you’ll see black spots in the center of the lenses.

The first two things you should teach children about binoculars is 1) always wear them–don’t carry them by the strap and don’t put them down somewhere and 2) don’t look through them while walking. Those two tips will keep your binoculars from being lost, dropped, or swung around on the end of their strap and will help keep your kids from walking into holes or trees.

See you in the outdoors!

Jane Kirkland Jane Kirkland is the award-winning author of the “”Take A Walk®”” series of nature discovery books as well as “”No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard””, the acclaimed educator’s guide to helping students discover nature in their schoolyard. To learn more about Jane and her books visit: www.takeawalk.com.

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Published: March 26, 2008