I once won a Celestron FirstScope as a door prize at an astronomy club meeting. Its size and shape might make it a nice instrument for a child to call their own. However, the view it provided was about what you'd expect for $49 retail -- not particularly good. When I donated it to a friend for his kids to use, I wondered afterward if I did him a disservice by giving it to him. His kids might take a look through the thing and think "that's it??" and lose interest in the hobby. Then again, maybe an inquisitive child wouldn't mind. I'm a jaded old geezer and my sense of wonder isn't what it used to be.
In my opinion, good steps are:
- Don't buy a cheap telescope.
- Find a local astronomy club and go to one of their outings. Every club I've encountered has enthusiastically welcomed visitors and new members. I was hooked when I got my first view of M42 through an 18" Obsession. Clubs are a great way to see what the hobby offers and experience a lot of nice equipment without spending any of your hard-earned money first. A lot of clubs even offer free loaner scopes to members.
- Buy "NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe" and/or "Turn Left at Orion"
- Get a pair of decent binoculars. You'll have them forever and they have uses beyond astronomy if interest wanes.
- The "Zero Gravity" folding lawn chairs that you can get at Walmart and other places are awesome for using binoculars. You can lay almost flat with them and they are very comfortable. It's much easier to hold heavy binoculars and avoid straining your neck when you're reclined that far.
- Get several *red* LED flashlights. They'll preserve your night vision when you're in the field, and kids might think it's neat to have their own to use. You can find cheap plastic ones that have a dimmer built in and run off 9V batteries, with a lanyard to wear around your neck. They're great.
- Warm clothes and boots. You'd be surprised how cold you can get when sitting motionless in an empty field at night.
After that I'd look at buying a basic 6" dobsonian. It's big enough to see some interesting things but still relatively easy to manage. The largest piece in an Orion XT6 weighs less than 21 pounds. Personally I would skip the fancy add ons like digital setting circles. Spend your money on good eyepieces instead. Hunting through the sky without assistance can be a lot of fun. With a 6" dob you might also want to get an "astronomy observing chair"; these specialty chairs can quickly adjust their height and make it easy to sit close to the eyepiece and observe comfortably.