Teaching children to appreciate firearms should be a high priority. It prepares another generation for the joys of shooting and ensures that the Second Amendment always has citizens interested in its defense. We all learned from someone, so it only seems fair to continue passing that knowledge along.
Of all the firearms types in existence, pistols are the hardest to teach safely, especially to young 'uns. Children have a limited attention span, no experience with the subject and can easily be frightened by a gun's recoil and/or muzzle blast. Few would argue that the .22 rimfire is the way to introduce youngsters to guns, and I think Ruger's single-action pistols are the best way to teach them safe and effective pistol handling.
Why single action?
There are a ton of .22 pistols available, most are easier to reload and faster to shoot. Those are the same reasons I think a single-action pistol is the best way to teach a child. A single-action pistol has a time-consuming loading process that forces the shooter to manually turn the revolver's cylinder while inserting a single round into each of the chambers.
By encouraging a child to go slow, you can teach them to pay attention to the orientation of the muzzle while loading. Since the loading process takes time, there are plenty of opportunities to talk the child through what's happening and why it's important to always pay attention to where a pistol is pointing. Magazine-fed pistols load in an instant, so there is little time to teach or talk. One moment the pistol is empty, and the next it's loaded.
Another advantage of the single-action pistol is the slow firing pace. Even if you want to burn it down at the range, the pistol still requires the shooter to manually cock the hammer before firing each round. Just by the nature of manually cocking the hammer and the time-consuming reloading process, shooters will be more deliberate with their shooting. If you shoot a single-action fast, you still have to reload slowly. Shooting slowly and reloading slowly tends to be how it works out.
Slowing down the shooting pace is advantageous to new and young shooters. Shooters will take more time to look at the sights, try harder to work the trigger correctly and hit their target more often with a single-action pistol because everything happens more slowly. By slowing things down, children can stay mentally engaged longer and have a better chance at retaining what they're seeing and doing. Of course, if you want to channel your inner cowboy, you can thumb the hammer and blast away as fast as you can pull the trigger. This should also be encouraged just so range trips don't become regimented and boring.
Ruger for the win
The best single-action .22 revolvers out there are made by Ruger. Ruger has been making single-action .22 rimfire revolvers since 1953, and they have a huge advantage over other firearms manufacturers in manufacturing capability.
Ruger's foundry takes in raw material and casts steel parts for a couple million guns a year, as well as doing work for other industries. Ruger is a manufacturing juggernaut. Combine that manufacturing horsepower with the tribal knowledge of over six decades of building rimfire single-action revolvers, and the finished product is highly evolved for the cash required.
Ruger's rimfires come in several flavors, but my favorite two are the Bearcat with a 4.2-inch barrel and the Single-Ten with a 4.62-inch barrel. I also prefer these pistols in stainless steel. The stainless steel guns will handle sitting dirty in the safe better than their blued-steel counterparts.
The stainless steel Bearcat is the first pistol both my children will learn to shoot. My 4-year-old daughter has already started on this pistol, and my younger son won't be far behind her. My daughter loves the pistol, and it's the gun she feels the most comfortable shooting.
Part of the appeal is the low recoil associated with a .22 rimfire. When combined with the weight of a steel-framed Bearcat, there is almost no recoil and little muzzle blast. Guns can easily intimidate children, so minimizing recoil and muzzle blast were two of my main considerations when shopping for a pistol for my daughter. She isn't comfortable yet with a rifle, but she doesn't hesitate to shoot the Bearcat.
The dimensions of the Bearcat are also ideal for children. When little hands grab the frame, the distance from the backstrap to the trigger is short. It's not so short that it's uncomfortable for an adult (I like the little pistol as much as my daughter does), but the size is perfect for little hands. They make Bearcat's with shorter barrels, but the ejector rod isn't long enough to easily knock fired cases out of the cylinder. The 4.2-inch barrel is tough to beat.
The other Ruger I love is the Single-Ten with a 4.62-inch barrel. This pistol is a bit bigger than the Bearcat and will probably require 12-year-old hands to work effectively, but it's a great pistol for children for all the same reasons.
There are a few differences between the Bearcat and the Single-Ten other than the size. The Single-Ten holds 10 rounds in the cylinder but loads and unloads the same way. The Single-Ten is a little heavier than the Bearcat, so it has even less recoil. The sights are also better on the Single-Ten.
Bearcats can be had with adjustable sights, but for a "first pistol," I think the simplicity of the fixed sights is the way to go. Even when ordered with adjustable sights, the Bearcat has a blade front sight with an adjustable blade rear. The Single-Ten comes with adjustable sights that feature fiber optic inserts. The fiber optic inserts grab any ambient light and light up so well that even old eyes have no problems seeing them. The Single-Ten is a great pistol to teach children, but the old folks should get to have some fun while they're at it. The terrific sights make that possible.
My daughter loved the Bearcat and had no problems with the Single-Ten. Dad's help was required to hold the Single-Ten, though. The Bearcat was her favorite because her 4-year-old hands could operate the pistol for brief periods unassisted.
The most popular load was the CCI .22 Long cartridges that pushed the 36-grain bullets out the muzzle at a leisurely 760 feet per second (fps). These rounds had so little muzzle blast and recoil that it felt like shooting a cap pistol. A big part of keeping young shooters excited is not scaring them off. It's hard to beat .22 Long, and they work best in revolvers.
Although I can shoot for longer periods, my daughter was done after four cylinders of ammunition. I think that's mostly due to the revolver's weight, even with the diminutive Bearcat.
This was not my daughter's first trip to the range, and I'm excited to see her interest grow with each visit. The secret to my success thus far has been keeping the shooting periods brief, putting out reactive targets and letting her decide what gun she wants to shoot. I also try to help but don't worry too much if her form isn't perfect or if she's nowhere near the target (as long as it hits the berm). Ice cream on the way home also sweetens the deal.