Kids are fascinated by the microscopic world; everyday objects when viewed close up reveal a new and hidden world to captivate children from an early age. Schools use microscopes and magnification over a range of topics: from magnifying mini-beasts in primary school to using real microscopes in science lessons at secondary school. Getting your children excited and confident in using microscopes will help them at school and encourage a wider interest in science. Who knows, maybe they might even be a future Nobel prize winner!
Which microscope should you choose?
When you hear the word ‘microscope’ we all think of the classic idea of a microscope, bubbling test tubes and vials of strange chemicals like in the classic science set pictured. However, nowadays there are much child friendlier products out there!
The first thing to consider is age; as children under fives cannot easily focus with one eye. Also, the inversion of images (microscopes have two sets of lenses which flip the image the wrong way round!) at higher magnifications confuses adults, never mind a child.
We offer two types of microscope – low powered microscopes aimed at viewing 3d objects close up and high powered microscopes, which require prepared slides but have a much higher magnification capability. To help you out we’ve organised our selection below from youngest to oldest.
Microscopes for ages 3+:
For something a bit more advanced than a hand-held magnifying glass, the best microscope for this age range is a fixed stereo microscope, which has two eyepieces like a pair of binoculars! When objects are viewed they will appear clearly in three dimensions and will present enough microscopic detail to interest a child while still letting them understand what they are seeing. These sorts of microscopes need good external lighting since the objects being viewed will not be transparent, this can be easily provided by a nearby lamp or can be inbuilt into the microscope.
The Learning Resources My First Microscope is a great choice for young children as it is easy to focus with two large eyepieces, has an 8x magnification, is chunky and robust making it perfect for small children. It has a built-in LED light to assist children viewing objects. The microscope can be focused by turning the knob to lower or raise the eyepieces.
Microscopes for ages 4+:
Zoomy Digital Microscope is an affordable handheld digital microscope that plugs into your computer as a USB device. There’s no skill needed to adjust eyepieces or fiddle with lighting levels like a compound microscope, making this excellent for younger children. Just hold the hand-friendly ball-shaped scope over an object, turn the top to focus, then press the single control button to take videos or still images up to 43x magnification. The sharp and detailed images can be viewed on a screen, allowing children to explore objects close up. Works with almost any computer, and is compatible with Windows 7 and greater and Mac OS 10.10 and greater.
For something really special, we’d recomend the Learning Resources Talking Microscope. It comes with 20 pre-prepared slides, each with 3 amazing images from common insects such as the house fly to body parts like blood cells. The slides are inserted into a fixed holder with no focusing required. Every slide comes with 10 pre-recorded facts and a fun quiz – simply press the corresponding buttons and Bindi Irwin gives you the facts or asks questions about the subject of the slide.
Microscopes for ages 6+:
The Brainstorm Outdoor Adventure Microscope is a handheld microscope perfect for outdoor exploration. With a single eyepiece, it’s easy to use with a zoom of 20x to 40x magnification and an internal LED to light up the object. There’s no excuse not to get exploring indoors or out with this portable microscope. It’s so easy to use as there is no focusing required, simply place the adventure microscope against what you want to look at!
Microscopes for ages 8+:
Compound microscopes are more difficult to use but give much greater detail. They consist of an eyepiece and usually three object lenses – turning the object lenses changes the magnification level. Objects need to be more or less transparent and are viewed on slides lit from below.
Learning Resources Geosafari MicroPro Elite has a solid metal structure to give it the stability needed to view delicate objects. It comes with 5 prepared slides plus the equipment to create up to 18 new slides. Strands of hair, pieces of skins and a drop of pond water will show details invisible to the naked eye. Help may be needed in learning how to use this microscope to avoid frustration. We’d always recommend centring your slides on the lowest magnification before moving up to the higher magnifications one at a time. The effort is worth it, as from x400 magnification and up you’ll be able to see bacteria and amoebas swimming around in the water! This particular microscope goes all the way up to x900 magnification!