Choosing A Starter Microscope To Explore With Your Kids
Childlike curiosity. Most of us remember a time where we didn’t simply assume we knew how the world worked. Nature, technology, food, and dust held some mysteries that only the scientists could explore. What if you could drive curiosity and a love for STEM with your kids, all with a single magnification tool? Let’s learn all about microscopes for kids.
Looking for a basic compound microscope? The ITI-2030B Biological Microscope is our mid-level biological microscope. It’s perfect for at-home exploration!
Best Classroom Microscopes
If you’re looking for a great starter microscope for kids, we recommend the ITI 2010B Biological Microscope. It has standard achromatic objective lenses that can magnify up to 40x in addition to the eyepiece that magnifies up to WF10x. It also uses LED illumination with adjustable brightness.
If kids are having trouble looking through the curved eyepieces that are standard on most stereo and compound microscopes, you might try out a straight compound microscope. It’s a little more intuitive because it allows kids to look straight down over the specimen.
Kids in classrooms really don’t need anything above a 400x microscope for compound microscopes. And 40x stereo microscopes are pretty standard. The difference between a compound and stereo microscope allows kids to view smaller slices of matter verses larger materials. Stereo microscopes use light sources external to the object to illuminate it and magnify it in 3D. You can view objects that light typically will not pass through, like computer chips, larger plant sections, dissected animals, and rocks. But stereo microscopes cannot show you the detail of the cells because they typically max out around 40x (for standard at-home stereo microscopes).
On the other hand, compound microscopes fire light up through the specimen and can use this structure to give you drastically more powerful magnification. Standard compound scopes generally illuminate the specimen between 400x and 1000x, using a “compound lens” which is made of an objective and an eyepiece. The eyepiece is usually a 10x structure while the objective lens can range from 4x to 100x. The two numbers are multiplied to give you the final magnification.
Best Home Microscopes
Fixed power stereo microscopes are a great option for kids because the lens only has a few different positions it can be moved to. While zoom microscopes offer greater flexibility, the movement of the objective lens can make it much more difficult to focus. And problems focusing the lens make microscopes incredibly frustrating to use! With kids, it’s usually better to opt for ease of use over the overall power of the microscope. Better to see less easily than to struggle to see only a little bit more!
Kids can get frustrated by the difficulty that traditional stereo and compound microscopes approach. While digital microscopes can be expensive, they also have a crystal-clear screen that uses a high-res image to represent what you place under the microscope. Since digital microscopes are also the future of science and imaging technology, getting your kids comfortable with the tech could be invaluable for a future in science. If you can spring for it, a digital microscope is probably the ideal kind of scope to use with your kids. Why make things tougher than they need to be? It’s the easiest way to focus on the information at hand.
The ITI-2041T Biological Microscope is one of our absolute best compound microscopes, with an optical system that can magnify up to 1000x with an oil distribution and up to 400x without it. The eyepiece is a standard 10x magnification, and the achromatic objectives go all the way up to 100x. It also has a powerful 3W LED Lamp to light the specimen. It’s the top of the line in biological microscopes.
Biological microscopes are also called compound microscopes, and they are specially built for seeing the cells and biological structures that need 400x to 1000x magnification to clearly see. You won’t be able to see biological structures through a stereo microscope, but the biological models are perfect for that. If you plan on exploring cells and plant material with your kids, a compound microscope is a must.
Ideas to Spark Microscope Exploration with Kids
Microscope adventures are best when they are done with everyday objects. Looking at bacteria and special cells are fun, but kids can learn a lot more—and be a lot more excited—if they are looking at pieces of objects that they recognize. Microscopes are built for exploration and discovery! It can be helpful to know what you’re looking for, but sometimes it’s even more exciting to have no idea what will show up!
Everyday Items to Explore with a Microscope
There are some simple objects you can easily locate and explore under a microscope!
- If it’s not too gross, you can always explore human cells! Skin cells, hair, and even a little bit of saliva can make great specimens for a compound microscope.
- Samples of dirt and plants are usually great for compound microscopes. You can flatten dirt out into fine particles that can fit on the slide of a compound scope. And plants, with a bit of work, can be sliced thin enough to fit.
- Rocks make great specimens for stereo microscopes because they often have interesting, novel structures which show up under the magnification.
- If you have any spare electronics, you can dissect them (carefully!) and place the parts under a stereo microscope. Microchips make excellent stereo microscope specimens.
- This one might fall into the gross category as well, but food is great to examine with a microscope! Everything from yogurt to milk and eggs can yield really interesting results.
- Water makes a great specimen for a microscope because it’s thin, clear, and totally transparent. Faucet water can be good, but you can also collect specimens from a pool or rain water if you can get it! If you’re looking at liquids often, consider investing in the ITI-300AL Portable Measuring Microscope!
Have fun with the sample process and make sure to use the low powered lens to look around before jumping up the magnification! You can also buy pre-built slides if you just want to see what certain known cells look like. Additionally, some microscope slides will require staining and preparation before they will show up correctly.
Watch Out for Artifacts!
When microscoping with kids, it’s easy to mistake microscopic artifacts for additional parts of the specimen that you’re looking at. Microscopic artifacts are external irritants, like wrinkles in the section or dust, which get onto the specimen and look like they are part of it. Failure to properly plate and fix a specimen can cause swelling and shrinkage of your specimen, introducing new structures that look a lot like they are part of the specimen.
Let the Kids Lead
Let the kids come up with ideas for what they want to stick under the microscope. As the process unfolds, they’ll learn not just about the things they look at, but also about the process of magnification itself.
Anything that won’t let light through will be tough to explore with a compound microscope. Talk to your kids about how a microscope works, and ask them to think of things that would be interesting to put under the scope.