A homeschooling friend recently asked me for advice on picking out a microscope for young children. As we have a STEM-obsessed eight-year-old daughter, I have a lot of opinions on this topic. [This is not sponsored content!]
For an affordable, but still high-quality, microscope that is super straightforward for a young child to use, I highly recommend the AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X All-Metal Optical Glass Lenses Cordless LED Student Biological Compound Microscope, which goes for $90 on Amazon.
This microscope offers two main advantages: (1) it is very easy to learn how to focus it, and (2) it is lightweight and can be battery-operated, so a young child can haul it literally anywhere they want to go (and ours certainly does take this thing on some adventures).
You can spend a lot more money than that on a microscope, but the main difference for student microscopes (in my humble opinion) is the ability to connect them to another device like a laptop or tablet. I think further down the line we will buy a microscope with that capability, which I think would be awesome for writing more professional research reports in high school-level courses.
To give you an idea of what I am talking about, here is AmScope’s B120C-E1 Siedentopf Binocular Compound Microscope, 40X-2500X Magnification, LED Illumination, Abbe Condenser, Two-Layer Mechanical Stage, 1.3MP Camera and Software Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10, which costs $264.
You can see pictures of that quality with the first scope though.
Okay, so now you have a microscope, now you need some equipment and some inspiration.
The easiest way to introduce working with a microscope to a young child is to start with some pre-prepared slides. I bought a couple sets of these with all kinds of tissues.
After your child gets the hang of using the microscope, they can start preparing slides of whatever they want. Our daughter collects samples of all kinds of things on our family hikes and when she’s out playing in our neighborhood. Discarded snake skins, leaves, parts of flowers, water samples from various ecosystems, patches of fabric, you name it.
Preparing a slide is easy. Take the large blank slide and put your sample on it. Use an eyedropper to cover it with distilled water. Put the smaller slide on top of it, and you are ready to go. You can get some of those little sticker tabs to record what your sample is.
Now, as far as books for young children on how to use a microscope, I would recommend:
For kindergarten through 2nd grade, Greg’s Microscope (I Can Read Level 3)
For older (or more mature) children, A World in a Drop of Water: Exploring with a Microscope (Dover Children’s Science Books) and AmScope The World of the Microscope – A Practical Introduction with Projects and Activities (everyone advises to buy this book used, as it is a reprint of an older Usborne book that can be purchased for much less).