Any educational instrument that is bought for a child needs to be done in a certain way. As most parents have quickly realized, children will respond to learning better if it is not forced upon them and they are allowed to choose their area of interest.
Although professional microscopes are expensive, and complicated to use, styles found to be more appropriate for children are far cheaper.
In your research, you should request a microscope with optics of professional quality, mechanical components that function effortlessly and with precision. You as the buyer need to have the assurance that judging from its performance and sturdiness it is not a toy.
At around the $300 USD mark and up you can find a good quality kids microscope.
The development of new materials has made the design far more durable and easier for children to use. The microscope will also need to be safe to use, and simple to set up.
There are two main popular designs of kids microscopes that are affordable and easy to use. These are the traditional looking turret style - stereo and compound, and the more modern electronic design. This design plugs directly into your home PC through the USB port.
Both of these are perfect for any budding scientist to learn more about the world they live in. You will be amazed how quickly your child becomes interested in science once they own their own microscope.
The traditional turret style should be made from metal and be heavy, making it far steadier when your child leans over it to look at their specimen. Cheaper models of kid's microscopes may break or simply fall over more easily, and spill the sample.
The microscope's objectives need to adhere to the DIN standard with the number "160" marked on them.
For educational purposes specialized objectives, such as an oil immersion objective, are not necessary. They are expensive and are for the research field. Of course you may hope your child becomes a top scientist but these objectives are too difficult for your child to use and to understand at the moment.
It is also not recommended to purchase a vintage microscope (optical quality might be poor and just too old) or a specialized microscope such as inverted or polarizing - much too advanced.
Lastly, this might seem obvious but always make sure there is an actual light source and not a mirror.
Buying a kids microscope second-hand is also not recommended.
First of all, in doing your own research you may lack the knowledge required to recognize a poorly operating and serviced microscope. If a microscope dealer is guiding you in the purchase then you can probably trust his input on quality and operability.
Also, many second-hand microscopes come from research settings and are equipped with the specialized objectives and accessories which are too advanced at this stage, so not appropriate for education.
Monocular or Binocular?
As an adult choosing a kids microscope, the first thought might be to lean towards purchasing a binocular style. You actually may find that a monocular (one eyepiece) microscope is more appropriate for your child.
Just like when using an adult pair of binoculars, interpupillary adjustment can prove difficult for a child. The two eyepieces need to be adjustable for the different eye widths in people.
In a binocular microscope, a single image needs to be observed when peering through the two eyepieces and this is difficult when a child is too small.
If you decide on buying a binocular microscope then have your child use it as if it was monocular for the time being by just using one eyepiece until they are older.
This is a question parents often ask when thinking about buying a kids microscope.
The best answer to this question is, what is your child really wanting to "see"?
Younger kids love to view specimens that they can already see with their naked eye, like for example, bugs, worms, a sample of tree bark, leaves, coins, stamps etc., everything that is already around the house or outside in the backyard. For the younger child, this is usually more than sufficient for their interest level.
In this case, a stereo kids microscope is a great choice because it is easier to use - there is no sample preparation compared to a compound microscope and the images viewed are 3 dimensional.
The compound microscope, on the other hand, is ideal for the budding scientist during teenage years who wants to view images of pond water, cheek cells etc. An educational microscope is ideal equipped with 4x, 10x and 40x objectives and a 10x eyepiece. 400x magnification is more than appropriate.
Although, more guidance and teaching is required when using a compound microscope due to microscope slide preparation, your child's excitement will make it all worth it. At some point, you may want to purchase already prepared slides to study histology and such to keep him/her occupied and happy.
It will also be necessary to purchase other relevant accessories such as tweezers, clips and dyes to enable your child to get the most out of their first microscopy adventures.
What about USB Technology?
Modern technology has allowed fantastic USB computer microscopes to be produced enabling them to use the PC to display the specimen.
This style of kids microscope is far easier to use, and may in fact interest your child more.
Although the magnification is very basic on this style, your child can zoom in using their PC.
The design of this microscope is ideal to make the whole experience far more social, as you can all discuss what is on the computer screen.
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