Microscopes come in a wide variety of types, designs, and complexity. It is vital to choose the best microscope that suits your kid’s age and maturity level. An advanced microscope will just make younger kids uninterested. Too basic ones will just make older kids get bored easily.
For younger kids between the ages of 3 to 5 years, you can read my other post Best Microscopes for kids 3-5 years old for more information about microscope, how can microscope help in kids learning and comparison of the best microscopes suitable for younger kids.
For older kids 6 years old and up, a more advanced and more complex microscope is suitable to feed their curiosity. It is at this age that kids are more responsible, can focus more on the task at hand and are able to handle and navigate through a more complex toy. It is the crucial stage in a kid’s life that “what’s” & “how’s” are not enough for them to know. It is equally important if not more important for them to know the “why’s” of things. The hunger for this need “to know” drives them to discover and learn the why’s of the things around them. To feed this hunger and to equip them with the right tools is the best we can do as parents. We cannot tell them what should their interests be or what they should be best at. It’s the process of exposing them to a different field of interest that can discover their future selves, they can be best at playing the piano or baseball or more interested in science and technology. As they grow older and the same interest is nurtured, they can be the next Mozzart or Einstein of their generation. In today’s world where Science, Technology, Engineering and Math have been an indispensable part of human lives, it is critical to equip and enable our kids to battle the challenges ahead of them. See other post about STEM Learning Toys – Play to Learn about the benefits of STEM Toys.
Growing up in the 1980’s, I never had the opportunity to play with STEM toys like microscopes. I only had the chance to use an actual one in the university as part of my course curriculum in Metallurgical Engineering. But now, with growing awareness about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) microscopes are made available to kids as STEM toys. It’s fantastic to see microscopes with 1200x magnification as a kid’s toy for just a small fraction of the cost of a real professional microscope.
Types of Microscope
According to Wikipedia, microscopes can be grouped in different ways. One way is to describe the way the instruments interact with a sample to create images.
- Optical Microscope – This is also called light microscope. It is the most common type and the first to be invented in the 17th century. Optical microscope uses visible light or photons to pass through a sample and a system of lenses to produce an enlarged image.
- Electron Microscope – This is a more advanced type that was invented in the early 20th century, where a beam of electrons is used to generate an image. It is typically used for closer viewing of samples for the purpose of advanced research.
- Scanning Probe Microscope – This is a less popular type that read very small forces exchanged between a probe and the surface of a sample. A current is created from surface to probe as a result of electrons flowing continuously between probe and sample due to their very close proximity to each other.
For the purpose of this article, I will only be focusing on the Optical Microscope.
There are two basic types of Optical Microscope:
- Simple Microscope – uses a single convex lens or set of lenses for magnification to produce an erect enlarged virtual image as illustrated by the diagram on the right. Example of this is a magnifying glass and most of the kids microscopes featured in my article Best Microscopes For Kids 3-5 Years Old.
- Compound microscope – uses several lenses to enhance the magnification of an object. Majority of the modern research microscopes are compound microscopes. Diagram on the left illustrates how a compound microscope works. The objective lens that is located close to the object being analyzed is used to collect light and focuses a real image of the object inside the microscope (image 1). Image 1 is then magnified by the eyepiece lens that is located close to the viewer’s eyes to produce an enlarged inverted virtual image of the object (image 2).
Compound microscope has many variants designed for different purposes. The most common ones are:
- Stereo Microscope – also called dissection microscope. It is a low-powered microscope which provides a view of a sample with a three-dimensional effect, adding an illusion of depth to a flat image.
- Inverted Microscope – useful for studying samples for metallography or for cell cultures in liquid where samples are being viewed from below.
- Comparison Microscope – has two separate light paths, useful for direct comparison of two samples through the view of one image in each eye.
Microscope Parts & Functions
- Eyepiece lens – also called an ocular lens which typically has magnifying power of 10x. This is the lens located at the top of the microscope from which the viewer looks through.
- Body Tube – separates the eyepiece and objective lenses to hold them in place and to ensure alignment of the optics.
- Revolving nose-piece – also called objective turret which holds the objectives of varying powers and permits them to be interchanged while maintaining the specimen focus. It enables to change the magnification with an easy rotation of the objectives.
- Objectives – this are the cylindrical housing containing the second lens that collects light from the sample, which are screwed into a circular nose-piece. A typical compound microscope has 3 or 4 objectives. According to Wikipedia, microscope objectives are characterized by two parameters: 1) Magnification and 2) Numerical Aperture. Magnification typically ranges from 5x to 100x. Numerical aperture ranges from 0.14 to 0.7, corresponding to focal lengths of about 40 to 2 mm, respectively. As the numerical aperture increases, focal length of an objective decreases, the magnifying power increases.
- Stage – is a flat platform with a hole in the center through which light passes to illuminate the specimen. This is used to position the specimen being viewed. It typically comes with a clip to hold the slide and specimen in place.
- Condenser – is a lens that is designed to focus light from the source onto the sample.
- Lamp – Also called the light source, which can be halogen lamps, LED’s, fluorescent lamps or as simple as daylight which is directed by a mirror.
- Base – the bottom of the microscope that enables it to stand in a stable position
- Coarse Focusing Knob – Adjusts the stage up and down faster and more aggressively.
- Fine Focusing Knob – Adjusts the stage up and down at a smaller increment every turn. This is to fine tune the best image resolution.
- Arm – also called the Joint. Supports the body tube and connects the eyepiece to the base.
- Slide with Specimen – The slide is typically made up of a flat and clear plastic or glass that is used to hold the specimen.
What to Look For in a Kid’s Microscope
Microscope features suitable for older kids ages 6 years old and up are different from those that are suitable for kids 5 years old and under. Below are the factors to consider when looking for the best microscope for kids ages 6+:
- Component Material: Microscopes made of metal or heavy-duty component and glass lenses are more desirable compared to light, cheap plastic material.
- Build and Design: A solid and sturdy constructed microscope with more neutral color creates a feel of using a real microscope being used by professionals. This also enables longer use and makes it worth your money. The ease of use is equally important as being dictated by its design.
- Focus and Magnification: This is a vital factor for older kids to have in a microscope. Kids 6 years old and up are ready to switch through the different powers of the objective lens in a microscope and can appreciate more this capability of looking a specimen at higher magnifications. It is also equally important to be able to focus the image easily as kids at this age can still easily get frustrated.
- Light Source: Specimens must be illuminated properly for better image viewing. The light source must be bright and lasts long.
- Accessories Included: The more accessories included with the price the better. More accessories can be beneficial to older children to be able to keep their attention span longer and provide more variety in what they can do with the microscope.
I have listed below the best microscopes suitable for older kids ages 6 years old and up under $70. They are generally sturdy, more advanced with more accessories and features and more magnification options.
Talking about accessories, this AmScope M30-ABS-KT2-W Microscope kit has a whopping 52-pcs accessory kit including 10 prepared slides and a handy dandy carrying box. It boasts of having a wide range magnification (120x-1200x), a metal body and an LED and mirror illumination. It is a beginner compound microscope but is equipped with a rack-and-pinion course focus mechanism.
- Made with durable and stain-resistant white metal frame body and glass optical lenses
- Has pivot joint between the base and arm allowing it to adjust the angle of sight
- Revolving nose-piece provides 120x, 240x, 300x, 480x, 600x and 1200x magnifications
- Has built in LED and mirror illumination and built-in color filter wheel
- Comes with 52-piece accessory kit and hard-sided plastic ABS case
- Battery operated, no electrical wires to worry about (needs 2 AA batteries included in the kit)
- Includes instructions how to create your own slides out of the blank slides provided
- No fine focusing knob adjustment, which makes it hard to focus
- Reports on some units having dirty/dusty lenses and some are defective or broken as received. Some reported missing pieces
National Geographic Dual LED Student Microscope is a beginner microscope that boasts of its capability to view both 2D specimens on the prepared slides using the lower LED lights and to view 3D larger objects using the upper LED lights. It includes over 50 accessories includes set of prepared slides covers, tweezers, eye dropper, Petri dish, blank slides and learning guide. It is different from a typical compound microscope in a way that the ocular lenses or eyepiece lenses are detachable and interchangeable between 2 options – 10x & 25x lenses while the objective lens is fixated inside the tube at 2x. Another awesome feature is its capability for the eyepieces to swivel for viewers’ eye comfort as they can be adjusted easily to fit the eyes for both children and adult.
- Solid construction, made up of hard plastic with two sets of optical glass eyepieces
- Eyepieces swivel for viewers’ maximum comfort
- Equipped with fine focus knob for better focus adjustment
- Battery operated no electrical wires to worry about (uses 2 AA batteries which are not included)
- National Geographic offers 100% Satisfaction Guarantee with 2-year warranty
- Comes in 3 different body colors to choose from – green, silver & brown
- Comes with over 50-pieces accessories including a padded box & microscope cover
- Has limited and low magnification range of only 20x and 50x using two sets of 10x & 25x ocular lenses.
- No storage or carrying case
Nancy B’s Science Club Microscope is a 2-in-1 light and dissecting monocular microscope with 3 magnifications – 30x, 100x and 400x. Has both top and bottom lights which enables to view objects in 2D using the bottom illumination and in 3D using the top light. It also includes a 22-pages activity journal containing experiments, activities and creative drawings. It also comes with 4 prepared slides, blank slides, dropper, scalpel, Petri dish, collection tubes, tweezers, and slides label. Magnifications can be adjusted by moving the black disk up & down using the focusing knob.
- Sturdy built and easy to use
- Comes with over 40-pieces accessories
- Battery-operated, no electrical wires to worry about (uses 3 AAA)
- No storage or carrying case
- Issues reported about dirty plastic lens and misaligned parts
My First Lab Mini-Duo Scope is an introductory microscope which boasts of having a Dual LED Illumination system. This system provides illumination on the glass slide from above as well as from below allowing viewing specimens on 3D view and 2D view, respectively. It also boasts of its proprietary, professional grade coated lenses that greatly improves clarity and retains lens in good condition. Nose-piece includes 40x, 100x, 400x magnification. Includes 20 pieces accessories – Brine shrimp eggs specimen vial, hatchery, 3 empty specimen vials, 1 yeast specimen vial, graduated cylinder, specimen slicer, magnifying glass, plastic forceps, plastic transfer pipette, 8 plain & 3 prepared slides, slide labels & cover glass and instruction manual.
- Provides better clearer images, thanks to its proprietary coated lens and dual lighting system
- Battery operated no electrical wires to worry about (uses 3 AA batteries which are not included)
- Comes with over 20 accessories
- Price is cheap
- Body is made with plastic material including the optics
- Hard to focus
- No carrying case to keep the accessories
- Issues reported about intermittent illumination lights or out right defective and some items with missing pieces
Telmu Compound Monocular Microscope is described as “Affordable Quality Microscope for Kids and Beginners” in Amazon. It offers dual LED illumination, top and bottom, to see translucent objects on the slides in 2D view using the bottom light and to see opaque objects in 3D view lit from above the slide. It has revolving nose-piece with 4 objectives lenses – 4x, 10x, and 40x and 2 interchangeable/detachable wide angle eyepieces lenses – 10x, 25x providing a wider range of magnification. What’s unique and super cool about this introductory microscope is its capability to take pictures and videos using a cell phone, thanks to its innovative cell phone adapter that can easily be attached on the eyepiece. It also comes with 14 accessories which includes 4 prepared slides and 6 blank slides, phone adapter and user manual.
- Made with solid full metal frame with stain resistant enamel finish and glass optical lenses
- Easy to focus using both the coarse and fine focus knobs
- Easy to use with its 45 degrees inclined monocular eyepiece for better angle of viewing
- Has wide range of magnifications 40x, 100x, 250x, 400x and 1000x
- Equipped with cell phone adapter for real time image & video captures that is suitable for any cell phone model
- Equipped with Five Color Changeable Disc Diaphragm to provide better image filtering
- Adjustable brightness/dimmable bottom LED light
- Battery operated no electrical wires to worry about (uses 3 AAA batteries which are not included)
- Telmu provides 2 year warranty
- No storage or carrying case
- Issues reported about its strong foul odor and higher magnifications are rarely used as it is hard to focus
This microscope kit comes with 72-pieces Accessory Set, Handy Storage Case and Microscope Smartphone Adapter. It offers higher magnifications at 300x 600x 1200x. It is equipped with a reflecting mirror for natural illumination and LED light for direct illumination.
- Made with durable metal arm and base
- Includes a LOT of accessories – 72 pieces
- Has Built-in rotating color filter wheel
- Equipped with built-in cell phone adapter for real time image & video capture
- Come with sturdy ABS Storage case
- Battery operated no electrical wires to worry about (uses 2 AAA batteries which are not included)
- Hard to focus due to only high magnifications available
- Issues reported about dirty lens, some are defective or broken as received. Some reported missing instruction manual.
When looking for scientific toys, it is always great to find cool features rather than settling to just the basic features. For microscope suitable for kids ages 6 – 14 years old, having the capability to take real-time pictures and videos using smart phones is definitely a big plus on top of the basic requirement that it must be durable, offers wide range of magnification, has dependable light source and have accessories included. Out of the list I came up above, the Telmu X75 Microscope Dual Illumination Handheld Lab Compound Monocular Microscope stand out among the rest which garnered the most pros for the price of just under $70.
What do you think about these microscopes? Let me know what you think below.