Microscope and telescope for a 4.5-year-old?
July 1, 2012 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Can I get a telescope and microscope for around $150 (or less) that will be impressive to a 4.5-year-old boy, and still be useful for a few years?

My son played with a microscope at a zoo and thought it was very cool to see beetles and seashells up close. He's also expressed interest in a telescope, and I think he would flip out if he could see the moon's craters or Jupiter and the Galilean moons. We'd use the microscope to look at bugs, leaves, maybe pond water, etc. 

I've never shopped for either before, so I have no idea what to look for. This microscope and this telescope got decent reviews but, are they overkill? I'd like to find something between a toy that won't be "good enough" in a few years and something very nice but expensive. Thank you!
posted by DakotaPaul to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The linked microscope seems too powerful for what your son found interesting. Although the reviews says it can view solid objects, at a 40x magnification might be too much. When I have my students view amoebas, for examples, I don't go above 100x - 400x might be overkill (and I see the manufacturer recommedns a 9 year old starting age)

This one might be a bit better? I haven't used it personally, but I think I used a similar one some years ago and it was pretty nice, but it's still for a higher age group.

This one looks like it might be best.

I wouldn't worry about getting something that's not "good enough in a few years" - it might be better to get something simple now to make sure he'll be interested on his own. If he shows a contined interest, the "new, better microscope" will be a great Birthday present.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2012

How about this microscope that hooks up to the TV? That way you two can look at things together, and there's no concern about frustration over focusing, etc. Kids that young have a really hard time with one-eye focus and even the fine motor skills required to focus the lens.

I kind of want an EyeClops. And I'm in my mid-twenties.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:09 PM on July 1, 2012

Consider a handheld magnifier (Loupe), instead or as well as a microscope.

Dealextreme's got lots of magnifiers and handheld microscopes, many at impulse-buy prices, along with usb digital microscopes.

This one looks good. And has numerous positive reviews. Lots of shoddy stuff on that website, apparently, according to the other fellow on ask metafilter that mentioned it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:19 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the microscope, i think a stereo microscope would be better for that age bracket.

the telescope would be useful for land viewing too, which would be quite cool, particularly if he wants to be a pirate.
posted by wilful at 12:23 AM on July 2, 2012

I had one of these when I was five. It was the biggest, most awesome present I had ever gotten up until that point (from my personal perspective). I played with it for years, looking at fabric, bugs, dirt, leaves, money, skin, grass, the comics page, the TV screen, you name it.

There are newer models with more knobs (the lens zooms), and even the original is upgraded with a bright LED light, but I would resist the urge to get him something super fancy. Get him something serviceable and rugged and simple to use. Don't spend $150 on instruments for a five year old... with kids utility and durability is more important than price.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:45 AM on July 2, 2012

Just a note about telescopes. We bought one that was in the $500 range, thinking it was "more than a toy", but didn't break the bank. Unfortunately, because it was cheap (as telescopes go, apparently), it was a pain in the ass twiddly-fiddly thing to set up, and as such, we didn't set it up all that often. When we did, it felt like we could see Neil Armstrong's footprints, it was that cool. But it would take forever to get it to that point, and by then, our daughter had wandered off to chase lightning bugs or something.

Are you near an observatory of any kind? Our local community college (which happens to have a small planetarium) hosted an event for owners of consumer-grade telescopes like ours, where they would have their astronomy club available to help us set it up, and to give us tips and tricks about getting the most out of it. The advice we got was we should have gone to them for advice before we bought it. :-) So, I pass that advice on to you. Find an astronomy club, and go to one of their events, and ask around. Maybe they'll even help you find a good deal on a used one.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:45 PM on July 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the responses. I think I'll stick with an inexpensive microscope for now (though that EyeClops looks way cool!) and see where it goes.
posted by DakotaPaul at 2:47 PM on July 3, 2012

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