Microscope fun for toddlers - household substances edition
November 12, 2015 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Dear hivemind: I'm going to bring a 300X video microscope to my daughter's preschool. What easily obtainable substances will be super cool to view? Bacteria are too small, red blood cells are a biohazard. Toddlers could care less about onion skins, cork, and plant vasculature in my experience, and I am not doing anything that requires fixing/staining.

A few thoughts:
- pond water animals (what's the best way to slow them down? e.g. sugar, PEG, etc.)
- salt
- pepper
- dryer lint
- sand
- glitter
- colored sugar
- fingerprints / fingers
- dust mites / eyelash mites (?)
posted by benzenedream to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are "toddlers" older than two? Because I wonder if many of them will understand the whole concept of a microscope. At any rate, sticking with everyday objects will probably be best. Paper money is fascinating to look at under a microscope, and leaves (green or dry autumn) would also be neat.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2015

Curly hair. You can show them regular round hair from one teacher and then the triangly hair from a curly haired teacher.

You could also do compare and contrast -- showing how salt looks like blocks, how the seams of their clothes look like the ribs in plant leaves, etc.
posted by tilde at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2015

A (squished?) bug. As in a bug so small you can barely see it... but you can see it. Part of the impact when I was little was being able to see that the microscope image is recognizably exactly the same thing you're looking at, but super amazing detailed. So you can barely see a mm-long wing by eye, then on the scope you can see it in incredible detail, then look back at the wing, then look back the image, etc. 300X might be a bit much for that though.
posted by anonymisc at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about their hair, both the roots and curly vs straight?
posted by angst at 10:30 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whole milk looked pretty cool, as I recall... giant lipid spheres floating in space.
posted by XMLicious at 10:32 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ohhh.... Diatoms look awesome and diatomaceous earth isn't super hard to find.
posted by Captain_Science at 10:34 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Refrigerate pond water samples before you look at them (or depending on the clearance the microscope has, add an ice cube) to slow down little critters. Maybe you don't need want to deal with dry ice, but a tiny chunk of dry ice in a glass petri dish with an insect (not touching it) will put it in torpor so you can get a good look at it. Sounds like a fun activity!
posted by Drosera at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: If it'd be appropriate, ask the kids to pick something in the classroom to look at. I'd encourage them towards a book or fabric toy; plastic is boring. But my kid's favorite thing to look at when he comes and visits my lab is "whatever I'll let him put in there"; knowing he's seeing something he picked is the part of the process he enjoys most.

You could also superglue a bug to a slide--a fruit fly or small ant would be easy to get, recognizable to the kids, small enough to seem tiny to them, and gigantic and amazing under the scope. Butterfly wings are suuuuper cool magnified and kids love butterflies.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:38 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Flies, bees, any bugs you can lay your hands on. My son at that age spent about two hours one day looking at bug after bug after bug. Did you know that bees' eyes have HAIR growing out of them. Super cool.
posted by anastasiav at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2015

Can you get some of those little water hippos or whatever they're called?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2015

Response by poster: Kids will range from 3-5 years old.
posted by benzenedream at 11:17 AM on November 12, 2015

Can you get some of those little water hippos or whatever they're called?

"Water Bears", aka tardigrades.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Wretch729 at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2015

Right...water bears...for some reason I always confuse them with house hippos.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You really can't beat pond muck, in my experience. The muckier the better. I wouldn't even try to make it a clean, flat mount - I usually find more crazy organisms if I put a fair amount of grit, mud, and plant matter on the slide. Not much reason to try to slow them down, either, in my opinion. It's fun to see all the microscopic creatures darting around doing the weird things they do. If you're lucky, you may even see water fleas, ostracods, any of several varieties of worms, or other multicellular creepy-crawlies.

If they're old enough to understand, it's also fun to cotton swab the inside of their cheeks to pick up some epithelial cells, then smear it on a slide. Add some stains to see different structures.

If you can find a really, really thin leaf, you can see plant cells and chloroplasts. Some algae are good candidates for this.

If you can find some legally, Elodea is a water plant that has leaves that exhibit very obvious and beautiful cytoplasmic streaming. Unfortunately, it's very invasive, and therefore banned in some areas.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:17 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: A gold fish. You wrap it in a wet paper towel to keep it passive, and look through one of its fins. You can see the blood flowing, which is awesome.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2015

Cloth or thread looks pretty amazing magnified.

Dustcfrom the floor perhaps?
posted by bricksNmortar at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2015

I recall in my kindergarten class, we had a demonstration where we looked at dental plaque (from one of my classmate's teeth) under a microscope. It gave the kids a better idea of what "germs" were, and as a plus also motivated everybody to brush their teeth that night!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 3:10 PM on November 12, 2015

Sounds like great fun! I would caution against lifting samples from any of the kids in order to show them the gross things that are on us. Kids being kids, the kid you get the sample from could find himself the target of teasing and the like for being unclean, gross, etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Paper money? Computer circuit board? Sea monkeys?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:20 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: Someone mentioned salt above... you could do salt compared to sugar. Regale them with stories about the time someone put salt in the sugar bowl. Ahaha, wasn't Grandma angry!!!

Then you sprinkle a bit of each onto each kids' desk, and ask them to try to separate them. Then put a few grains of each on your slide and voila! easy to tell them apart.

It could lead to a whole concept of things that look one way to the average person's eye, but using science tools we can tell the truth about the issue.
posted by CathyG at 12:58 PM on November 13, 2015

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