What should we spy with our magnified eye?
May 18, 2024 3:26 PM   Subscribe

At a small library, we are setting up a little table with a magnifying glass or two and cool stuff for kids to look at. What should this cool stuff be? We have a science kit with 'bugs' in clear cubes. We will get some shells too. What else should we get? Best answers will be free, toddler safe, and interesting for all ages. thanks.
posted by calgirl to Education (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about a (plastic) mirror, so they can look at their own faces through the magnifying lens?

Blocks of wood, interesting rocks, some fabric, pressed flowers or leaves.
posted by jedicus at 3:36 PM on May 18

A piece of leather with the outer skin side visible, and a leaf (back and front sides) - to look at leaf hais, stomata and leaf patterns,

The part of a grass stem where the leaf blade enter the stem [image of leaf parts for wheat, rye, barely, oats on an .au agriculture site], and barley in Manitoba, there are two structure there that look like shirt collars - basically all grasses can be identified if you know these parts.
posted by unearthed at 3:37 PM on May 18

Anyone have dead computers around? Electronics boards are pretty interesting.

Some books— the more cheaply printed the better, so they can see the halftone dots.

Maybe fingerprints? (Done ahead of time, of course...)
posted by zompist at 3:44 PM on May 18

Feathers, hair, dried fruit, rocks, fabrics
posted by Archipelago at 3:47 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Different types of hair (human compared to dog, curly vs straight hair, young vs old/white hair), natural and synthetic fibers (cotton and silk compared to nylon or polyester), crystals (grains of salt, sugar, sand, dirt), drops of pond water, wings (feathers, bug wings, butterfly and moth)
posted by Illusory contour at 3:48 PM on May 18

posted by chrisulonic at 3:59 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]

dandelion seeds

moss - several kinds - kept alive


human hair

pond water - only handleable by an adult



saltine crackers

a shoe with an interesting sole pattern

a pom pom

intricate embossed metal buttons, probably attached to something un-swallowable

a paintbrush

a painting with different textures

a mosaic

glazed and unglazed pottery or flowerpots

samples of different kinds of wood and bark (again, probably attached to something larger)

a photo of a small container of salsa

a watch with exposed gears, possibly inside a clear container

natural sand collected locally - the kind with different tiny rocks in it

something knitted; something else knitted with a different pattern

a zipper

screws (points driven into some oak so they can't be removed, but long enough that the threads can be examined - the students can note the direction the threads are going, the type of head, metal color, etc.)

aluminum foil


pearlescent nail polish, either in a bottle or painted onto something

An old circuit board with color-banded resistors, transistors, capacitors, chips, etc.


a small divided clear box containing different grains: barley, whole wheat, rice, quinoa

glitter (attached to something)

sequins (attached to something)

Finally - set things up so they can experience the inverted image effect. Either do a version of this flashlight experiment, or situate the station a good distance from but with a clear view of a bright window and set up a white surface to capture an inverted image of that window, using the magnifying glass to focus light from the window and surrounding wall/ceiling area.
posted by amtho at 4:26 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Clearly I am in love with this question.


piece of pine straw

pine cone

acorn with nibble marks on it

empty snail shell

snake skin

small chain

furry and non-furry leaves

cheese rasp

velcro / hook-and-loop fasteners

different kinds of feathers

non-drying dough or clay so that they can pick up textures from e.g. their clothes, fingernails, etc., and then see that texture inverted. Also - a light-colored clay texture may be easier to see than dark-colored texture in new denim or a black cell phone.

reading glasses for adults so they can see as much detail as the kids
posted by amtho at 4:36 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Also - You might be able to print pictures or words at a size just a little too small to understand, that are delightful to discover with the magnifier. If you don't have a printer hi-res enough, maybe a local FedEx or something does.
posted by amtho at 4:40 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]

some colorful old neckties
posted by Rash at 4:44 PM on May 18

I just want to say as a totally blind dude I wish I could see some of this magnified stuff :)

I also wondered about microscopes, but guess that's maybe a bit orthogonal to the question.
posted by Alensin at 5:34 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

A carrot top growing in a dish of water
Pine cones
Leaves, fresh and dried
Tree bark - brown, and birch
Pine needles
Interesting rocks or crystals
Birdseed, some sprouted if you have time
Dried flowers, like Baby's breath
A durable plant cutting with roots in water, like pothos
An orange peel (let it get dried up)
Can anyone give you a shed snake skin?
An empty lobster or crab claw
A badminton birdie
A tennis ball
A sock!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:35 PM on May 18

A few sets of things where you have a natural version and a manmade or processed version so you can see the difference in the structure up close:

Slices of luffa or sea sponge with kitchen sponge
Cotton pod with cotton ball
Uncarded wool with undyed but wound yarn
Solid wood with chip board or plywood without veneer

Be sure to set up some adjustable lighting with the collection of things so people can move the lighting around to pick up details better depending on the object and time of day and all that.
posted by Mizu at 8:24 PM on May 18


A “diamond” or faceted crystal from costume jewelry

Glitter from a Christmas card
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:42 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

When I was in preschool, one of my favorite things to play with at the stations they had set up was lengths of cut bead necklaces. These were the Mardi Gras bead type, like translucent plastic purple dodecahedrons fused onto the string, so the kids couldn't pull them off.
posted by limeonaire at 6:32 AM on May 19

Seeds! I'm a preschool teacher and we planted seeds last week. While doing that I pulled out the magnifying glasses so we could look and describe them. We even discovered that some of our seeds had started germinating (we think).
posted by kathrynm at 8:54 AM on May 19

Beach sand, sugar, salt, baking powder, a bug with giant compound eyes (for the hexagons) like a horse fly or dragon fly, live ant farm/ants in a petri dish with saltine crumbs, a bee stinger vs a wasp stinger, jumping spider fangs, a shed snakeskin, a #2 pencil tip.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:32 PM on May 19

Consider using cheap plastic jeweler’s loupes, which block out the periphery to enhance ‘focus’ on the object in question.
posted by carterk at 3:05 PM on May 19

Coins, specifically the teeny tiny Lincoln monument on the US penny. Not toddler-safe on its own, but should be easy to glue to something non-swallowable-size.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:10 PM on May 19

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