3 Helpful Tips for Teaching Kids How to Use a Microscope

Fostering an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education at an early age enables children to hone their critical thinking skills through the excitement of learning about the world around them. Even the most liberal arts-leaning students are bound to find the artistic beauty within a microscope slide as they explore the vascular system of a leaf or the alien appearance of a magnified butterfly leg. Below are three helpful tips for teachers or parents for teaching children how to use a microscope for the first time. 

1. Identify the Parts

Before they even touch a microscope for the first time, it may be helpful to give a lesson on identifying the individual components. Not only will this familiarize them with the device enough that they can easily take direction, but when kids are comfortable identifying and talking about the parts, they will be confident enough to ask questions. When children feel intimidated about a subject, they often feel too insecure to ask key questions that could deepen their understanding and excitement about what they are seeing. 

Children are also more likely to take care of equipment when they understand how it works. By teaching them how to use a microscope and the ways in which each part contributes to making the whole thing work, you help them cultivate a respect for the device. When students learn that microscopes work through the careful positioning of glass lenses and mirrors, they will probably take greater care not to drop them or knock them over. Quizzing students before you get started is an excellent way to make sure everyone is ready for the next step.  

2. Set Up a Slide

Once your students can identify the main components of the microscope, they can move on to the fun part–setting up a slide. Prepared slide kits are a great way to introduce kids to the minute details that can be found in creatures they encounter each day. However, it’s important for kids to know how to set up slides on their own as well. Give your student a slide, specimen, water dropper and cover slide. Emphasize that the slide must be clean in order to view the specimen without the interference of fingerprints and dust, and show him/her how to properly clean the slide. Paper towels can leave fibers and other minute particles behind on the slide, so always use a special glass-cleaning cloth. 

Once the specimen is on the center of the clean slide, place a drop of distilled water over it before you add the coverslip. Distilled water is free of the microbes that may appear in tap water. This drop of water ensures bubbles won’t appear over your specimen as you place the coverslip on top of it. It also acts as a binder, keeping the two slides together. Teach your student to line up one of the long ends of the coverslip against a long end of the slide and then slowly lower the cover until it rests evenly on top of the slide. Once the slide and coverslip are aligned, they are ready to be placed on the student microscope’s stage. 

3. Finding and Magnifying the Specimen 

Once the slide is on the stage and secured with the clips, ask your student to look through the eyepiece and try to find the specimen using the objective lens with the lowest magnification. Show them that the lens with the lowest objective is always the one furthest from the slide. Always begin with this lens. Ask your student to find the specimen and then move the slide until the specimen is centered within the field of view. 

When the specimen is centered, show your student how to use the focus knob to get the clearest view. Going through these steps with the lowest objective will make sure your student understands the steps before using other lenses. Once he or she is comfortable with the process, you can have fun experimenting with different magnifications and styles of objective lenses. 

For kids to fully understand how something works, it’s imperative that they learn the basics first. By teaching your student how to label the parts, set up the slides and maneuver the magnification of a microscope, you are laying the foundation for responsible microscope use. Whether you are working in a well-stocked school lab or with an all-inclusive kid's microscope kit, microscope skills begin with a thorough understanding of the device and all its accessories.