The top performers in our review are the Omano OM117L, the Gold Award winner; My First Lab Duo-Scope, the Silver Award winner; and TK2 Scope, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 15 scopes.
Why Buy a Kids Microscope?
Some of the stats are rather glum. Many elementary-aged students are not as motivated to achieve in math and science as parents and teachers would like. A study by the U.S. Department of Education, and a few other interested groups, tells part of that story. In 2011, the last time the test was tallied, it revealed South Korea and Singapore as world leaders in fourth-grade math and science. Eight other countries had higher averages than the U.S. At the eighth-grade level, Singapore and Taiwan dominated. There were 11 countries that ranked higher than the U.S. Regardless of ranking, it is safe to assume that some educators are looking for ways to encourage higher achievement in math and science. So are parents.
Buying the right microscope may seem like a small step, but if it encourages curiosity about the natural world it is a worthwhile investment, one that may prompt future discoveries for your child and more engagement in science schoolwork.
Possibly even more important to parents than achievement in academics and future careers is the worthy cause of letting kids enjoy being kids. They naturally want to explore the world. The best kids microscopes allow them to do that on a different level. They can see objects from their everyday lives in a whole new way. When you see the wonder on a child's face the first time they get a look at a strand of their hair or an onion skin in their very own microscope you will know you made a good investment.
Even though we had children in mind as we looked for microscopes, we were not looking for toys. In fact, we avoided microscopes that are made and marketed by toy companies. Their plastic lenses and other flimsy parts generally offer only a handful of uses with sub-par views.
We looked instead for models from manufacturers who also make professional-level microscopes, or those that specialize in high-quality educational toys. We sought out a microscope for kids that is more than a toy but less than a professional instrument.
Quality views are paramount, even in a beginner microscope. We looked at multiple specimens with each instrument, using the same slides and subjects each time in the same lighting. We chose a few things that would likely interest a child with his or her first microscope, including a slice of onion, a honeybee leg, a penny and a blade of grass, and we scored the views of each at multiple magnifications.
We prefer the combination of a compound and dissecting microscope for children so they can make slides of translucent specimens and get a close-up of solid objects with one instrument. We also prefer those that use a light source besides a mirror because it can be tough to get the mirror angled just right. Those with built-in light sources offer a better view that is easier to find. We looked at the quality and quantity of included equipment, too. Your child should have tweezers, slides, stains, collection vials and other supplies so they can start examining their world right away. They do not need to be of lab quality, but we expect something relatively sturdy that will stand up through many experiments.
There are some very respectable options for children's microscopes that have to be plugged in to a wall to work, but we prefer portable options, generally. That gives kids the option to look at the pond water right next to the pond or to take their microscope along when visiting grandmother. That means you'll need to purchase some extra batteries.
Do I want a Digital Microscope for Children?
In general we prefer traditional microscopes, especially the compound and dissecting 2-in-1 combinations, but there is plenty to be said for digital microscopes. They are more often marketed and sold at the professional level to those who work as quality inspectors in manufacturing. There are some on the market for kids too, though, and they have gotten better over the years.
The best digital microscope is not as good as the best traditional one, generally, yet. Part of the problem is portability and part of the problem is that pointing and clicking at a specimen is not the same as positioning a slide and moving the dials to get it into focus. Kids gain a lot of understanding about the function of each part of the microscope during that process. The views are generally not as crisp with a digital microscope, either, but we found a few that we are happy to recommend in our kids microscope reviews. One major advantage is that digital scopes can take pictures. That is a pretty major advantage that outweighs some of the disadvantages, depending on your child. Our panel of testers aged 8 to 12 enjoyed the digital scopes because they could point them at their own eyeballs and really anything nearby. When it comes to the traditional uses of a microscope, though, the digital scopes still fall short, at least at this price point. Children on our panel wrote: "kind of dark," "you have to hold your hand very still" and "hard to see" about the digital scopes we reviewed.
Kids Microscopes: Our Verdict and Recommendations
We were impressed with many instruments along the way but awarded the Omano OM117L, My First Lab Duo-Scope and TK2 Scope with our Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, respectively. These microscopes will be perfect for children of elementary school age. They are much better quality than the toy scopes marketed to toddlers and have high-quality optics that would be respectable even when compared with the microscopes on college campuses, but they still have a low price that is reasonable for something a child will be using. Read our articles about kids microscopes for even more information.