Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Science for The Holidays!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I love the holidays! I love taking walks on cool nights, with hot cocoa in our hands and dazzling light displays reflecting our eyes. It's a time for family, food, and celebration. It's also a time for gift giving! As I was looking around for awesome holiday gifts for my family, I thought I'd put together a list of some of my favorite toys, games, and microscope to share with you and yours!

Without further ado...

MICROSCOPES

So, you've wanted to get a microscope for your kids, but which one should you get? With all of the options, price ranges, accessories, and kits out there, it can be really difficult to figure out what will work best for you. When shopping for a microscope, here are the things you should be looking for:

  • 3-4 objective lenses 
  • A stage (where you put the slides) that is adjustable and has clips to hold your slides in place.
  • An ability to focus!
  • Durability and longevity! We want our microscopes to be able to withstand being carried around, loved, and used by our little ones throughout the years, from our littlest 4 year olds to our 18 year old high school seniors.
  • Cost: Microscopes can be expensive. There are some really great microscopes out there that will cost a few hundred dollars, and they're pretty fantastic. However, there are some really great microscopes out there that won't burn a hole in your wallet!
If you want to spend some time to learn about microscopes and have an in depth look at what to look out for when purchasing microscopes (compound, stereo, monocular, binocular, oil immersion, etc), here is a fantastic post by The Microscope Master. This is by far, the most comprehensive site I've ever seen for reviews of various microscopes and understanding how they work.

As for us, I have a couple of recommendations:

Vivitar Microscope Kit
Image Credit: Vivitar.com

Vivitar Microscope Kit
$20-$30

If you're looking for an inexpensive microscope to introduce your kids to, this is a great beginner microscope! This became our favorite microscope to use when we're on the go. This microscope has been taken to the park, on vacations, to the beach, it's been all over the place and is still working like a champ! The microscope comes in a kit with some dissection tools, a specimen slicer, specimen holders, prepared slides, blank slides, a spare bulb, and a hefty carrying case!

Pros: Inexpensive!
         Portable, plastic microscope
         Great kit with neat biology/dissection tools

Cons: Cannot take it apart
          Non adjustable stage
          Everything is plastic

If you already know that you really want a microscope, your kids are totally into it, and you want something that will remain a fantastic educational instrument for many years to come, then check this out!

AmScope Microscope
Image Credit: Amazon.com

AmScope Compound Microscope
$80-$90

This is a solid microscope that has great lenses, an adjuster that allows you to double the magnification of your lenses, and will provide you with a great quality viewing for years to come!

Pros: Metal Body
         Glass lenses
         Adjustable Stage
         Battery powered or with a wall outlet power supply
         You can take it apart to clean it (please see note on microscope care!)

Cons: Doesn't come with a biology/dissection kit

Finally, if you're wanting to check out a microscope that you can hook up to your TV or computer for large scale viewing, check out this digital microscope, also made by AmScope.

AmScope Digital Microscope
Image Credit: Amazon.com

AmScope Compound Microscope with USB Digital Camera Manager
$120-$130

In addition to offering the software and hardware for putting your cells on the big screen, you'll also have finer focusing options, and a fully rotating head to swivel about as you view your specimens.

Pros: Has the software necessary to view specimens on larger screens
         Adjustable Stage
         Removable glass lenses
         Swivel head that rotates 360 degrees
         Coarse and fine focus

Cons: Doesn't come with a biology/dissection kit

Microscopes make fantastic gifts for inspired minds! Beyond the standard slides containing fleas and strands of hair, there is a multitude of creatures to watch and ponder as you explore the world of the very small!

As for those dissection kits, check out this catalog from Carolina Biological Supply! Here you can order just about anything you'd like to dissect, and they'll send the tools you'll need as well! Priced at around $10 or less, these are some fantastic science projects that will be worth every penny!

Frog Dissection Kit
Image Credit: Carolina Biological Supply

Finally, a quick note on microscope care:
Always cover your microscope with a small towel or dust cover! While it may be tempting to leave it out on display, once dust gets into the inner lenses it can be extremely difficult to remove. Always keep covered when not in use!

You can take your microscope lenses off to clean them. All it takes are some sterile cotton swabs and original Windex window cleaner (you can also use Kim Wipes to get the outer part of the lenses). However, it is a very meticulous process, requiring careful consideration. Here is a fantastic tutorial on how to clean your microscopes, give it a watch before you begin!

SCIENCE KITS AND SUPPLIES

Alright, so you've got a microscope and you've already looked at everything you can think of. What's next? Well, why not add some culture into your life?


Steve Spangler sells an awesome bacteria growth kit with everything you'll need to grow some epic bacteria cultures! Around $15 will get you 6 petri dishes, a packet of agar, cotton swabs, a beaker and an activity guide. This will last for a couple of bacteria growth experiments.

If you want something that will get you through a lot of experiments, head on over to Home Training Tools where for around $30, you'll get 20 petri dishes, two bottles of agar, and enough equipment to keep you growing weird things in your home for weeks!

Speaking of lab supplies, where should you go to get them? If you're looking to stock up on some basic lab equipment head on over to Science Bob's Science Store! This middle school science teacher has a fantastic site for buying lab supplies, science kits, and even awesome kids books (with the science behind the activities, of course)! At prices ranging from $2-$40, this is a great place to pick up some basic lab supplies (seriously, $4-$6 for 20 petri dishes is a great deal!).

If, however, you're looking for a more all inclusive chemistry kit for your older chemists, check out this fantastic chemistry set (with real chemicals!) from Home Training Tools!


It's a bit more expensive, coming in at $65, but if chemistry is something that your older kids are really interested in, this will be a very useful kit for many years to come!

TOYS BOOKS AND GAMES


Ever Baby Knows The Scientific Method!
Image Credit: Tiffany Ard
If you've seen this awesome picture floating around the internet, then you've already heard of Tiffany Ard of Nerdy Baby Artwork! Tiffany has an amazing store filled with fantastic books and toys for your budding scientist! Her ABC Science flash cards can be found in science museums all around the country (including the great American Museum of Natural History!) and her store is a veritable goldmine of nerdy baby treasures! My absolute favorite is this fantastic coloring book, featuring atoms, cells, laws of science, and even this adorable activity for feeding Darwin's Finches!


It's a coloring book of chemistry, biology, physics and more! There's binary code, a page on Enrico Fermi, Kepler's Law, cells, even a wonderful bedtime story for your little lab! At only $12, this wonderfully geeky coloring book is just waiting for your kids to fill with the delights of Roy G. Biv!

Speaking of color and light, have you ever wanted to get into electronics but weren't sure how to start? Do your kids like playing with their toys, taking things apart, and trying to make them work? If so, check out Snap Circuits! Snap Circuits come with covered wires, switches, motors, resistors, fans, and batteries! You can start with a basic set featuring a ton of fun electronics activities, and build on to it with kits designed to experiment with sound, light and optics, alternative energy, and a whole host of scientific concepts!

Snap Circuits
Image Credit: snapcircuits.net
The first kit starts out at $20 and will immediately get your kids going with building problem solving and engineering skills as they set to work building their own circuits! It's fun, safe, and is by far, one of our favorite science kits in our house!

Finally, if you're looking for some awesome books for your budding scientists, I have two recommendations!
Exploralab!
Image Credit: Weldon Owen Publishing
The first is Exploralab! We recently received and reviewed a copy of this book and it has quickly become a favorite in our house. It's pages beg kids to explore, as they are filled with little nooks and crannies, hiding interactive scientific delights! It takes you from the moment you first wake up and walks you throughout your day, inviting you to embrace your curiosity and embark on a voyage of discovery! At just under $20, this book contains a ton of fun activities in here, along with explanations of the science behind them. My daughter takes this book with her everywhere, and loves to invite her friends to experiment and play!

The Elements
Image Credit: The Elements by Theodore Gray

The second is this amazing book on The Periodic Table of Elements, by Theodore Gray. The pages of this book are beautifully designed with examples of each element in their raw form, along with their uses and applications! This stunning book has entranced my daughter and my niece as it brings the elements of the periodic table to life right before their eyes! For someone who has always wanted pieces of the periodic table in her home, having this beautiful visual display is sufficient enough for the... less obtainable specimens.

In fact, if you would like to begin a collection of specimens from the Periodic Table, Theodore Gray sells "The Vault", containing historical documents from the history of Chemistry, as well as samples of some of the elements! It also has a companion book explaining how the elements on the periodic table are related. For under $30, this is a great deal! You can check here for flash cards, puzzles, and a whole host of periodic table fun!

So that's it! These are some of our favorite things in our home, where we get our lab supplies, and some of the items we're putting on our wish lists for this year! Have fun experimenting, exploring, and discovering with your kids, and Happy Holidays!











2 comments:

  1. Hi Amy! I'm interested in a basic microscope for my preschooler, but the Amazon reviews of the Vivitar set are so abysmal I'm really hesitant. Do you think those people just got bad sets, or...? Thanks, Sandra

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sandra! I had a big hesitation to post that when I saw the reviews, but using it again today decided it for me. It's a really great microscope for basic beginning microscopy. Especially considering the fact that we've tossed it into our bags and suitcases on numerous occasions, with nary a scratch or ding on it.

      It works really well, and the kit that it comes with is great for getting into basic microscopy. For $20, it's a fantastic deal that I still stand by.

      If you're wanting to get into more serious microscopy with a high quality microscope, I'd definitely go with the AmScope (the second one listed) as that will be a high quality, durable microscope that will last for several years.

      However, if you're looking to enter into it with your preschooler then yeah, I'd say this is a good bet. $20 will let you see if this is something you guys want to pursue together. :)

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