"Look Daddy...Wow...that's so cool!" Parents are used to hearing such exclamations from their children when referring to video games, superheroes, cheap impulse buy toys at the grocery store and, as they get older, clothing and hairstyles designed to cause maximum parental disapproval. The fact that one of my seven year old twin boys was applying these words to a stereo microscope was a pleasant surprise.
He was looking at a recently deceased bee or, more accurately, the incredible cross hatching that makes up a bee's eye. This was followed by a close up examination of the stinger, the gossamer like fabric of the wing and, following a brief search round the ground floor of the house, a house fly. By then, his brother was full into "My turn, my turn" and believe it or not, their three year old sister was also clamoring to get in on the act! Before we knew it, a half hour had passed with all three kids fully engaged in the wonders of the microscopic a full half hour focused on one activity! This was not only a record; it verged on miraculous!
As a cynical parent, I confess to having been resigned to watch the microscope consigned to the black hole of our children's toy cupboard. To my surprise and delight, they have taken the initiative on a number of occasions to retrieve the microscope for further viewing. Shiny rocks have proved a big favorite as have the occasional worm, piece of fruit and other assorted items that catch their eye. But it was Grandma's crystals from the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh that stimulated the next "big session".
She brought with her a glittering array of crystals as well as a series of geodes that reprised the cries from the top of this article. Even my three year old daughter has prompted me to get out the microscope; much to my wife's chagrin, she found a dead bug on the kitchen floor. Her enthusiasm was not only infectious, but for a brief parental moment, I was convinced that she was a budding Einstein!
And that is part of the fun of a microscope. Not only does it open up a whole new world of the microscopic, but it has something to please everyone in the family. For the kids, it offers all sorts of cool, phantasmagoric images to equal the most evil aliens imagined. Yet it also opens their eyes to a completely different and very real perspective on the world. For us parents, it is something other than a video game or TV to share with them while also giving us the satisfying knowledge that, apart from being fun, it is also educational!
Under a microscope, the kids can view whatever they like. They learn and perhaps most important, they retain some wonderful visual images that help fire their imagination in other ways. We have some innovative new alien life form drawings to prove it!
Moreover, a microscope is inexpensive. Ours is a real microscope in the sense that it is not a toy. It is an Omano OM13L stereo microscope from The Microscope Store, LLC (located right here at www.microscope.com) The cost ($199) is a fraction of what we have spent on toys that have been discarded or broken within one or two uses and it has proved a wonderful way for us all to participate in something that we all enjoy. Our next one may be a compound microscope so that we can make and view our own slides - but so far, the ecstatic cries over our current stereo microscope continue. We can't ask for more!
August 16th, 2008