I do think there is value in everyone and anyone setting specific life goals. And just like I think every adult should have a list of things to do before they die — a bucket list, some might call it — so too every child should have a parental-supported list of things to do before they leave the age of innocence and become a teenager. I decided to write that list down, and from my daughter’s fifth birthday until the day she turns thirteen we’re going to try and do them all.
14. Find a cell using a microscope…
Of course, some of those things are going to take a little longer than others… such as acquiring all the necessary skill to fulfill the basic requirements of microscope operation and actually finding something as basic as a cell. It’s not going to happen in one session, and probably not when she’s only five. Still, fitting in nicely under my “10 Tools to Figure Out to How to Use Correctly” sub-list, I jumped on some passing curiosity and questions that popped out of the kid’s mouth during a walk the other day — while she was busy collecting leaves and rocks in the park — all of it leading to me digging out my Sears-brand Junior Microscope Set from back when I was a young’un, dusting it off and seeing what happened.
…and thus we started down the long road of scientific discovery and skill building in the first of many items on our list.
It went something like this: “Dad… do you think we could look at this rock with a telescope.”
“I think you mean a microscope.”
“It’s like a telescope, but a telescope is for looking at faraway things, like stars. A microscope is for looking at tiny things.”
A disappointed sigh. “Oh.”
A disappointed sigh. “Oh.”
“I have a microscope.” I say. “It’s in the basement.”
“Really!? Can we see it when we get home?” She asks, though quickly forgets-slash-gets-distracted when we do get home, rushing off to do something else.
When I was a kid — let’s say ten-ish — my folks bought me a simple optical microscope, no kidding, from Sears for my birthday. I spent some real quality time in my youth, in an era before the Internet when I had to get all the reference material I could from an actual library, figuring out how to prepare samples on the slides, afix plates and get just the right level of transparency to my samples to make them worth looking at. It was far from an obsession, but that little microscope got it’s use in.
Of course, when I hit University, started a biological sciences degree and had access to many more expensive microscopes, the shortcomings of my “toy” microscope became glaringly obvious. I’ll spare the details, and simply suggest that there’s a clear and obvious reason none of the University’s lab equipment comes from Sears.
My kit got packed up, and promptly forgotten. I kept it around, collecting dust on a shelf, often wondering what would become of it… but I kept it and I’m glad I did, too.
Our introductory lesson in microscopy began with a very rudimentary explanation: light plus lenses plus some very small things. I let her look at the small collection of slides I’d acquired long, long ago: some prepared plates with various bits of plant, feathers, and such along with some other curious slices of animal bits, like a mouse tongue, rat kidney, and frog’s stomach. None was much bigger than a bit of rice pressed between two bits of glass, and the spores were barely more than coloured specs that we needed to squint to see.
I got everything set up, did the focus work, and let her look…
I got everything set up, did the focus work, and let her look.
“Wow!” She exclaimed. “That’s so cool.” As the shapes of still-much-bigger-than-a-cell objects came into focus at the 200x magnification level.
In the end, she got bored and wandered off while I was trying to pinpoint something close to resembling a muscle cell, pushing the limits of my little microscope. But I got fifteen minutes of idle fascination from a five year old, and that’s almost as amazing as the slivers of magnified biology we were looking at.
The microscope adventures are sure to continue… but I haven’t figured that part out yet. Questions or suggestions? Leave a comment.