Big Worlds in Small Packages- Science Exploration with a Second Hand Microscope

I was searching for new science experiments to try with my boys, and I came across a suggestion to do a science exploration with microscopes.  The writer suggested taking magnified photos of every day items, showing them to your kids, and seeing if they could guess what they were.  The author didn’t go into detail about how to take these magnified photos.

We have a a second hand microscope I picked up from Goodwill.  Only the lowest magnification setting works, and you have to hold the light source in place, but I wondered if we could somehow take pictures on it.  We had used it a few days prior to look at sugar while we cooked up some solution for rock candy.  I thought it made the experience more meaningful to be able to show how the sugar was really a little block-like crystal, and that our candy would form into bigger sugar crystals.  I liked the idea of the guessing game, but wanted to be able to emphasize it with looking at things under the microscope.

Turns out you can use your digital camera to take photos on the microscope.  I’m not saying they are the world’s greatest pictures.  The detail looking through the actual microscope was much better.  But I was able to take the photos to play the game, and then show the actual items under the scope for further reference.

Ok, mostly I’m just impressed with the photo hack :).  I simply set up my $8 scope, and held my digital camera where I would normally look through.  Had I taken the time to set up a tri-pod, I could have probably gotten some better photos, but I didn’t go that far.

Here is my cheap scope kit.  My camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.


First up, white sugar.  I like how all the pictures look like I am photographing the moon.P1170947

Second, a strand of my hair.  Happy to see it appeared free of split ends.


Third, a spider web.  Not surprisingly, very goth.


Fourth, a swab of saliva from my mouth.  I think the coloring is due to coffee.


Next, a torn piece of a leaf.


A bit of my son’s booger from a bloody nose.  I know, gross.  But what kid doesn’t want to see his booger close up?


But our super-duper primo find was live microscopic animals in our frog’s water.  I believe they were euglena because they had flagella, though that might be difficult to make out.  I remember looking for amoebas in pond water during eighth grade earth science class, and being disappointed to not see anything.  Thirty years later and finally, I found life!! I can die a happy woman.

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So there you go.  Hurry over to Goodwill and grab yourself a scope.  There are whole worlds for waiting for your kids to discover them!


One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Robot- Garbage Makes for Fun

My to my husband’s chagrin, I have a closet jammed with milk cartons, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and egg cartons.  I use them as sorters for art supplies, palettes for painting, scoopers for dirt, and just about anything else you can think of.  When my sons are bored, I grab a mixed pile of recyclables and ask them what we can make with them.  Just this past week, we made swords, a pirate ship, and small robots all from recycled materials.

Small robots are fun, but what about a giant robot!  My in-laws purchased a new microwave, and gave us the box and cushioning inserts.  The foam pieces were just screaming to be made into something sci-fi.

I’m not going to go into a full-blown tutorial.  You get the idea.   Grab your glue-gun, tape, spray paint, foil and a whole lot of garbage.  Let your imagination run wild!

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You CAN Get a Great Photo of Your Kid- 8 Tips to Capture an Amazing Portrait

Against my better judgment, I bought soccer portraits.  I knew the set would be staged, the expressions would be forced, and the pictures would in no way capture the energy and personalities of my two little boys.  But I couldn’t resist the “buddy pic”- a photo of both of them in their soccer shirts, back to back, looking like best buds.  The photo is ok.  They are smiling, and cute.  But it doesn’t look like them.

With digital cameras, it is easier than ever to get great photos of your kids- photos that capture them doing the things they love, looking natural and having a good time.  You don’t need expensive equipment or editing software- just a camera, soft natural light, and a bit of patience.  Here are eight tips to help you capture a portrait you’ll love.

1.  Set your camera to “burst” mode– Also known as continuous high speed, this function allows you to capture several images in rapid succession.  Children are in constant motion.  This allows you to capture that split second reaction that encompasses a lifetime- such as two brothers running together on a fall day.

2.  Follow them as they play– When I photograph a child, I try not to put them in posed situations.  I like to follow them as they play, build a rapport, and then take pictures.  It requires a little patience, but I think the results are worth it.  You can look at the three photos below, and see the walls coming down between me and the boy as I talked to him and gained his trust.  As I photographed him, I never said “smile” or “say cheese” (has anyone ever got a natural looking photo that way?).

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3.  Turn the sound off on your camera– If you are trying to catch a child in his natural element, the “beep” of a camera signaling his photo is being taken is going to completely shatter that moment.

4.  Take turns using the camera– This is probably my best trick for connecting with a child and getting him on board with having his picture taken.  No child can resist playing with a gadget- especially a gadget they are not usually allowed to touch.  I tell kids if they let me take a picture of them, I will let them take a picture of me.  If you are nervous about the prospect of a child touching your camera, there are several ways to ensure the safety of your camera.  I have a couple of older cameras I let them use that I am not concerned with them breaking.  Also, when a camera is mounted to a tripod, or placed in a steady position on a table, all the child needs to do is push the button to take a photo.  Here are a couple of shots from such a scenario- one of my subject that I took, and one taken of me.

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5. Let them move/plan an activity for stillness– Kids do not want to stand still and pose.  When they are asked to do this, the pictures usually look stiff, lifeless, and without joy.  Let them move!  With that burst setting, you can capture some really fun shots.  If you’d like them to sit still, give them something to do- read a book, play with a puzzle, draw a picture.  Be patient and wait for special moments.  Either back away and quietly shoot from afar, or engage them in a talk about what they are doing- not about being photographed.

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6.  Use an element of surprise– Find a small fancy box, and place a little treasure inside of it.  As they examine and open the box, you are sure to get a cute pic or two.

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7.  Embrace imperfection– sure, we all want the ideal photo with perfect hair, no stains on clothes, smiles on faces, and expert lighting.  They are kids!  They are going to get messy.  Their clothes are going to get dirty.  Their hair is going to fussed up. That usually means they are having fun.


8.  Stop photographing them– I know, this is hard.  And I’m not just saying that- my oldest son asked me to stop taking so many pictures of him.  They are adorable.  We want to capture every moment, and technology has made it so we can.  The less you photograph them, the more they will cooperate when it is important.

Happy photographing!