The Beginner’s Guide to Using a Microscope

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When it’s time for Homeschool Microscope Lessons, you might need a guide to getting started, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve looked through the lens of a microscope yourself. The Beginner’s Guide to Using a Microscope is perfect if you are just getting started or need a review.

Disclosure: I received a microscope and digital microscope camera from Home Science Tools and I was compensated for my time in writing this post. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Getting started with science equipment at home can be


Many families know they need to use the equipment,

but they are unsure and timid about using it well.

I want to help parents do middle school and high school science with confidence.

Let’s use our microscopes!

This lesson is a laboratory exercise.

Purpose of The Beginner’s Guide to Using Microscopes

During this lesson you and your students will:

  • Make a dry mount slide using household or found materials.
  • Find the object on the slide under low magnification using a light microscope.
  • Practice finding an object under high magnification using a light microscope.
  • Record your observations.

Materials Needed for Beginner Microscope Observations

Gather the following materials for this lesson:

  • Microscope Slides– glass slides for placing your specimen for viewing under the microscope
  • Microscope Cover Slips– glass or plastic square covers that go over top of your specimen on the slide
  • Tweezers– the preciseness of the tweezers depends on the object you are trying to manipulate
  • Object for Observation– this could be thread, hair, newspaper piece, insect wings, etc. It’s best if it’s thin enough for light to penetrate the object.
  • Microscope Cleaning Kit– to clean your slides and cover slips of finger prints!
  • Microscopic Life Kit– comes with many of these items plus stain and a whole lot more. You can’t go wrong with this kit!
  • Microscope Camera– optional, but lovely and is so much fun to use for still pictures and video of what you’re observing.

The Home 1000 LED Microscope is a solid, reliable, and easy to use microscope.

We chose it because we wanted to see objects at 1000x magnification

and because my students wanted a better quality microscope than the digital scope we’ve used previously.

Quality matters.

In the video below, you’ll have a chance to see it in action.

I highly recommend the advanced microscopes which have the stage that holds a slide more precisely and allows you to move the stage instead of the slide while trying to get a good view of your object.

Parts of a Compound Light Microscope

Being able to use the microscope well, requires that you know each part what it does.

Here’s a crash course on microscope parts:

  • Eyepiece– where you look through to see the object under the microscope
  • Nosepiece– the piece that swings around which has objective lenses on it
  • Objective Lens– the lenses on the nose piece each with a different lens that varies how much magnification you are seeing.
  • Stage– the place where you set your prepared slide
  • Stage Clips– the mechanism that allows you to keep the slide in place on the stage. This model has a nice stage clip that frames the slide
  • Light– with a power button in front shines up through the stage to the object in question. I really like the quality of the LED bulb.
  • Course Focus Knob– moves the stage up and down letting you focus on an object
  • Fine Focus Knob– moves the stage up and down in a subtle way to sharpen images
  • Stage Adjustment Knob– lovely feature that lets you move the stage around under the light vs having you move the slide yourselves. This is another moment for fingerprints, so avoiding that is a good idea!

Observe an Object under Low Magnification

The microscope camera will take still pictures of your object!

Rather than offer written directions only, I thought I’d prepare a video demonstration. Shout out to my youngest, Joshua for his help in shooting and editing the video.

Watch to see how you can:

  • Find an usual object to observe- don’t be shy!
  • Make a dry mount slide with found materials
  • Operate your microscope to find objects
  • Use the microscope to find your object on lower power
  • Observe safely the object under high power

You’ll also find out more about what frustrates students and how to ease the difficulties along the way.

Once you’ve watched the video, you and your students can try making your own dry mount slide using the materials you’ve gathered.

Observe an Object under High Magnification

This butterfly wing has more than one layer, so the image has layers. Notice that the field of view has decreased at higher power.

Observing objects under high power can be tricky.

It’s one of those moments of frustration for students.

Here are a few tips for using higher magnification:

  • Make sure the object is in focus- using low power first
  • Start with the next highest power- depending on the model of your microscope it could be the middle objective lens
  • Watch the stage carefully as you switch to a longer objective lens- to avoid any damage to the slide or the microscope
  • Keep in mind that as you raise your magnification- your field of view gets smaller
  • Use the course focus knob just a little
  • Sharpen images using the fine focus knob
  • Move the stage- or the slide if you cannot see the object anymore. But, do so only a little so that you don’t completely change what your microscope was looking at.

Once your object is in focus under the next highest power, you can try again keeping watch on the objective lens as the nose piece swings around.

It’s always exciting to see objects in such detail.

Enjoy the moment!

Record Your Observations

Now it’s time to try some things out and see what we see!

Put your slide under the microscope on the stage and move it around and focus on both low and the next highest power.

We’ll make some drawings and answer a few questions to get to know the microscope.

  • Draw what you see at 10x
  • Draw what you see at 40x
  • Determine total magnification (the eyepiece multiplied by the objective lens)
  • Label your drawings- with the name of the object at the top and the level of magnification at the bottom
  • Move the slide to the upper right of the stage, which way does the specimen move?
  • Move it to the lower left. Which way does the the specimen move?
  • Describe the relationship between level of magnification and the field of view.

More Microscope Labs

middle schooler placing a thin peel of onion onto a microscope slidle

Observing Onion Cells– This post gives step by step instructions on how to prepare onion cells for observation under the microscope. This is a lesson we’re going to repeat with a better microscope!

3 Easy Steps to Observing Pond Life– the how to on collecting and observing microscopic pond life.

How to Capture & View Snowflakes under a Microscope– the effort is minimal and the pay off is great!

Using a microscope can be challenging at first.

I hope these directions have simplified the process

and given you and your students success.

Once you’ve made a simple slide and completed the observations,

the next step is to make a wet mount slide.

That process is broken down in Observing Onion Cells, but

you can find other labs in the links above.

Free Microscope Observations Lab Printable

Microscopic Marvels: Explorations in Historical & Modern Microscopy

Microscopic Marvels is a year long, one credit, neurodivergent, college prep science course for biology using microscopes.

We’ll explore biology through microscopes as we learn how to use microscopes and observe objects with them.

title on a teal background with the words Microscopic Marvels Explorations in Historical and Modern Microscopy

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