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Thinking Big
By Sandy Fleming

Magnifying glasses can be fascinating. They afford your children a unique opportunity to peer at details that would otherwise escape notice and learn about the intricacies of our world. If possible, you'll want each child to have access to his or her own magnifying glass or perhaps have enough to work in pairs.

There are some wonderful vocabulary words that you can introduce as you work with magnifying glasses. It's an opportunity to teach words like magnify, magnification, detail, minute, miniature, grains, and tiny. Remember to introduce the new words by explaining what they mean and then using them several times. Be sure to encourage the kids to use the new words, too, and give positive feedback when they do.

Magnifying in the Kitchen

Give the children small amounts of white ingredients in different containers. You can inspect salt, sugar, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. What similarities and differences can you see? Try mixing the ingredients with water and with cooking oil. Which ones disappear (or dissolve) in water? Do any of them dissolve in the oil? Take a close look with the magnifying glass and describe what you see.

Magnified Threads

Collect a variety of fabrics. You might include various types of clothing, towels and linens, upholstery, and different types of carpet. Don't forget blankets and sweaters! Use the magnifying glass to inspect the threads, weaves, and stitches in these textiles. What similarities can you see? What differences? Why do you think this is so?

A Dirty Job

What is dirt made of? You can learn a lot by looking at different kinds of dirt under your magnifying glass. Check out soil from various locations, different kinds of sand, potting soil, and even common house dust. What colors can be seen in the particles? What shapes?

Picture This

Photographs and pictures from books and magazines make great objects to inspect with magnifying glasses. Take a close look, and you will be able to see the individual pixels of many pictures. On some grainy illustrations, the children may even be able to pick out the color of each one. And guess what? Many times, these colors do not match the colors that your eyes see in
the picture! Colored newspaper pictures are particularly good to use for this project. Most printers use only three to five colors to get the effect of many others. They mix the main colors in certain ways to fool our eyes. Can you pick out the inks they are using to create the colors that you see?

Be a Paper Detective

Take a close look at lots of kinds of paper, and you'll be amazed at what you find. Paper, it turns out, is often not one solid sheet! If you look closely, you can see how the tiny particles are sticking together to form it. Newspaper, construction paper, and other coarse papers will show this quite nicely. Now, take a look at some paper money under the magnifying glasses. There's quite a difference, isn't there? Paper money is almost like cloth! It has threads and a woven appearance. What other details about different kinds of paper can you discover with close inspection?

There are a host of other possibilities as well. You can examine common, everyday items, compare two similar items to find if there are small differences, and discover similarities between different objects. Using magnifying glasses as a focal point, you can build science skills such as observation, comparison, categorization, and forming hypotheses. Best of all, you can nurture your children's inborn curiosity about their world.

Sandy Fleming is an educator, author and workshop facilitator. She resides in southern Michigan with her husband and three daughters. Sandy leads workshops for daycare providers and parents in the region, tutors students, volunteers for Girl Scouts and her church, and teaches online classes for adults and children. She loves to make new friends, so please drop her an e-mail at


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