What gift would be better for a child, microscope or telescope?

Need some advice from Doper parents, long story short I’ve got to get a gift for a 9 year old, I know he’s into science-y stuff so I thought a children’s microscope or a telescope might be a good idea. Seen some on Amazon and they’re both around the same price.

Does one have any obvious advantage over the other? If you have a kid around that age which would you be happier with? Or are they both terrible ideas?

Some things to think about:

If he lives in the city of New York, Chicago, etc., then I suspect a telescope isn’t going to do him much good.

Astronomical telescopes present an inverted images as there’s no particular right-side up view you need. Telescopes for use on land or sea had an extra lens to make the image right side up though at the loss of some light. If you think the kid would like to look at mountains, etc. make sure you have one that will re-invert the image…

Telescopes for looking at the moon and planets are of most use at a time probably after the child’s bed time.

In sunny Yorkshire away from any super light polluting metropolises…metropoli? But you can’t see the Milky Way either. I know he quite likes space and planets and whatnot though.

One Christmas, when the two of us were nine, my sister got a microscope. I got a telescope the following year.

I could never get the hang of the telescope, which was pretty pointless anyway since we lived in the midst of light pollution. I was really into the cosmos at that age, so I was a bit disappointed.

But my sister’s microscope was da bomb. It provided countless hours of entertainment. It came with prepared slides, but we didn’t much care for those. We’d collect water from puddles in the backyard and watch the amoebas play with each other. When that got boring, we’d examine lint and hair follicles.

My sister used that thing for science projects in high school.

So I’d go with the microscope.

Telescopes are awesome, but they require something that microscopes don’t - being outside. After a few sessions, hauling the telescope outside gets old, not to mention the requirements for good weather and dark skies. And, staying up late. A nice pair of binoculars might be a lot more useful, and fun.

But, it’s hard to miss with a microscope.

I would go with microscope. Aside from the already mentioned air and light pollution problems, the image you get from an affordable consumer telescope (I doubt that you are budgeting for something like this) won’t approach the quality of images that you can already find on-line of just about everything in the sky. A consumer microscope, while still not as good as a professional one, has a smaller quality gap–and you get to watch stuff wiggle around.

A stereo microscope IMHO would make a very nice gift. Not as much magnification as a “traditional” scope, but less hassle to work with, and very useful for looking at small details of macroscopic objects. (If your budget is enough, you could get both types for a little over $100.)

A good moderately priced microscope will reveal a greater variety of interesting things than a good moderately priced telescope.

That depends on what sort of neighbours you have.

Is Lego Mindstorms an option?

We had a microscope as a kid, but I thought it was pretty dull. We also had friends with a telescope and I thought that was pretty dull, too. Your 9-year-old’s mileage may vary.

I loved my microscope when I was a kid. I spent hours looking a prepared slides, and I learned to grow my own microorganisms and observe them. Microscopes are more versatile than telescopes, which must be outside, used at night, and away from light pollution.

See if light pollution is an issue where you live.

Also, as a kid I found that the best nights to see the stars were mighty darn cold.

I’d prefer a microscope. You can buy boxes of prepared slides very cheaply. Amazon sells several different boxes of slides.

25 science slides for $16

They have other sets you could buy later for the child’s birthday.

100 science slides $40

I had an inexpensive version of each, and I found preparing slides to be tedious, but my mother is a little anal, and always made me clean them and put them away afterwards, so I could never look at anything over time under the microscope. Culturing anything to look at was out of the question. If you are the sort of parent who will allow gelatin cultures of swabs ot the keyboards or phone or toilet seat, that could be endlessly amusing.

I liked looking at the surface of the moon through the telescope, once I figured out how to do that, but I didn’t have a map of it. If you go with the telescope, find out exactly what your child will be able to see, and buy some maps or star charts to go with it.

As far as which, I really can’t recommend. I would have been happy without either as a nine-year-old.

When I was nine, I wanted two science-y things: one was a human skull. It could be a cast, but it needed to be a realistic one. I think you can actually get casts where the bones are labeled, and they can be taken apart and put together like 3D puzzles.

What I wanted most that was science-y was an erector or some kind of building set with a real working motor, so I could make cars and cranes and things that worked. I wasn’t allowed to have one, because my parents thought I could somehow electrocute myself with two D-cell batteries.

I still love tinkering with electronics, and cars and engines, and anything like that. Lost interest in having a skull, but I did go and learn the bones in the skull once, when I was in a “memorizing lists” phase. I know all the presidents, too, and all the English/British/UK monarchs, beginning with the Conqueror.

Telescopes are awesome but there’s just too much logistical difficulty for a 9-year-old, sorry.

Light pollution is not really a big issue for a beginner; a telescope will still reveal a lot of cool things. Light pollution has essentially no effect on the moon and the planets. But anything worth the bother is big, heavy, expensive, and of course only works at night, preferably past a 9-year-old’s bedtime.

A microscope is small and always works at any time.

If the kid lives in a city in a high-rise apartment a telescope will be useful. Otherwise get him the microscope.

There you go…telescope.

I’d stay away from the microscope idea. He might get inspired to become a pathologist, and you don’t want that on your conscience.

Is the kid interested in computers and/or robots?

Perhaps a starter kit for an Arduino Uno board. Here is one, but note they cannot guarantee arrival by Christmas. There are others out there. Basically, it is a microprocessor board that runs machine code you download from a PC (the PC translates C Code into the machine language). That particular kit has 37 lessons that starts with making an LED blink and ends with making two different video games.

I really know nothing about this kit, only what I have gathered from the Amazon page, but I have been messing with an Arduino Uno board for a couple months. Perhaps a bit advanced for a 9 year-old, but if he has the interest, I think he could handle it.

If he likes stars and planets, a telescope makes sense.

I had a microscope as a kid. Found it boring, as was not into rocks and plants. Spent a lot of time with microscopes in pathology class.

Does it have to be a surprise?

I still prefer things like chemistry or geology kits. The modern versions are so safety-saved that you can’t do any of the cool (read dangerous) experiments we used to but still tend to instill a curiosity and some knowledge of scientific methods and backgrounds.

A cool option for a microscope is the digital usb microscopes available now for as little as $50. You don’t have to squint through a tiny tube anymore and seeing the image blown up on a screen is much better.