A few weeks before Christmas, I wrote a post about cool kids for smart kids. The list featured a wide variety of toys — everything from a DNA experiment kit to electro-mechanical insects — all aimed at engaging kids in fun, learning-related activities. I used that list to guide the toy selections I made for my own daughters for the holidays, and one of the toys I found from that list was so remarkable, I had to share our experience.

The Zoomy digital microscope doesn't look like your traditional microscope. There are no slides to load or lenses to choose from. Instead, the gadget is roughly the size of a computer mouse and it fits neatly in the palm of any sized hand. The beauty of Zoomy is in it's simplicity: it plugs into any computer with a USB port. There are no batteries or special wires required. Once it's plugged in and you run the digital viewing software, you are able to see close up images of anything you can get your hands on, right on your computer screen. The click of one button lets you save an image, two clicks and you can take a video.

The one downside to the Zoomy is in the magnification. Unlike more traditional digital microscopes that feature a range of 50x to 2000x magnification, the Zoomy only magnifies images up to 43x. So you won't see microorganisms or red blood cells or anything along those lines. But what you will see are high quality magnifications of everyday object that you would not normally be able to stick under a microscope.  

For example, here's a shot of my tongue:

Can you guess what this one is?

If you guessed Frosted Mini Wheat you can give yourself a pat on the back.  Here's a shot of a splinter in my husband's thumb that fascinated us for a while:

And another of a piece of dirt in our aloe plant:

You get the idea.  

Even my 6 year old was able to maneuver the Zoomy easily.  And the instant images had both girls engaged and exploring the world around them for hours on end.

The Zoomy runs around $40-$50 and can be found at toy stores or online. If you've got kids who would like to see the world a little more closely, I highly recommend this toy to get them started on their scientific adventures.

Related post on MNN: 20 most impressive science fair projects of all time

Geek review: Zoomy digital microscope
Zoomy digital microscope lets little kids explore a bigger world.