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Giant Microbes

What better way to bring biology to life (as it were) than to have giant, cuddly versions of your cells and organs?

I won’t do many product placements, and no one has given me any money for any endorsements (unless anyone would like to!). But there are a few products that I loved and used during homeschooling. The most fun of these was Giant Microbes:

As the name suggests, these are microbes blown up to around a million times their normal size, made all fluffy and given eyes. These are just objectively fun. Yes, you can now cuddle and anthrax toxin or rabies virus. It has a big line of pathogens so you can find all the well-known diseases, including everyone’s least favourite disruption to our daily lives, covid-19. Personally, I don’t know much about infections and you need to be at least on degree level biology before you learn how different bacteria and viruses actually look, so I was less interested in those.

But it also has a line of human body cells, and those come up much earlier in the curriculum. It’s especially good for ones with a distinctive shape, such as your various blood cells. With these your kids can actually get their hands on red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to see their shape while you explain their function. Your kids can act out heroic white blood cells sending antibodies to defeat the dastardly diseases.

Clockwise from top left: white blood cell, DNA molecule, platelet, ebola virus, antibody and red blood cell.

They come in various sizes so we went for the small ones which are vastly cheaper. They're less cuddly but have just as much educational value. They're also helpfully labelled to help you keep track of which is which.

As well as microbes, the site has organs so they can see their stomach and heart and uterus. Some organs, like the liver and lungs, aren’t much to look at because all the interesting detail is hidden away inside, so those aren’t very useful. But some, like the uterus or heart, let you see the important tubes and chambers, so they’re a wonderful teaching aid.

Another favourite in our house is the DNA molecule. Other than that vital parenting aid, the corkscrew, helixes don’t crop up often in everyday life, let alone double ones. That makes them hard to visualise. Solve that with a plush version of DNA, one eye on each sugar-phosphate backbone looking back happily at you.

I won’t cover the lessons themselves here, those are in other sections, but I will refer back to using these if you have them. There aren’t many ways to let your children actually get their hands on the elements of biology, seeing as how its elements are usually too small, squishy and/or fatal to have in reality. Giant microbes solves that problem, as well as being great to play with.

They do cost money and won’t be used long-term, so they’re definitely a luxury. But my kids loved them and they joined our cuddly toy rotation so hopefully, they get a life beyond that of a teaching aid. Until then they’re a wonderful way to make biology lessons memorable.

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