We have continued to use our DIY light table regularly over the past several months and believe it’s about the best thing I’ve done this year. Really. I wish I had put one of these together years ago!
I highly recommend you set up a simple light table for your kids!
If you’ve read my light table posts, you’ll know that our very serviceable light table is simply a clear plastic storage box (ours is from Target) with a string of white Christmas lights inside. The cord is skinny enough to slip out under the lid. And when we’re ready to take a break from exploring light and color on the light table, the box goes back into use for storage and the lights go back with the holiday decorations.
We still use the magnetic shapes all the time on and off the light table as well as some of the other toys and tools I wrote about in my light table post. Actually mostly just the magnetic shapes.
In addition, we have tried painting on the light table, playing with the cardboard dollhouse on the light table, checking out water balloons on the light table, and, of course, using water beads on the light table.
Light table play is both magical and educational.
While that first light table post was all about products we bought specifically for the light table, this post is all about light table activities that cost little or nothing. Many of them use materials you already have around the house!
10+ low-cost light table activities for kids
These ideas include art, play, science, and more!
Art on the Light Table
1. Drawing on the light table
Like many of the activities listed here, you can draw anywhere. But seeing the light shine through the drawing as you work makes it extra interesting. And we all know how changing up locations and methods can inspire renewed creativity, right? In the photo above, I simply taped a piece of easel paper to the light table (you could use any relatively thin paper) and placed the box of markers beside it.
We’ve also done this with colored film and Sharpie markers as I shared in one of my posts about our kids’ art display wall.
2. Contact paper collages on the light table
You know what contact paper is, right? It’s that transparent sticky plastic that they sell with the shelf liners at the grocery store or drug store. Perfect for simple children’s suncatcher art activities! We made heart suncatchers with contact paper and translucent mosaic tiles around Valentine’s Day, but you could do any contact paper suncatchers on the light table. Try:
3. Painting on the light table
If you use a thinner paper (such as the easel paper pictured here) and watercolors, you can see the light shining through the paint as you work. So pretty! Read more in my post about watercolor techniques for kids.
Science Ideas on the Light Table
4. Nature on the light table
Gather leaves, flowers, and other nature items to observe on the light table. You can really see the structure of the leaves better when held to the light like this. You can also extend this activity by doing leaf rubbings on the light table… Or try feathers, translucent sea shells, crystals, butterfly or moth wings (if found already dead, of course), etc.
5. Rainbow milk science experiment on the light table
This is one of our favorite simple science experiments and the effect is even more magical on the light table! (Click this link to see a couple of brief videos of the swirling, exploding colors.)
6. Melting ice experiment on the light table
As with the milk experiment, this melting ice science experiment is at least twice as wonderful with the light shining through as you work.
We used clear glass baking dishes and plates to let the light through while containing the melting ice and watercolors. (Those egg-shaped ice balls were made by freezing water balloons, by the way.)
7. Fizzing Colors Science Experiment
This is such a simple activity, yet always a hit with the kids! Mix vinegar with food coloring or liquid watercolors, then use a dropper to transfer to the baking soda. We put our baking soda in a transparent dish this time—a plastic egg serving tray from the dollar store—to enjoy the experiment on the light table.
Play Ideas on the Light Table
8. Water bead sensory play
As you know, we LOVE water beads! They are super cheap, super fun, and they are at their very best on the light table.
9. Water balloons and water balloon babies on the light table
10. Magnetic tiles on the light table
Okay, this one isn’t so low cost. But if you already have magnetic tiles, then you will definitely want to try them on the light table. My kids use them for construction, pretend play, design, and more. And as with all things translucent, they are extra fun with the light shining through them.
More Learning Activities for the Light Table
11. Shaving cream writing on the light table
Squirt a thin layer of shaving cream into a transparent dish, spread it flat, then use your fingers, a chopstick, or a paintbrush to write or draw in the shaving cream. This works a lot like drawing in shaving cream on the window. You could also write in sand on the light table or in salt.
12. Cutting practice on the light table
If you have a little one who needs to practice cutting with scissors, try cutting colorful straws on the light table. My kids made straw “soup” by adding the straws to a bowl of water. Other cutting practice ideas: yarn, playdough snakes, strips of paper.
13. Building with colored straws on the light table
A package of colored drinking straws is inexpensive but makes a great light table accessory. My 4 year old poked many straws into a ball of playdough when we first set up the light table and my older daughter built straw structures with playdough as the connectors. If you like the idea of building on the light table, you could also try some of these toothpick construction ideas (I think the grapes or the gumdrops would be especially pretty on the light table).
More cheap ways to use the light table (from around the web)
▪ Everyday light table play (with lots of interesting and low-cost ideas!) on Teach Preschool
▪ Explore nature on the light table with homemade light catchers on Still Parenting
- Check out fruit and vegetable slices on the light table on Little Wonder School.
▪ And, oh my goodness, make a DIY black light table on Growing a Jeweled Rose!
- I also have a light table ideas board on Pinterest with even more ideas!
Happy playing and creating!