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Light Table Activities :: 10+ Free and Low-Cost Ideas for Kids

by Jean Van't Hul
August 7, 2014
Light Table Activities for Kids

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 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 these light table for kids activities use materials you already have around the house!

Cheap Light Table Ideas for Kids

10+ low-cost light table activities for kids

These light table activities include art, play, science, and more!

Art on the Light Table

Light Table Activities for Kids - Drawing 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.

Light Table Activities for Kids - Drawing on the Light Table

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:

Tissue paper is another material that works great on a light table too! Different shapes can be cut out of tissue paper and placed on the light table to create a picture.

Watercolor Techniques for Kids - on the light table

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

Light Table Activities for Kids - Nature Observation

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 seashells, crystals, butterfly or moth wings (if found already dead, of course), etc.

Rainbow Milk Science Experiment

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!

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.

Light Table Activities for Kids - Melting Ice Experiment

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.)

Light Table Activities for Kids - Fizzing Colors

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

Water Beads on the DIY 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.

Water Balloon Babies on the Light Table

9. Water balloons and water balloon babies on the light table

Just ’cause.

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

Light Table Activities for Kids - Shaving Cream Writing and Play

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.

Light Table Activities for Kids - Cutting practice with straws

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, and tissue paper.

Light Table Activities for Kids - Straws on the Light Table

13. Building with colored straws on the light table

Grape Sculptures - try on the light table

A package of colored drinking straws is inexpensive but makes a great light table accessory. My four 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).

14. Play with Plastic Eggs on the Light Table

Play with Plastic Eggs on the Light Table

How many of us have those plastic eggs leftover from Easter laying around the house? Well, time to put them to good use on the light table. All the kids have to do is open up the plastic eggs and place them flat side down on the light table. Kids can then explore the different colors and rearrange them however they wish.

15. Tracing Paper on the Light Table


The kids can also have some tracing fun with their light table too! All you need for this light table activity is your light table, tracing paper, and pens or pencils. Turn on the light table, place the tracing paper down along with what the kids want to trace, and let them get to it. It might help tape down the corners of the paper, so it doesn’t move around as the kids trace the image.

Want some more light tracing ideas? Check out Shadow Art for Kids and see how else you can use the sun to keep the kids busy.

16. Bubbles and Light

Bubbles and Light

You can also take one of those small bubble solutions you probably have hiding in the garage and pour it into a clear bin. You can then place the bin on top of the light table. The kids can then play around with the bubble solution by adding watercolors or blowing bubbles into the solution with a straw. It is fun to see how the light plays with the bubbles on the light table. You can also make a day out of it and have the kids learn how to make their own bubbles, too!

More Cheap Light Table Activities (from around the web)

Building Your Own Light Table at Home

You can choose to purchase a light table that is already put together for your kids to enjoy, or you can make one yourself as we did. Here are a couple of light tables you can find on Amazon, but keep in mind, they are going to be on the pricey side, which is why you may want to just make one yourself with stuff you already have laying around the house.

Now, if you choose to build a light table for kids yourself like we did, awesome! It really is so easy to do. All you need to do is find a table. Some people have even converted a train table into a light box table for their kids. You can also use a plastic storage bin like we did.

You can also find a wooden box with an open top, some plexiglass, Christmas lights or LED puck lights, and voila! You have all the makings of an affordable and easy to make lightbox or table for the kids.

If you can’t make a DIY light table, then all you really need is a light source like a flashlight or any other kind of illuminated surface for your kids to enjoy many of these light table activities.

Tell us how you created your own light table at home! We also love learning more about a new fun light table activity you do with your kids.

Happy playing and creating!

Pin It for Later 

More Than 10 Light Table Ideas for Kids that are free or low-cost. Plus how to make a cheap, DIY light table.

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