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

by Jean Van't Hul
December 7, 2021
light table featured image

Lots of fun light table activities for kids including art, science, play that are free or low cost. Plus, a DIY light table that won’t break the bank!

Updated February 2022

We highly recommend setting up a simple light table for your kids!

If you’ve read any of our other light table posts, you’ll know that our light table is simply a clear plastic storage box 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.

Our kids love to use magnetic shapes both on and off the light table, as well as other building toys.

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.

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

Low-Cost Light Table Activities for Kids

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!

Art Activities on the Light Table

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

1. Drawing on the light table

Even though you can draw anywhere, seeing the light shine through the drawing as you work makes it extra interesting.

In the photo above, we 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!

mosaic tiles on light table
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

2. Contact paper collages on the light table

We LOVE contact paper! It’s that transparent sticky plastic that they sell with the shelf liners at the store. Perfect for simple children’s suncatcher art activities!

We’ve 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 on the light table
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

3. Painting on the light table

If you use a thinner paper (such as the easel paper) and watercolors, you can see the light shining through the paint as you work. So pretty! Read more in our post about watercolor techniques for kids.

Science Ideas on the Light Table

Light Table Activities for Kids - Nature Observation
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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. Extend this activity by doing leaf rubbings on the light table…. You can also try feathers, translucent seashells, crystals, butterfly or moth wings (if found already dead, of course), etc.

Rainbow Milk Science Experiment
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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!

melting ice
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

6. Melting ice science 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. (And a great way to make ice balls is by freezing water balloons.)

Watercolor paints and baking soda & vinegar
Photo by Rachel Withers

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 to enjoy the experiment on the light table.

Play Ideas on the Light Table

Water Beads
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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

Just cause.

magnet tiles on light table
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

10. Magnetic tiles on the light table

If you already have magnetic tiles, then you will definitely want to try them on the light table. Our 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
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

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. Our 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.

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

13. Building with straws or toothpicks on the light table

A package of colored drinking straws is inexpensive but makes a great light table accessory. Younger kids can poke straws into a ball of playdough, and older children can build 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 (We think grapes or gumdrops would be especially pretty on the light table).

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

16. Bubbles and Light

You can also take some bubble solution 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.

Building Your Own Light Table at Home

You can choose to purchase a light table that is already put together for your kids, or you can make one yourself as we did. 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.

If you want one that is a little more permanent, 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.

People Also Ask:

  • What is a light box for children? A light box is an illuminated surface for children to play, draw, or explore on.
  • How do you make a light box? It’s easy! All you need is a clear storage bin and some white Christmas lights! Put the lights inside the bin, plug them in and have fun!

More Creative Play Ideas for Kids

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

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