How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

easy DIY light table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comAfter seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this. 

Supplies

  • Acrylic box frame or storage container– Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one or this one. 
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.

 

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

What do you think? Are you ready to make a light table too?

This post is shared with It’s Playtime, Teach Preschool

Photo Documentary with Kids

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Taking time to look closely at the details of life is a skill that comes naturally to many of us, and worth fostering in children who can run like the wind. When we pay attention to details, we develop a healthy curiosity of the world that surrounds us, make comparisons, and notice nuance. And all of these good things contribute to creative and critical thinking. If you’d like to help your child sloooow down, pay attention to details, and smell the flowers (literally!), you could try this fun and interactive photo documentary activity. Your child could take all of the photos or direct an adult to, as mine did!
A few nights ago, the girls and I walked around the neighborhood just before bedtime while my husband cleaned up the kitchen. Lucky me, right?! N, my oldest, truly stops to smell the flowers (it’s a skill we’ve been working on!) and collected all sorts of treasures along the way. When we finally arrived home, we were welcomed by a joyful sidewalk chalk drawing. What a surprise! N and her dad talked about the ephemeral nature of the drawing and how it would probably be gone in the morning, a victim of the sprinklers. So, she asked my husband to take a picture of it….

She enthusiastically shared details with her dad about the walk-adventure we just took, and invited him to join her on a bike ride along the same route (a brilliant bedtime procrastination move if you ask me). And he bit!

So off they went. He brought the camera, and she asked him to take photos of things that she wanted to remember later on…

The first photo: Fuzzy Yellow Flowers

Rainbow Lantana. Did you know that Lantana is poisonous? I love this plant, but with a baby piranha in the house I recently pulled it all from my garden.

Pink Flamingos. What 3-year old wouldn’t stop to check these out?!

Garden Rocks

Green Bamboo

They circled the block and returned home. Happy, tired, and ready for bed!

How do you help your kids slow down and smell the flowers?

Do you have a favorite walk or bike ride ritual?

Baby Bean Bowl Exploration

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Baby Sensory Play: Bean Bowl.

My little one is almost 9 months old and her curiosity has pushed her to see past the same ol’ toy basket (do you see it there, hidden under the cabinet?), in search of new stimulation.

“Enter stage left: Bean Bowl!”

I created the bean bowl for my older daughter to sort and sift through while I’m busy in the kitchen, and I was only sort of surprised when little baby Rainbow (my older daughter’s nickname for her) scooted over to see what it was all about. She adores the sandbox, isn’t big on on eating sand (do you hear me knocking on wood?), so I thought that with supervision this would be a fun experience for her curious little mind and body.

The level of focus was palpable.

And refining fine motor skills was in full force! In addition to beans, I threw in some beads, sequins, and mini toys to keep the interest high.

Once she got comfortable with this new medium, she tried several things including pulling the bowl toward her, sifting beans through both hands, pushing her fingers deep into the bowl, and eventually tipping part of the bowl over into her lap. This was all so much fun that we decided to try it again the next morning…

The same experience lasted for about three minutes before all the pieces were dumped on the floor! Sigh. As you can imagine, we haven’t done much with the bean bowl since! Now that I see how much she enjoyed this experience, my next plan is to move the beans into our non-tipping sensory tub.

If you try this with your little ones, use common sense, especially if they’re prone to putting small objects in their mouths.

Dry Ice Experiment

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Dry ice is a favorite mysterious Halloween material, perfect for spooking up a witch’s cauldron, but did you know that you can experiment with it too?

Dry ice is so cool (couldn’t resist!), and makes for a fantastic (ventilated) kitchen or outdoor experiment. Have you ever worked with it? The big caution is that you don’t want to touch it less it burns your skin. Got that? So it has to be handled with tongs and/or insulated gloves.

Read up on  the cautions of using dry ice before proceeding, and always use your best judgment. I went through all the warnings with N, and the dry ice earned a great deal of her respect. She kept asking questions about how ice could burn us (it wouldn’t make sense to me either if I were her age), and was very curious about how it “smoked” on its way from our porch to the kitchen.

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s smart to introduce kids to “dangerous” things. They’re naturally curious about how the world operates, and given the proper instructions and parameters these introductions can give them a good foundation for critical and creative thinking. Have you heard of the The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls? I have a copy of the latter that I know N will love when she gets to be a bit older.

I found the dry ice at our supermarket, and asked the manager to help me pack it up. They come in big bags (perfect for cooling a fridge full of food, but far too much for this experiment), and I understand that they may break smaller pieces for sale…it sells by the pound at our market. To do this experiment, we used two pieces, each the size of a button mushroom.

I filled the bottom of this metal travel mug with about a cup of warm water, and dropped a piece of dry ice in with kitchen tongs. The ice makes a surprising sound when handled by the tongs!

The smoke is perfectly okay to touch.

And blow.

Then we got fancy. N squeezed some dish soap into the mug.

Surprise!

And it got even more exciting with the addition of red food coloring.

And green, blue, and yellow food colorings, too!

This project is great for encouraging curiosity, setting the groundwork for scientific investigation (observation and experimentation), and building creative confidence. A+ in my book!

The Science behind Dry Ice

Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which dissipates into carbon dioxide gas when it melts. It’s called Dry Ice because it turns directly into a gas from its solid state, without ever becoming a liquid, and therefore there’s no puddle of water in its melted state. This process is called sublimation. Also, Steve Spangler Science is my new best friend, and it’s where I gleaned tons of good information for this post. If you like science experiments, do check this out.

More Ideas from Tinkerlab

Get more Halloween ideas on my Halloween Pinterest Board.

If you enjoyed this post, follow us on Facebook for more child-centered experiments and explorations.

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Draw Shape Monsters: Each one is different!

No-carve Decorated Halloween Pumpkins 

Little Fabric Hanging Ghosts

Flubber Gak Slime Exploration

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This SLIME recipe has been on my to-do list ever since reading about Amy’s The Great Slime-Off on Child Central Station. Amy shares two different recipes: the first calls for liquid starch and the second calls for Borax. I looked all over town for liquid starch and it was nowhere to be found. Is it prohibited from the State of California? But the second recipe was totally doable, and felt a bit like fate because N’s nursery school made up a big batch of it last week, which was right after I read the Ooey Gooey Handbook from cover to cover. If you’re into this sort of thing, this book is fabulous! And you can follow Ooey Gooey on Facebook for loads of good information.

This particular slime is also called Flubber, Gluep, Glurch, or Gak, and it’s made from glue, water, and the tiniest bit of Borax (a mild powdered laundry soap).

Borax is soap and it’s toxic, so please use your best judgment and common sense if you choose to use this with young children.

We used half of this recipe from Steve Spangler Science, and the part that gave me the most confidence is where he says “the measurements don’t have to be exact.” Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief with me! This site also has a wonderful description on the science behind the recipe.

I wasn’t sure how messy this would get and set the whole project up in our big mixing tub. We began by squeezing an almost-full 4 ounce bottle of glue into a glass bowl. Then we mixed in 1 1/2 bottles of warm water to the glue. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of glue and 4 ounces of warm water…do you see how fast I went off-recipe!! But like Steve says, the measurements don’t have to be exact and it worked out just fine!

N added red food coloring and mixed it into a lovely shade of pink.

Then we mixed 1 teaspoon of Borax into 1/2 cup of water, and slowly added the solution to the glue mixture…

Until the slime started to come together. We did not use all of the Borax solution.

At first it was really wet and gooey.

And stringy and sloppy.

And then it started to pull together.

Until it was one easy-to-work-with mass of slime that could be pulled apart and manipulated…to some extent. Because really, this slime has a mind of its own.

N requested a muffin tray with the idea that it would make nice little cakes. Can you believe how viscous and pliable it is?! Completely different from play dough, and absolutely inspiring to little miss curious.

We often roll out our play dough, so she gave that a try and complained that it didn’t work. Good experiment!

Next she tried cookie cutters. Also a bust.

But the scissors…oh, the scissors were so much fun and completely rewarding with this medium.

Come back tomorrow for more Gak play!

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When you’re done using your gak/flubber/slime, you can store it in a sealable container or Ziploc bag for about 2 weeks (when it may start to smell!).

If you’ve made Gak, or if you try this at home, please feel free to add your photos or links in the comment area. I love to see your ideas!

This post is linked to We Play, It’s Playtime!

 

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Project ::Deconstruct Monitor::

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My mom was cleaning out her basement and came across my husband’s ancient computer monitor, and for some crazy reason she didn’t want it. So she asked my sister to deliver it to my house…which is over 300 miles away!! What a good sister. But guess what? We didn’t want it either! So, this big ol’ dusty tan hunk of Apple history became the perfect toy to deconstruct…with grown-up help because it turns out that monitors have tricky pockets full of icky stuff that can be deadly if messed around with in the wrong way. Lucky for us, my more-tech-savvy-than-me husband was up for the challenge!

After reading up on the dangers of endeavor, we decided that we’d only take Project Deconstruct Monitor so far before it would find itself at the town recycling center. The monitor has been in storage, inactive, for about ten years so there was very little chance of being shocked by a charged capacitor. On an aesthetic level, I just love the look of those transformers on the circuit board (am I getting this right??) — it looks like a big (miniature) city!

Before the monitor met its fate, we brought out some tinkering tools to explore with: scissors, screwdriver, and flashlight. And N loved it! She got her hands right into the wires and asked loads of good questions. It was really fun for all of us to see exactly what was inside a monitor.

N got her flashlight out to get a closer look at the circuit boards, wires, and metal housing pieces.

And she even got to give the screwdriver a spin or two.

After this, my husband carted the whole thing off to be recycled by professionals, and suggested that next time we take apart a simple keyboard or mechanical clock. Agreed!

Aside from being on edge about safety, this was a great project for matching my child’s interests (she’s taken note of other deconstructed computers lately), supporting curiosity, encouraging exploration of the unknown, and giving her a more intimate understanding of the inner-workings of our computers. Who knows, she may be a computer scientist one of these days!

Have you deconstructed anything lately?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime, We Play

Recycled Weaving Fence

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When I saw this awesome weaving installation on display at the Bay Area Discovery Museum I knew it was something that I wanted to recreate at home. If I were running a preschool I think I would have taken the time to build such a structure because it would be a stellar group project, but as the parent of one curious, yet fickle, preschooler I thought it might be prudent to build a simple test-model first to see if this would be an idea worthy of further exploration (and investment!).

After scratching my head over this, I came up with this prototype made from wooden skewers (two on each end), painters tape, a deconstructed fruit sack from the market, and assorted ribbon.

It was a beautiful day, and N was up for the challenge.

With four ribbon spools to choose from, she cut  what she wanted and worked on figuring out how to get it through the mesh.

It was tricky, but she kept at it until she figured it out. Real challenges give kids the opportunity to celebrate their successes and gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

She also tried this shiny, elastic ribbon, and found it was easier to push through the holes. What a nice surprise lesson in compare and contrast!

And she even wrapped it all the way around the edge of the wood post.

N likes collaborating with me — it seems that she takes her work more seriously if I get involved too — so you can see a few of my ribbons woven in there as well. We worked on this for about 20 minutes and I left it up so that we can revisit it over the course of the week. And if there’s still energy around weaving, and this project in particular, I may just invest in some garden fencing like the stuff I saw at the children’s museum.

Has anyone made one of these? Did your child/children stick with it for a while?

Related Ideas

  • If you have a chainlink fence, you could weave through it with fabric or crepe paper. I’m thinking about bringing a basket of crepe paper with us next time we visit the park. Do you think anyone would mind if we made a fence weaving installation?
  • Check out this yarn heart-weaving from Outdoor Knit.

What else could you build a weaving fence from?

This post was shared with Craft Schooling Sunday. Childhood 101, It’s Playtime

Flour Sifter

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We have a make-shift sensory tub that often makes its way into the middle of our kitchen where we conduct experiments, make “cakes and pies,” and mess around with the feel of stuff. Some of the things we’ve filled it with are dry beans, oobleck, jello, vinegar and baking soda, and rice.

I’m always on the lookout for neat-o objects that might challenge and delight my child, and when I saw this flour sifter in the market I had a feeling she’d love it. And she does. Loves it. I’ve used it maybe once (I guess I’m not picky about eating lumpy cake), so if we were to mark ownership based on usage, it’s definitely hers!

I set her up with a couple plastic containers full of flour, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a soup spoon, and a crank-style sifter. Once she got to work, she poured a few cups of flour into the sifter and started cranking away, making some great crusty ol’ noises.

She dumped out the flour dregs that didn’t spin through.

And then she had a pile of flour ready to mold into a tiny mountain. This process repeated a handful of times, just long enough for me to do some dishes and start dinner.

What other kitchen tools do you play with?

This post was shared with Art for Little Hands

Dry Erase on Windows

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Why use paper and crayons when you can draw on windows with markers?

My husband invited us to visit him during a class he’s teaching on the intersection of design and improvisation (oh how I wish I had time to take this class!).  He brought N a dry erase marker to keep her occupied. Can you find little sister up there?

He led her to the large sliding doors, and suggested that she could draw on them. Lucky kid!

She loved it…

And rose to the challenge. (Haha. I couldn’t resist!)

A couple days later, just before breakfast, we found N sitting on our dining room table, drawing on the windows. Gasp! It was all good once we replaced the magic marker with a dry erase marker. Thankfully no Sharpies were involved!

Thinking about her next drawing move.

Idea in mind, she was back to the window.

Sitting back to inspect and appreciate the handiwork.

This activity is great for pushing the envelope of material possibilities. All you need are a dry erase marker and a good-sized window. Dry erase markers can stain porous surfaces, so be sure to give clear instructions about where the markers can be used. Windows can be wiped clean with a soft rag or cloth.

For more on white board drawing, visit this related post: Wonderful Whiteboarding.

This post was shared with It’s Playtime, Childhood 101, Art for Little Hands

Egg Dyeing Experiments

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News break :) If you like TinkerLab, please click on over here and give us your vote.

We won’t win anything, but the attention sure is nice!

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I’m excited to share my first inter-blog collaborative project. Are you ready?

Today I’m posting two Easter Egg projects in conjunction with Melissa of The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

After reading about last week’s Rolled Easter Egg Painting, Melissa suggested that we could have gotten extra mileage out of the project if we’d made it a two for one kind of thing. In case you missed it, N and I made paintings by rolling painted plastic Easter eggs all over pieces of paper. When the paintings were done I washed the eggs off, and Melissa’s idea is that we could have kept the eggs painted as decorative treasures. Of course! I loved this idea, so Melissa and I hatched a plan for today’s post: We would simultaneously experimented with Rolled Easter Egg Painting and we’d also share an idea for Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs. You can read my posts right here on TinkerLab, and Melissa’s are over here on her blog, The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

Dyed Egg Experiment #1: We made Rolled Wooden Eggs with wooden eggs, acrylic paint, and glitter. Click here for details.

Dyed Egg Experiment #2: We made Vegetable-dyed Easter Eggs from beets, cabbage, and onions, and used stickers, parsley, and rubber bands to add texture. Click here for more.

While Melissa and I worked with similar materials, our perspectives and those of our children are different, and we hope you’ll enjoy seeing how these experiments transpired in each of our homes.

If you’d like to join the collaboration and share your version of either egg-coloring process (or something entirely different!), you’re welcome to share a photo or link in the comments.

Art Dice

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Art Dice from Tinkerlab

I’ve been saving these wooden cubes for the just the right project, and it recently occurred to me that they could be repurposed into Art Dice: a fun tool for creating some randomly generated art. Every flip of a dice becomes an opportunity to explore art vocabulary, drawing skills, color recognition, and shape identification, to name a few. If you have any spare blocks lying around, you might want to consider repurposing them into a new life as tool for art making!

For children older than mine and/or adults, these could be used to chase away writer’s or artist’s block: Simply roll the dice and draw or write about what pops up. Combine a few dice together and rise to the challenge of combining disparate ideas into a cohesive whole.

While this project comes a bit premature for my daughter, I made three dice based on the Elements of Art for us to play with: Shapes, Colors, and Lines. You could easily replace these themes with characters, places, textures, moods, architectural elements, etc.

We started with the line dice and I shared that after rolling the dice I would draw the line that randomly appeared on top . My daughter watching me do this for a few rounds of polka dots, spirals, and circles, but she didn’t make a move to jump in. Instead, she scribbled on my drawings, picked up her trusty scissors, cut the drawings into a handful of pieces, and collaged them into a picture. But this was wonderful — the dice sparked a game that led us in a new, fun direction!

She finally picked up the dice and kept rolling it until the circle showed up on top, which was what she REALLY wanted to draw all along, I suppose. And she proceeded to draw a page full of circles. Awesome!

Ideas for Game Rules:

  1. Each player has a piece of paper. Players take turns rolling the dice, and each player draws what they see after the dice roll. Decide how many times you’ll roll the dice before sharing your pictures with each other. Marvel at the similarities and differences between artworks.
  2. Players share one piece of paper. The player who rolls the dice draws their interpretation of the shape/line/color on the paper. They pass the dice to the other player who does the same. This continues for a set number of turns.
  3. Try either of the above games with more than one dice.
  4. Any other ideas? Please share!

If you like this idea, then you might also enjoy Keri Smith’s Dice walking game, as explored on The Artful Parent

Happily shared with ABC and 123 and Sun Scholars

Jell-O Excavation | Sensory Play for Kids

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We had fun excavating Jello today…

I placed little toy animals in a bundt pan full of Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight. This afternoon, it was open for investigation.

Hmmmm, feels kind of funny.

“How can I get the animals out?”

“With a knife!” A butter knife, of course.

Because the allure of plain ol’ Jello would only go so far, we added the bottles of colored water for fun.

Pouring water all over the excavation site.

Little fox, trapped in colorful Jello.

Scooping and mixing the slimy concoction. Despite my art school background, I had no idea that lime green and magenta watercolors would mix together to make blood red (!!), and I’ll spare you from some of the more gory-looking snaps. After I guffawed at the mess, my daughter asked me what “gross” means. This was clearly a rich vocabulary lesson as well.

After freeing the animals, filling the water bottles with Jello was a whole other adventure. Thanks to Time for Play for the inspiration!

Supplies: Jello Excavation

I used one box of Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box), and followed the directions on the back of the box. If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), this product from Jeannie Prebiotics looks great.

How to set this up

I poured a cup of cold water directly into the mold, sprinkled all four bags over the water and let it rest for one minute. Next, I added three cups of hot water and stirred it up. Then the animals were added. I placed it in the fridge to set, which takes three hours. To free it from the mold, I ran hot water over the back of the bundt pan for half a minute and the whole thing slid out. You could also spray the mold with cooking spray.

Have you played with Jello? Share a story or add your photo into the comments!