Homemade {Easy, Low-cost} Light Table

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make an inexpensive DIY light table.

DIY light table that's easy and affordable

Light tables like this are great for preschoolers, as they inspire them with sorting and designing compositions. Light Tables are wonderful for exploring the play of light, shadow, color, and transparency. Their unique nature can add a magical element to child’s play and encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember the overhead projector that we salvaged for just $5 from Stanford’s Re-Use Department or the DIY Light Table that we filled with salt and water beads.

Build a Light Table

I wanted to include a light box tutorial in my forthcoming book and recognized that our light box wouldn’t be easy for other parents or caregivers to replicate, so I started tinkering. Once I wrapped my head around this project, it couldn’t have been simpler.

Like painfully simple! Wait ’til you see.

If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll wonder why not.

make your own light table

DIY Light Box Materials

  • Under-the-bed style clear storage box. This Rubbermaid Storage Box (affiliate) is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • White Tissue Paper (the kind you wrap gifts with), wax paper, or tracing paper. My preference is white tissue paper. Stay clear of parchment paper as it’s impossible to tape it to anything.
  • Clear Tape
  • String of holiday lights
  • Extension cord: optional


  1. Tissue Paper: Line the inside of the lid with tissue paper and tape it in place. Use clear tape so that the tape doesn’t show. 
  2. Holiday Lights: Spread a string of holiday lights around the inside of your box. The cord will dangle out. We were able to close our box on the cord, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
  4. Seed the project: My kids are most responsive to this invitation if I seed the table with a few ideas. I set all of the materials out as you see in the photo above. My 2-year old saw this and added a red circle in the middle of one of the “flowers.” Then she decided to build a whole series of flowers with my assistance (below).

Homemade Light Box

Materials for the Light Table

affiliate links

Inspiring objects for light table

More cool design materials that you might enjoy

Store-bought Light Box Options

If making your own light box doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an enormous selection of store-bought options to choose from. We also have a sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. Dbmier makes a similar tracing pad that’s recommended for stenciling, 2D Animation, Calligraphy, Embossing, Scrapbooking, Sketching & Drawing, and Sewing projects,.

This small box doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s portable and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).

plug in light table

More Light Box Inspiration

I couldn’t have written this post without mentioning that as I was working on this project, my friend Anna at The Imagination Tree posted her own DIY Light Box for Sensory Play. Our projects are nearly identical, and this isn’t the first time this has happened! Click on the links to see how Anna made her sensory light box.

Two years ago we both posted the same project, on the same day. Here’s a peak: If you have a toddler, you might also enjoy my Colander Sculpture and Anna’s Discovery Box Pipe Cleaners. The Imagination Tree is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a hands-on parent I’m sure you’ll love it too, so do check it out if it’s not already on your radar.

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

Paint with glue, and how to make your own colored glue

My 2-year old is going through the phase of wanting to squeeze all the life out of any tube of paint, toothpaste, or glue that crosses her path. Have you had, or do you have, a child in that phase as well?

Paint with glue | Tinkerlab.com

I remember this phase well. When my older daughter hit it, I made up a big batch of flour + water paint so that she could squeeze all she wanted. It was an economical solution that allowed her to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze without multiple visits to the art store for more paint.

In a similar vein, we recently made colored glue when we added liquid watercolors to some simple white glue. The girls love it, especially the younger one, and it’s now a staple of our creative zone. The colors of the glue are rich, the consistency is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t break the bank, especially since we stock up on glue with a gallon-size bottle of Elmers Washable School Glue.

Paint with colored glue | Tinkerlab.com


  • White glue bottles or other empty squeezable bottles
  • Liquid watercolors or food coloring
  • Cardstock or other heavyweight to squeeze glue onto
  • A tray to catch the drips
  • Sequins and other treasures (optional)


Add a few drops of food coloring to the glue, cap the bottle, and shake until well-mixed.

paint with glue2

Glue as you wish!

Learning outcomes

Yes, learning is embedded in this experience! This activity is great for developing hand muscles, problem solving, making aesthetic choices, and exploring the limitations and possibilities of glue. It also teaches children how to control the flow of glue, which is a fantastic skill that will transfer over to squeezing shampoo and ketchup bottles.

Note: Links in this article may lead to an affiliate site. I only share products that I love and/or think you’ll find useful. 



Easy String Art Experiments for Kids

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

— Jackson Pollack, American Painter

String Art

Creating string art is a fun mix of art, creative thinking, and experimentation all rolled into one open-ended package.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that when it comes to children’s projects, my focus lies on the experience of creating more than the product.

String Art

My 4-year old, who has been calling herself Leia for the past month (as in Princess Leia — and yes, she’s been wearing the Leia costume she got for Christmas for the past 24 hours!), adds string to everything she makes. And my 2-year old, who we like to call Rainbow on this blog (here’s the story of how that began), said that she wanted to paint. So this experience was the perfect marriage of their interests on this rainy morning.

To get started, you only need a few simple materials.


  • Washable tempera paint, poured into small bowls
  • Short pieces of string
  • Copy paper and/or cardstock
  • Spoons to help cover the string in paint
  • Table covering (optional)
  • Baby wipes or a damp towel to clean hands

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

Creative Invitation

Without giving my children too much direction, I like to set up our projects up as invitations to create. I might make a suggestion or give a brief prompt, but I trust that the materials speak volumes to children. The less that I interject, the more opportunity they’ll have to find their own voice and make independent decisions.

With this project, Leia and Rainbow spent some time dancing their painted strings across the paper. After this ran its course I folded a sheet of paper in half and offered a suggestion that they could try pulling the string through the shut paper.

More experiments

This resulted in a symmetrical mirror image painting, which inspired Leia to try pulling more than one string through the paper at once. She then tested the process of holding one paint-soaked string in each hand, and pulling them through at the same time. I obviously needed to step in an assist her on this one.

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

They struggled with gaining control over the string and occasionally complained about getting paint on their hands, but the complexity of working with this tricky combination of paint and string challenged them to work with familiar materials in a new way.

Experiment Ideas

String Art Painting

Would you try this combination in your home? Have you tried it already?

What other materials could you combine with paint to make it more interesting and less common?

Marbled Paper Suminagashi

Are you looking for a last-minute hands-on gift, or maybe an idea to bookmark for a cold winter day? I’ve been saving this Suminagashi kit for a quiet morning and it was a true winner with both my 2-year old and 4-year old.

The process of marbleizing paper encourages creative thinking, open-ended exploration with ink and water, and experimentation.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

But first, maybe you’ve noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here. I’m sorry that I’ve kind of dropped the ball on my blog this month. I’ve been hunkering down with my other writing project and something had to go sit on the back burner. (sorry, bloggy).

Maybe you didn’t notice, in which case — yay! You’ve probably been busy too. It’s the holiday season after all. What are your plans for the holidays? Have you been baking? Are you going anywhere tropical or fun?

My kids finished making and packing their gifts for friends, my shopping is all but done, and now only the dreaded box of holiday cards is staring at me from across the room, waiting for messages of holiday cheer and stamps (that have yet to be purchased — eek).

But that can wait just a few more minutes because I have to share this important, colorful, festive, and fun art meets science experience with you…

Marbled Paper

I ordered our Suminagashi kit from Amazon for about $16 and you can find it here: Marbling Kit, Japanese Suminagashi. I just checked and if you order today it’ll arrive before Christmas. You know, just in case.

The beautiful word, suminagashi, translates from Japanese to mean “spilled ink.” I love saying suminagashi, and hearing my kids try to say it is a-dorable. Suminagashi is traditionally done with Sumi Ink, which is oily. Since oil floats on top of water, guess what? So does the Sumi ink! The ink that comes in this kit is non-toxic and “made by high-grade cosmetic pigment with P.V.A via a special process.” Loosely translated from Japanese, I assume.

The kit is recommended for ages 6 and up, probably more for dexterity reasons than anything. Both of my children handled the dyes quite capably — my younger daughter with a little help — so I wouldn’t let the age thing stop you if that’s a concern.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

The process is fun and simple: Squeeze a little bit of color into a tray of water, swirl it around, drop a piece of paper on top, and you have a print.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi This is one of those projects that’s tough to stop at just one. Because each print is unique, it’s compelling to try multiple variations on the theme. This kept us active for a good hour, and when they were dry my 4-year old turned these into holiday cards for her fantastic teachers.

More Suminagashi around the web

If you’re interested in another version of this experience, we did some marbling experiments  a couple years ago with spectacular results: Marbleized Paper with oil and liquid watercolors.

Inner Child Fun shows how to make gorgeous concentric circles — I wish we had tried this ourselves. Next time!

The History of Suminagashi

Oder this book, How to Marbleize Paper if you’re interested in learning how to make 12 traditional marbleized patterns

**Note: I am an Amazon affiliate, but I only share links to products that I adore and/or think you’ll find useful**

3 Tools that Build a Child’s Confidence

Young children are full of their own ideas, confidence, and enthusiasm for the new. As much as we hope they’ll retain this strong sense of self, as they get older it’s possible that their confidence can diminish with the influence of peers or self-doubt that comes from not being able to bounce back from failure.

I hope that my kids can retain a strong sense of self as they grow older. Given that my kiddos are girls I’m acutely aware of how easily they can lose themselves in the face of strong personalities. The rise of books such as Raising Confident Girls: 100 Tips For Parents And Teachers, The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, and how girls THRIVE demonstrate just how critical this issue is for children, and perhaps girls morso than boys.

I wrote a post about Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence and share three more with you today not as doctrine but as inspiration. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this — what tools do you think are important for building a child’s confidence?

Tool #1: Trust.

Children put an enormous amount of stock into what their parents or teachers think, and it’s our role to show them that we believe in them.

My 4-year old loves, loves, loves my sewing machine. I don’t let her use it unsupervised, but when she does use the machine all I do is help her guide the fabric. She presses the pedal, lifts the foot, and cuts the thread. The same can be said for the hot glue gun, electric mixer and cooking at the stove. We don’t do these things all the time, but I try to find ways to build these moments of trust into our days together.

Tool #2: Iteration

For a child to truly understand how things work, he or she needs to test it out multiple times and in various ways. Think of the child who just learned to write his name and how he’ll write it in various sizes, on different kinds of paper, vertically and horizontally, all in an effort to understand the written word and his particular place in the world.

In this image taken of my daughter last year, she was painting with watercolors. She paints with watercolors frequently and had experimented with brush painting, dipping paper in the paint, and squeezing paint with droppers. On this day, she wanted to see test the results of blowing paint with two different straws. One worked far better than the other, and she only figured this out because we dedicated time to iteration.

Tool #3: Tinker

Pulling things apart to undertand how they work helps children grasp the bigger picture of the world around them. We had an old monitor that was scheduled for a trip to the dump, and decided to pull it apart (carefully) so that my daughter could get a close look at some circuit boards and wires that live behind the computer. Another, safer, way to go about this is to give children some small tools and an old clock, and a fair amount of time to take it all apart.

For more on this topic, check out Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

What tools do you think are important for building a child’s sense of confidence?