After 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 table. My caveats? No paint, no saw, and no nails. 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.
- Acrylic box frame– Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
- Large Plastic Storage Container
- Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container.
- Clear Packing Tape
- Toys and gadgets to create textures
I placed the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed style plastic tub that I use for all of our messy sensory projects (like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda), and couldn’t believe the perfect fit. 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 tried Christmas lights — you want to use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this.
To diffuse the light, my husband covered the bottom of the box frame with wax paper from the kitchen (he’s resourceful, too!). Then, to keep the frame from wiggling I taped it in place with clear shipping tape. 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. Once I sorted out the materials the whole thing took me about 10 minutes to assemble. To make this even easier, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights, and pour the sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our acrylic box, but it could work in a pinch.
We worked on 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.
Pressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.
Initially, I 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 experimente with, but it didn’t come on like gangbusters. 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.