My 2-year old came down with a fever last week and we’ve been more or less house-bound. It’s no fun at all, but it’s made me pretty resourceful around the house. One big win was pulling out our homemade light table.
My 4-year old, who used to love this box, seems to have grown out of it (sniff — maybe it’s a phase?), but my 2-year old was right at home sorting and designing compositions.
I’m a fan of things that light up. 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.
Light Box Materials
- Under-the-bed style clear storage box. Ours is made by Rubbermaid. It’s 6″ x 17″ x 28″ , the lid is clear, and it has has a latching lid. I found ours at either Target or Ace Hardware, and here’s a link to what appears to be the same box via Amazon: Rubbermaid Storage Box. 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
- Sting of holiday lights
- Extension cord: optional
- 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.
- 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.
- Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
- 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).
Design Materials that we use
- Agate Light Table Slices
- Transparent Circular Counters
- Overhead Tangrams (the plastic shapes)
- Rounded edge sea-glass pebbles
More cool design materials that you might enjoy
- Giant Crystal Connectors
- Magna Tiles (Oh, how I would love a set of these)
- Shimmering Water Rainbow Blocks
- Translucent Wedgits
- Colorful Transparent Disposable Cups
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 this sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. It doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s not too expensive, portable, and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).
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.