How to Build an 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 light table is designed to hold salt or sand in the top layer. For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

How to build an easy DIY light table for kids

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

Easy DIY LIght Table |

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 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.


  • 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. This Rubbermaid Storage Box 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.
  • 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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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:

One more DIY Light Table

For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table


Water Scooping for Babies

Water Scooping for Babies

While my older daughter tore up the grass with the Slip ‘n Slide, I set my 10 month old up with a bucket of water and some measuring cups. And she got right to work, filling and emptying the cups. It was interesting to watch her attempt to fill the cups when they were upside down, and then exciting when she figured the “problem” out and corrected for it.

And then, presumably, she was proud of one of her many accomplishments.

The provocation is simple — Set your project up outside (since most babies thrive when there are airplanes to track and birds to listen for) and provide your baby with a low bucket of water. Tools are optional. And then see what discoveries come about.

Sensory Play: Water Scooping for Babies

Any other ideas for playing in water with babies?


Baby Bean Bowl Exploration

bean bowl sensory experience for babies

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.

Baby Sensory Play: Bean Bowl.

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

Flour Sifter

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

Jell-o Excavation | Jello Sensory Play for Kids

Try jello sensory play for a fun and engaging sensory experience for toddlers and preschoolers.

Jello Sensory Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers

The basic ingredients are shared below, and yes, this experience can be set up with gelatin-free products! Details below.

Supplies: Jello Sensory Play

affiliate links>>

Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box).

If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), try this product from Jeannie Prebiotics

Large Plastic Tub. This under-the-bed container is great.

Tools to excavate with: spoon, butter knife

Pipettes for squeezing colored water

Liquid Watercolors. This set from Sargent is fantastic for this project.

How I made the Jell-o Mold

Check your Jell-o package for best directions.

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.

Set up your Jello Sensory Play Area

Begin my setting up little plastic toys in a bundt pan full of liquid Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight or until set. Be sure to follow the instructions on the box.

Release the jello mold into a large container. Provide excavating tools, liquid watercolors, and pipettes.

Make it an Invitation to Explore

Set the supplies up as an invitation and ask:

“What could we do with these materials?”

“How does it feel when you touch it?”

“How can we get the toys out?”


Once the allure of the jello has gone its course, introduce bottles of liquid watercolors and a bowl of water.


At this point, you could scoop and mix the slimy concoction. Follow the child’s lead and see what interests them.

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.

Defrosting Animals

Although we live in mostly Sunny California, I’ve been inspired by all of the snow and ice activities I’ve been reading about in the blog world lately. Sensory activities always go over well in our house, and I had a feeling this would work out in my favor.

Right after my daughter turned two, she was fascinated by all-things-ice. Here she on a plane, happily pouring ice from one cup to another. We were traveling to Mexico with very few toys, and were delighted to discover that she was highly engaged with ice-based activities like filling water glasses with ice cubes, playing with ice in the bathtub, and picking up ice from an ice bucket with tongs. If you have a little one and haven’t yet played with ice, this is the time!

I froze a number of animals in various plastic bowls and silicone bento containers, and put them in the freezer before going to bed. I especially like these mini bread loaves because they can fit into the nooks and crannies of my freezer and they didn’t take forever to thaw out. If you live somewhere chilly, you can probably set the ice up right in your backyard, but I had to make a little room in my freezer, which is no small feet when said freezer is 1 cubic foot and full of pureed baby food.

In the morning, we were greeted with a fun defrosting activity. The bowls of icy animals were placed in a large tub alongside odds and ends worthy of picking, banging, and melting away ice. My daughter had trouble with the hammers, as the slippery icy animals kept squirming away, and the golf tees ended up adding more danger to the activity than I’d imagined. My husband enjoyed these tools, however, which turned this into a nice collaborative project, while my daughter was invested in squirting an endless supply of warm water (courtesy of moi) all over the ice.

And between the two of them, all of the animals were freed!

Happily shared with Tot Tuesdays, Monkeying AroundHomeschool Creations, Science Sunday, High Paw: Best Toys for Toddlers, World Animal Day Bloghop

Sensory play for Babies

Sensory experiences for Babies

It’s exciting to see a baby emerge from the shell of sleepiness and into the world of awareness; a transition that becomes more obvious as she mimics a smile, tracks movement above her head, or is surprised by sounds.

One of our family’s favorite activities for tactile awareness is to gently billow and twirl a colorful scarf above and over the baby’s head, bringing huge waves of joy to her face that we can only interpret as awe. I like silk scarves for their translucent flowing quality, but lightweight cotton works nicely too.

This stuffed bee, with its plush body and crinkly wings, is the first object my older daughter grasped independently. Gaining knowledge through the sense of touch. Soft and squeeky. Tension and texture. I noticed she was especially fascinated by the crinkly wings, which led to this next experiment…

Exploring the sounds and textures of a plastic bag. I know, I know, plastic bags are absolutely not toys, and she was closely supervised throughout! If you try this at home, please use your best judgement. While she was captivated by this bag, even I could see that it was an inappropriate make-the-baby-happy-toy, and I stitched up one of these:

It’s a little plastic bag pillow: two pieces of fabric stitched over and around two pieces of heavy, crinkly plastic. Cute, safe, and noisy!

I found a noisy, crinkly bag. Chip, cracker, and baby wipes bags are usually really good for this sort of thing. Test different bags to find a sound you like, or make a few of these to play with different sounds.

Hand it to your child and see what they think of it. In reality, my daughter was more captivated by the plastic bag, but this still got a lot of use. An easy no-sew alternative is to wrap a bandana or square of fabric around a ball of wax paper or plastic, and tie it off with a yarn. Cut loose ends short, and keep an eye on your child at all times. If you’re up for sewing, you could also follow this ball/wax paper method, and then stitch it off for a more permanent toy. Related baby bonding activities can be found here.

What sensory activities does/did your baby enjoy?

Squeezing Paint

I set N up with some paint pots and a large sheet of paper — our favorite way to paint big as of late. After smearing some paint around and taking a few stabs at mixing colors, she asked me for more purple paint. The paint pot wasn’t empty, and the real story ended up being that she wanted to SQUEEZE more paint into the paint pot. Of course she did! Toddlers adore squeezing, as we’ve noted with glue bottles, water bottles, and glitter glue. So I handed her the bottle, and the following drip and splatter-fest took place.

At a later point I encouraged her to walk through the paint to make footprints, which unfortunately led to a messy paint disaster that included falling into a big slippery puddle of paint. This led to laughing and commotion, but since my hands were then full with towels and buckets of water, I’ll spare you the image and leave the result to your imagination.

The timing was perfect because I just ordered a set of Nancy Paint Bottles, and they arrived late in yesterday’s mail. After N went to bed I filled them with paint, ready for morning squeezing experiments!

Wow! It makes green!

The splatters that came out of the almost empty bottles were rewarding in their own way. This isn’t the most economical way to use paint with a squeeze-happy toddler, but as she gets older I’m sure she’ll become more judicious with the paint pouring. I also envision other squeeze bottle experiments with glue, flour mixtures, and liquid watercolors.

What kind of squeeze bottle experiments have you had in your home or school? Do you have any other ideas for materials that could be squeezed?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers |
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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