DIY light table for preschool

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on June 14, 2011

in DIY, Light Table, Light Table

On my wish list is a brand new light table but I have a very long wish list and not much patience. After seeing so many wonderful light table ideas and reading a bunch of amazing ideas on Teach Preschool on Facebook about using a light table, I decided to try making my own…

This idea I am sharing with you is still a “work in progress” but I figured I would share the basics of the idea and let you use your own creativity to take it from there. During one of our Teach Preschool on Facebook discussions, Caroline mentioned that her friend made a light box out of a plastic container. Although Caroline and her friend described a different method for making the box – the idea of using a plastic container really seemed plausible to me…

The box

I had several containers with plastic lids but I went ahead and purchased this one. What I ultimately needed was a shallow plastic container with a clear lid. The lid needs to be as free from lines and print as possible so not to get in the way of the lighted area.

The light

To add light, I purchased some of these battery operated button lights. I found them at the dollar store for $1 each but some of them were so cheap that they didn’t work so I bought some button lights from Walmart for about $3.00 each plus the batteries to run them all. I chose to do the button lights so I didn’t have to mess with cords right now but this may not be the most economical way to go over the long term..

Holding in the light

Because my container was all clear, I decided that the light was not being funneled the right way – keep in mind that I am not a technical kind of girl so this is all a guess. I added a piece of black poster board inside my box to keep the light from escaping out from the sides of the box. I am thinking that I will paint the inside of my box but not until I am done experimenting….

Diffusing the light

Once I had the cardboard and lights set up inside my box, I put on the lid but the light was too bright. To look into the box was just like staring into a lightbulb.

So my husband suggested I try diffusing the light a bit. He hunted around and came back with some parchment paper…

So what you see below are four sheets of parchment paper laying across the top of the box. Two sheets on the the left and two sheets on the right. The two sheets on each side are stacked together so to thicken the “frost” for the light to go through. The sheets were pulled tight so they didn’t sag and the lid was placed back on top to hold them in place…

You will also notice that the number of lights in the container keeps changing. In the end, I liked having no less than three button lights but really the more you can have the better…

Here is the table with more than two lights…


So to recap, you will need – battery operated button lights, a shallow plastic container with lid, parchment paper for the top, and black paper for the sides of the container.  Then something to put on the light table for play and exploration.

Wy played with the light table for a bit but he didn’t like for me to turn off the kitchen lights.  So when he went off to do something else, I turned off the kitchen lights and played with my new DIY light table too!

Once I was done with everything, I simply opened up the lid and stored it all inside the plastic box (colorful cups, discs, lights, parchment paper) and put the box away for another day…

See the updated Light Table!

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Sharing the wonders of early learning in action!

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1 Kat June 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Fantastic idea…Im going to use this next year for my Head Start classroom!! Thanks for sharing.

2 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm

You will have the best class ever!!!

3 Rachele @Messy Kids June 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm

OMG I love it! I think I’m going to make this for home!!!!

4 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Yay! Let me know if you find any way to improve the idea!

5 Scott June 14, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Easy and not too expensive. I think I’ll use this until I can get a “real” light table. Thanks, Deborah!

6 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm

What??? This is a real light table! Lol!!

7 Tonya Cordero June 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I love this! I am always looking for cheap ways to make something work. I believe there is a spray you can buy to “frost” the lid. I’d have to ask around to find out to make sure. I will definitely have to do this for my pre-k class.

8 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Let me know if you find a good frosting idea!

9 NeverEver June 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm

If you put foil on the inside of the black parchment paper, you would get more reflection which will also help diffuse the light around the box, also the light will be used more efficiently (because the black paper just absorbs that extra light) so maybe you won’t have to use as many buttons.

<3 a science nerd

10 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Where were you last week:). I did not even think about how black absorbs light!

11 Carrie June 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Love this idea. I’m thinking about one for home and for my centers at work!

12 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm

At least this makes it more affordable and it is so lightweight you could take it home and to school:)

13 Michelle June 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Try spraypainting the inside of the lid and the inside of the box white. That will help it all shine through…not sure if the taplights will still show through as well, but the white on the inside of the box will definitely help.

14 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I am definitely going to paint the inside. Others have suggested silver. Not sure which will be better or if one is better than the other.

15 Becky June 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Thank you so much for this inspiration!!!!!!

16 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

You are welcome Becky:)

17 Tammy June 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm

If you find a better way you will share it. Right? I am a visual person. :)

18 Tammy June 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm

This would also be a great project to do with the kids to teach about light so they see the process. Just a thought…

19 catherine @ SunHats&WellieBoots June 15, 2011 at 1:53 am

What a brilliant, frugal idea! Love it! Will be sure to make one of these soon! Thanks for sharing another great idea! :)

20 lauren June 15, 2011 at 2:15 am

You could also use that uh, Press and Seal stuff for a less cluttered, semi-permanent solution. [: Cool idea though, love it.

21 jennifer June 15, 2011 at 2:44 am

I had some of those lights and threw them out a few years ago as I never used them ………what a great idea

22 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 15, 2011 at 6:04 am

Oh no!!

23 Kristin June 15, 2011 at 7:43 am

Oh what a good idea! I can’t wait to try this at home with my little ones. Thank you so much.

24 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm

You are welcome Kristin – I am glad you will be giving this a try too:)

25 Kimby June 15, 2011 at 7:57 am

Hi, Deborah! I’m here from basilmomma’s hop and your ideas look FUN! I see you’re a musician, too :) — neat to combine your love of children with the things you love doing. Glad to meet you!
~ Kimby (aka okielicious)

26 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Nice to have you here!

27 Kristi @ Creative Connections for Kids June 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Deborah ***This is brillant! I am pinning it on Pinterest…hope that is okay! :)

28 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Of course it is!

29 Colleen June 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm

LOVE THIS! I’ve always wanted a light table, but never in the budget. This I could do. Thanks!

30 Christie-Childhood 101 June 17, 2011 at 2:33 am

This is fabulous, Deborah, I have only ever dreamed of having a lightbox at home, now it might actually be possible!

31 Karen @ PreKinders June 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Genius! I’ve seen other DIY light tables, but they all involve wiring and light bulbs. Now, why didn’t I think of button lights? That’s perfect and so simple. As Tonya said, there is something you can spray on the lid to frost it, I just can’t remember what it is.

32 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I am excited to keep working on the idea a bit more – there is always room for improvement but it does allow me to have fun with light in a new way I can afford right now:)

33 Darcey June 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Deborah,I love your light box ideas. I can’t wait to see what activities you’re planning with them for next week. I’ve linked up to your post here: Hope you’re having a great weekend!

34 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Thank you for the link-up Darcey! I have much to share but it will take a few days to get it all ready:)

35 Sharon - Cheeky Monkeys Childminding June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Amazing and so simple – Thank you for the inspiration and I am sure the monkeys will be thanking you in the next few weeks for all their playtime

36 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Haha! I hope they have lots of fun!

37 Still Playing School July 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm


Where did you find your box? I have been searching for one with a clear, mostly plain lid with no luck.


38 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 6, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I found my plastic tote boxes at Meijer. I hope you are having better luck finding a box that works for you!

39 Kristin@SenseofWonder August 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I linked to this post. We are trying our hand with a DIY light table at home. So far so good. Thank you for all of your creative posts.
I had a hard time finding a lid with a clear top too, but I just attached my lights to the lid and then flipped the box upside down. Its a little extra hassle but it will have to do until I can find a clear lidded box.

40 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 23, 2011 at 2:33 pm

That works just as well Kristin! I had thought about doing that myself:)

41 Robin Maas December 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I have wanted a light table for my preschool classroom but with budgets I couldn’t justify one. I am going to purchase these materials and make it over Christmas break! I love the fact you can store all of the materials inside and have ONE item to keep track of/store! Thank you for the great idea.

42 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 4, 2011 at 10:00 pm

You are welcome Robin:)

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