I've been wanting to get a light table for the kids, since there's so many things you can do with it. However, light tables are prohibitively expensive, and I couldn't justify spending so much on something that the kids would not be using everyday. I tried making one using a storage box we had, but that version bugged me, since the surface the kids were working on had grooves and bits of plastic molding sticking out, which affected any stacking they did.
In the end, we made a trip down to Toyogo to look for a suitable plastic box. I had combed Daiso for suitable boxes a couple of times, but they didn't have anything large enough for what I had in mind. (If you would like to make a small one out of Daiso's plastic shoebox, you can read this guide by Growing with the Tans.)
At Toyogo, I couldn't find something suitable initially. I was hunting for something large enough to accommodate all 3 boys, but all the larger boxes had covers with a diamond pattern, and bases with plastic molding. But the hubby found these medium sized boxes that were slightly larger than 2 shoeboxes. (Item number 7802, upon entering the warehouse, turn right and walk all the way to the right-most corner, these are located on the bottom-most shelf.) These were perfect for one child, and had unpatterned, translucent plastic covers that were just nice for the light table surface. But they were too small. How? Looking at the price tag gave us the answer: They were selling these at $7 per box, but you could get a discount if you purchase three, at $18.90 for three. So I decided to go with one box per child, since that meant lowering the likelihood of them fighting over work space. Another great advantage of working with three smaller boxes: we can remove the covers and stack the boxes, one inside the other, to save space when we were not using them, and all their materials could fit inside too.
So here's how to make a light table, in about 10 minutes:
1. Gather your materials:
- Toyogo box with cover (Item no. 7802)
- Large LED light from Daiso
- Aluminium foil
- Batteries (each light requires 4 AA batteries, which we purchased from Daiso too)
2. Line each box with aluminum foil, ensuring that you cover both the base and the sides. The shiny side of the foil should be facing you. You can either fold the excess foil over the edge of the box, or hold the foil in place with tape. (We opted to fold the foil, since that means we can remove it easily to stack the boxes together when the kids were done.) The aluminum foil helps to reflect the light, which is helpful since the cover is fairly thick (the picture isn't very clear, but you can observe a difference in the light intensity for the box on the left which is lined with foil, versus the box on the right which is not lined).
3. Insert batteries into the LED lights, and push them to switch them on. Cover the box, and you are good to go!
Now, what can you do with these tables? Basically anything transparent works: you can try using glass pebbles from Daiso, building with Crystal Climbers, or playing with pieces of colored cellophane or colored water in test tubes.
My kids were kept busy for a long time, forming pictures with Power Polygons (these come in a huge set of 450 pieces, so it's best to share them with a friend or two). The toddler was busy building structures with Geometric Solids, which you can get as a set in blue or various colors (these have bases that are removable and are great for exploring the concept of volume too!).
Having light shining through the pieces on the table made everything appear extra beautiful. Also, the kids discovered that they could stack the polygons to mix the colors. It was an activity that kept them occupied for half a morning, and the toddler was especially excited when he found he was able to stack up the solids into a tower. (If you need more ideas on what you could do on a light table, hop over to this post!)
In total, we spent slightly less than $30 to make 3 light tables (if you do not include the cost of aluminum foil), which is quite a steal, considering how expensive real light tables cost!