Kids Light Table - The What, Why and How

Toddler sitting on a cube chair stool playing with a Montessori kids light table

Kids Light Tables

Kids light tables have become more and more popular over the last decade. They never fail to mesmerize children with their soft glow and dancing colors. When a child sees one for the first time, their eyes light up and they just can’t top looking at them. This explains why whenever there is one in a classroom setting, it instantly becomes everyone’s favorite feature in the room. 

That’s not all; kids light tables create lots of opportunities for activities and learning that kids can take advantage of. They encourage the development of a wide range of skills, including fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, pre-writing skills, color recognition, and more!

Here is a detailed look at kids' light tables, how they work, and some of the best activities you can do with them.

Kinetic sand castle on light table

What is a kids light table?

A traditional light table is basically a horizontal light box. It is a translucent surface that is illuminated from behind. It is used to view things that are placed on it in high contrast. Although it is commonly used in drafting, things like artwork, photography film, and x-rays can also be viewed or worked on using light tables.

A kids light table takes this idea and simplifies it to create a surface that kids can use to develop certain skills and learn more about the world around them. Such light tables have become quite popular in preschools all over the world.

Kids light tables can either be big, full-sized tables with elaborate lighting systems, smaller tables with simple controls, or DIY creations. Preschool settings will often have larger kids’ light tables while smaller ones and DIY ones are commonly used in homes.

Magnet building toy on light table

How does a kids light table conform to Montessori principles?

The Montessori method is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaboration. Kids light tables check all these boxes by providing an age-appropriate platform where kids can express themselves and learn new concepts at their own pace.

Montessori letters

Here are some of the ways kids' light tables conform to Montessori principles, along with some of the greatest benefits your child will get from using a kid's light table:

  • They are versatile teaching and learning tools that can be used for open play, academic learning, sensory integration, and scientific discovery
  • The lighted surface draws kids in and enhances the learning process. Children learn best visually. The light table makes the visuals the main feature of whatever lesson your child is learning. This also enhances the colors and provokes your little one’s imagination
  • It improves their observation skills by encouraging them to notice the subtle details on materials that are presented on the lighted surface which they otherwise would not have been able to see

Translucent cup castle on light table

  • They can be used to help kids improve their literacy, writing, music, math, and science skills. Because they create such inviting learning spaces, kids get to learn through play without even realizing it.
  • For younger children, light tables provide the perfect fun learning opportunity for creative tasks, fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, and pre-writing skills
  • It helps improve problem solving skills, spatial awareness, language development, and pattern and color recognition
  • They are great for helping children increase their attention spans because light tables naturally draw kids in with their glow
  • Learn more about how to set up a home with Montessori furniture.

What accessories are good for a light table?

Certain accessories can help take boring old light table activities to a whole other level. Here are some of them:

translucent Lego bricks light table tower

  • Crystal bricks and translucent LEGO® blocks (#ad): These look like regular blocks, except they are translucent and allow light to pass through them

3D blocks on light table

  • 3D blocks featuring geometric shapes: This is a great way for kids to learn about 3D shapes

Transparent counting chips on light table

  • Transparent counting chips: They look like slightly larger buttons with no holes

X-ray images on light table

  • Human and animal x-ray packs: These might work better in a classroom setting than at home, but they still offer a great way for kids to learn about animals

Magna-Tiles on light table

  • Magna-Tiles® (#ad): These are magnetic translucent tiles that your kids can use to create various structures. They are also a fun way for them to learn how colors mix

Translucent letter construction set on light table

  • Translucent letter construction set
  • Translucent buttons: Be sure to get lots of them in lots of different colors
  • Regular printing paper for design projects: You don’t have to get fancy with your paper. As long as it is thin enough for light to pass through and your child can draw on it, you’re good to go!
  • Translucent pattern blocks and geometric shapes
  • Kinetic sand: your little one will love making sand castles lit up by the light table

Translucent paper construction on light table for math and shapes

The main idea here is to get something light, colorful, and transparent or translucent. In this way, the list of accessories you can get is nearly endless. Just flex your creative muscles and find things that will go well with the light table.

As you do, try to think about how light will reflect and refract through the material. Experiment with your child and you will be surprised at how many fun accessories you can collect over time.

Finally, as your collection grows, remember to keep changing things up every week or so to keep your little one interested. Keep your collection of accessories somewhere safe, then rotate everything out periodically to make sure the light table will always be a fun, fresh, engaging area for your child. Learn more information about setting up a Montessori playroom.

What activities can kids perform with a light table?

Here is a list of some of the best activities that kids can do on a light table.  This list has been divided into two categories: cheap or free activities and activities that will need a few extra accessories to accomplish.

Free or very cheap light table activities you can do

This is a list of activities that you can get started with right away with things you already have around the house. For your convenience, this list has several subcategories that you can explore, including activities for art, science, and general play.

1. Art activities on the light table

Painting on light table

  • Painting on the light table: As your little one paint with water colors on the light table, the light will shine through the colors as they lay them on the paper, illuminating the entire room as they play.
  • Drawing on the light table: Sure, your kids can draw pretty much anywhere. However, with a light table, their drawings will get an extra illuminating glow that makes the entire process way more interesting. In the process, it can even inspire them to be even more creative! To help your kids draw on the light table, simply tape a piece of paper on the light table and let them use pens, pencils, markers, or crayons to draw whatever they want on the paper.
  • Colored paper collages: If you have colored paper towels, colored tissue paper, or translucent pieces of plastic, this is a great way to make some cool art out of them. Just cut up the paper and let your kids arrange the pieces into interesting shapes.

2. Science activities on the light table

Melting colored ice on light table

  • Melting ice experiment: To do this, place a few ice cubes on a clear baking dish. Next, add a few drops of different water colors on the ice. As the ice cubes melt, the colors will merge with each other, creating beautiful effects that will stand out even more with the light table.

Toothpick-and-grape structures on light table

  • Toothpick-and-grape structures: Get a bunch of grapes and some toothpicks. They can use these to build elaborate structures. Older kids can even exercise their knowledge of molecular structures, all illuminated by the soft glow of the light table

Rainbow milk experiment on light table

  • Rainbow milk experiment: You can put a twist on the classic rainbow milk experiment by using the light table. To do it, all you need to do is place a few drops of different food colors into a translucent bowl of milk on the light table. Then sit back and marvel at the swirling colors!
  • Fizzing colors experiment: For this experiment, you’ll need some vinegar, food coloring, baking soda, and a transparent tray. Mix the vinegar with the food coloring to create several sets of different colored liquids. Then place little mounds of baking soda all over your transparent tray. Use a dropper to release a few drops of each color on each individual mound. It’ll create a fun fizzy reaction that’s always a hit with kids!
  • Nature activities on the light table: Gather flowers, leaves, feathers, sea shells, among other nature items then observe them on the light table. It is a great way to get a closer look at the intricate patterns and structures.

3. Play activities on the light table

Water balloon babies on light table

  • Water balloon babies: Let the kids fill up a bunch of water balloons and draw fun expressive faces on them. The faces brighten up when illuminated from below with the light table

Cut-up pictures on light table

  • Print pictures of their faces onto paper, then cut them up and let them mix and match the various features or try to figure out what goes where.

Writing on the light table

  • Writing on the light table: For this, you’ll need to choose between sand, salt, shaving cream, or anything similar. The idea is to spread this on the light table then let the kiddos use their fingers to write or draw on it.

Cutting straw practice on light table

  • Cutting practice: Is your little one still figuring out how to use a pair of scissors? Take some colored straws, some yarn, or some pieces of paper and let them cut them up into tiny pieces into a bowl, illuminated by the light table.

Color sorting on light table

  • Color sorting: Place colored chips on the light table and sort them by color into separate piles.
  • Water bead sensory play: Water beads are translucent, cheap, and fun, which means you can get lots of them!

Light table activities that need extra accessories

This is a list of activities that may require you to buy a few extra things specifically for the light table.

Building with colored straws on light table

  • Building with colored straws: Get a pack of colored straws and let them build interesting structures illuminated by the light table
  • Math manipulatives: You can get these at teacher’s supply stores. Different sets will have different things, such as different shapes in various colors and sizes that are specifically designed to be used with light tables
  • Magnetic tiles on the light table: Magnetic tiles are quite cheap. Your kids will absolutely love how they brighten up on the light table. They are great for pretend play and design.

Letter jewels on light table

  • Letter jewels: These are great for letter recognition, which is perfect if your little one is just figuring out how the alphabet works. Use them to write names and notes on the light table
  • Animal X-rays: These are great especially if your little one is into animals. However, you will likely find more use out of them in a classroom setting than at home
  • Translucent Legos: They look great and work just as well as regular Legos, except they are translucent and look great when working on the light table
  • Mosaic tiles and letter jellies also work really well with light tables

Tips to look for when buying a light table

Light table activity play

Here are some of the most important things to look for when buying a light table.

  1. Durability: You want a light table that can take a beating. Your child will probably treat it a little rough on occasion and play with it in ways you hadn’t even thought of before. The light table you buy should be able to withstand all this and still work as it was meant to.
  2. Size: You want a light table that is perfectly sized to suit your needs. Depending on how you want to use them, some light tables may be too large or too small. Try to look at the table top dimensions as you shop so you can have a good idea of what to expect
  3. Mobility: You want your light table to be lightweight and highly portable. You should be able to move it around. Some light tables have removable legs, which converts the table part into a low-level light box, opening you up to even more activity possibilities!
  4. Versatility: The light table you get should allow your little one to get a lot of use out of it whether they are 2 years old or 10 years old. You want it to be something that they grow up with, discovering more things to do with it as they go.
  5. Accompanying stools or chairs: For longer durations of learning and discovery play on a light table your child will likely enjoy sitting on a nice chair or stool.

Final Thoughts

Girl playing on light table

As you can see, kids light tables can make for magical, educational play sessions. And kids absolutely love them! So, if you have been looking to create a quiet, focused environment for play, this is a great way to do it. Plus, having a light table is always a fun, easy way to brighten up gloomy days. If your child is stuck indoors for some reason, it’s a wonderful way to pass the time.