For a long time, I’ve dreamed of having a light table. I probably wanted it more for me than the kids, to be honest. Pinterest is full of bright photos of beautiful light table fun. It looks like such a fun way to teach … well, anything.
But then I looked into the cost.
Oh my goodness, you guys.
Light tables are crazy expensive. Seriously. My husband almost laughed me out of the house when I suggested that we invest his hard-earned money into one. Or maybe he was fighting off a panic attack. It was hard to tell. Either way, it was not in our budget.
(Also, we really don’t have the room.)
Enter the LED tracing pad to save the day and make my dreams come true. I ordered the cheapest one I could find (this one, in case you are wondering) and waited breathlessly for it to arrive.
It’s perfect for us. Well, maybe not perfect. It’s one flaw is that the surface has a weird pattern on it that I find distracting. But the kids don’t seem to mind, so hey, whatever works. It was extremely inexpensive. It’s also portable and very easy to tuck away when we’re not using it, which is a huge plus when you live in a small house.
Since I saved so much money on the light table, I thought I would continue the trend and see how I could save money on accessories for it. I purchased a storage bin from Michael’s in advance for the loose bits. Then I scrounged Pinterest for ideas and looked around the house to see what we had on hand.
This is what I came up with:
1. Transparent Letters
I can’t even tell you how much I wanted the Learning Resources Letter Construction Kit, but I knew that there had to be a cheaper way. Someone had gifted me with a Cricut (so awesome!), so I decided to order some cellophane sheets and make my own transparent letters. The sheets were really flimsy, so I did have to laminate the letters after cutting them so that they would be a bit sturdier.
What a fun way to work on phonics!
2. Transparent Counters
There are several inexpensive ways to get shapes for the light pad. These Overhead Transparent Counters are such fun.
3. Tissue Paper Squares
Tissue paper squares are pretty inexpensive (check the dollar store first) and also easy to make. Or get creative and cut out other shapes. You can even laminate for extra durability. In addition to teaching basic geometry, these shapes are a wonderful tool to teach colour mixing.
3. Colour Mixing Paddles
If you want to spend a little more money to teach primary and secondary colours, these Colour Paddles are fantastic.
4. Reusable Ice Cubes
I’m huge on STEM activities, and reusable ice cubes make incredible building blocks. You can purchase these at the dollar store for a couple of bucks. You can also purchase shapes such as stars, diamonds and fruits. My girls love playing with these on the light table!
5. Plastic Straws
Coloured straws are a really fun way to incorporate loose parts play with the light pad. (My daughter has asked that I encourage readers to wash and reuse straws that you get at restaurants or parties, since plastic straws are incredibly bad for the environment. I totally agree with her.)
6. ZOOB Sparkle
In our ZOOB collection, there are some sparkly, transparent pieces from the ZOOB Sparkle Kit that my girls love to play with. I added them to the light pad accessory box to see what would happen, and they certainly did not disappoint! The girls immediately began building with them. Their first project? A horse stable for a little, translucent dollar store horse that they had in their collection. The ZOOBs light up beautifully on the table. And it was so sweet to watch the girls’ imaginations at work.
A few years ago, I purchased a tub of craft beads for a quiet bin activity (similar to this one). We still had most of them left, so I put the girls to work sorting out the translucent beads. My three-year old likes to put them on the light table to see how the light shines through. I also offered some unfinished plastic suncatchers as frames for the beads, which was another activity that went over well.
8. Pressed Flowers and Leaves
Pressed flowers and leaves are so much fun to look at on the light table. Leaf veins show clearly and flowers shine brilliantly. And pressing leaves and flowers is as easy as folding them in wax paper and tucking them into the pages of a book. You can laminate them for durability and use them for a lesson on botany.
9. Rocks and Minerals
One of the first things we did with our light pad was pull out a few items from our rock collection: quartz. gypsum, agate, mica and more. I love how they look when the light shines through them. Rocks and minerals can be used to teach geology as well as the concepts of transparent, translucent and opaque.
What budget-friendly suggestions do you have for a light table? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below to share your ideas!