A Light Box / Light Table for Sensory Play

As I wrote in previous posts (http://wp.me/p2OomI-bo and http://wp.me/p2OomI-jn), Beth is really doing well with the iPad.  Her attention to the device is amazing, especially since she only fleetingly pays attention to anything and anyone in the real world.  Is it due to the backlighting of the device?  Maybe.  I couldn’t find a lot of research on the topic, but light boxes and light tables are often used to increase attention spans of special needs students in special education classrooms.  Even if playing on a lighted surface does not greatly increase Beth’s attention span, light boxes and light tables are just plain fun.  So, after a lot of research on light box/light table options, my husband and I decide to make a light box for Beth.

In the blog post below and on my Pinterest site (http://pinterest.com/fumbthruautism/), I summarize commercial light box and light table options, do-it yourself light box and light table options (including our version, a tall light box), and commercial and home-spun ideas for play activities.

Commercial Light Box and Light Table Options

I listed several representative commercial light boxes and light tables on my Pinterest site (http://pinterest.com/fumbthruautism/commercial-light-boxes-light-panels-and-light-tabl/).

A relatively cheap commercial option is an arts and crafts light tracer box, which is a device used for stenciling and tracing. These devices start at about $35-$40 (U.S. dollars) for a 10 x 12 inch working surface:

Commercial Tracer Light Box (Amazon.com, Walmart.com)

Commercial light boxes, light panels, and light tables for children, used in special needs classrooms or for play in typical classrooms, are more expensive ($120 and up):

Commercial Light Box (www.especialneeds.com)

Commercial Light Panel (Amazon.com, constructiveplaythings.com)

Commercial Light Table (Amazon.com)

Do-It-Yourself Light Box and Light Table Options

I want a light box or table with a large surface area for play, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money.  Fortunately, some ingenious people have developed cheaper do-it-yourself (DIY) options for light boxes/light tables.  On my Pinterest site, I list several representative pictures of DIY light boxes and light tables (http://pinterest.com/fumbthruautism/diy-light-boxes-and-light-tables/).  Click on the pictures and you will be taken to the building instructions.

In general,  the DIY options on my Pinterest site fall into two categories:

1.  A plastic storage container with a clear top:


2.  A wood table or wood box with a top made of an opaque white acrylic sheet:

The advantage of number 1 is it is cheap and easy.  The advantage of number 2 is the opaque white acrylic top provides for more even distribution of the light than most storage containers, although the storage container shown above from IKEA gives a nice distribution of light through the top.  Another advantage of number 2 is that the child can stand and play at the table.

Since we want an easy DIY option, a large play surface, a tall light box for my child to stand and play with (she has trouble sitting for extended periods), and even distribution of light, my husband and I decided to combine number 1 and number 2 above.  We put an opaque white acrylic sheet on a tall storage container.

Our Do-It-Yourself Tall Light Box

1.  Materials

a. A tall, large storage container

We used a grey 30 gallon Sterilite container purchased from Walmart. Its dimensions are 32 x 20 x 17 inches in length, width, and height, respectively.

If you want to make a light box like ours and you can’t find this exact one, you container should ideally have the following:

  • Opaque material, so that light does not escape from the sides
  • Light in color to maximize reflection of light off the walls so that more light goes to the top of the box
  • A lid with a good design for attaching the opaque white acrylic sheet (i.e. flat and sturdy lid, easy to cut a hole into it).

Price: $5-8

b. One-hundred holiday lights

We used LED lights because they are efficient and do not produce much heat.

Price: $15

c. Opaque white acrylic sheet for the top

Our sheet is 27.5 x 16.5 inches, 1/8 inch thick, and 54% transmission (see suppliers at the end of this post). We bought a piece of acrylic that is the exact size we needed, because acrylic cracks easily if cut with standard tools.

Price: Depends on size and if prefabricated or custom cut (for approximately our size, $25-$30)

d. Other

  • Tape to attach the lights to the bottom of the container (we used electrical tape)
  • A drill and jigsaw to cut a hole in the container top and to cut a hole for the electrical plug.
  • Glue (we used Gorilla Glue) to attach the opaque white acrylic sheet onto the container lid.
  • Optional: Silicone (we used pure silicone used on aquariums) to seal between acrylic sheet and container.

Price: $0 if you use materials on hand and borrow tools you do not have.

Total Price: About $50 if you buy everything new.  But if you take advantage of store sales and garage sales, and use materials you already have, this total can be much less.

2. Procedure


Container, Before Picture

  • Put weights in the bottom of the container for stabilization during play (i.e. books or bricks).

Books in the Bottom to Stabilize

  • Drill holes in a line to make an opening big enough for a jigsaw blade, and use a jigsaw to cut a hole in the box for the electrical plug.

Hole for Plug: Drilling to Make an Opening for the Jigsaw Blade


Hole for Plug: Cutting with Jigsaw

  • Drill holes in a line to make an opening big enough for a jigsaw blade, and use a jigsaw to cut a hole in the top slightly smaller than the opaque white acrylic sheet.

Hole in Lid: Cutting with Jigsaw

  • Put the lights on the bottom and tape them down.

Lights Taped to Bottom of Container.

  • Glue the opaque acrylic sheet to the container lid.  Optional: Seal with pure silicone used in aquariums.


  • Optional: Add a plastic box to the top for finger painting and other messy play.

Here is our finished product, the Tall Light Box:


Playing with Light

There are about 100 ideas I want to try with the light table.  For example, building with commercial magnetic tiles and playing with colored salt:

Clear, Colored, Magnetic Acrylic Tiles for Building, Amazon.com

To help sort through the ideas, I have compiled representative lists of commercial toys and home-spun ideas on my Pinterest site:



Beth is an oral sensory seeker (i.e. she likes to lick and eat things, even non-food items and things that taste horrible to most people), so many of the ideas listed on my Pinterest site may not work out.  Also, getting Beth to engage in play is very difficult.  So, it will be interesting to see where light table exploration leads.  Cross your fingers for us, and we will keep you posted on our light table adventures.

Opaque White Acrylic Suppliers:

1. http://www.acrylite-shop.com/US/us/acrylite-ff-extruded-e67bmhfjy5i/acrylite-ff-extruded-white-wt031-gt-9wgz7lfztg1~p.html?know=search%3A%22020-4%22%20%22WT031%22%20%22WRT31%22

2. https://www.estreetplastics.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=101

3.  http://www.usplastic.com/catalog/item.aspx?itemid=23681&catid=442


12 thoughts on “A Light Box / Light Table for Sensory Play

  1. grahamta says:

    I am posting light table activities to my facebook page and Pinterest as we do them. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fumbling-Thru-Autism/102482513246303

  2. Tamara says:

    Thank-you, this has been on my to-do list, perfect detail on how-to

    • grahamta says:

      Thanks…we have been having a lot of fun…did color mixing this morning with seltzer water…used a clear plastic storage container as a try to hold the mess!

  3. Hey there, I love reading your blog, so I nominated you for an award, congratulations! http://beingspecial.org/2013/01/16/wow-i-got-a-blog-award/

  4. Hey there I just wanted to let you know that the top isnt clear on the DIY light box made with a storage container. I purchased it from IKEA and the box and lid are both partially opaque. They let out just the perfect amount of light, clear lids for light boxes really dont work very well, they can not evenly mask and disperse the light.

    • grahamta says:

      I just updated the post above talking about how the distribution of light is nice on the IKEA box. I would have gone with the IKEA box, but our problem was we needed a taller box. My kid has a lot of postural issues and is tall, so I wanted her to be able to comfortably stand and play. She is not really able to sit on a chair and work or sit on the floor and work at this point. Thanks again for the comments.

  5. Trisha says:

    I love what you did! How it is holding up? I worry about plastic storage tubs cracking. Also, does the acrylic sag at all? I also like the snails box from Ikea but for me it is too tall:) I want a potable light box that I can set on a table so my preschool students can stand up with it. I’m thinking a shallow 4-6 inch tub. The Ikea box should be painted inside too. You want all the light to go through the top and not the sides. White paint works best. Silver reflects too much and you see the light source. Black or darker colors absorb the light so you don’t get as much as you could. Thanks so much for this post!

    • grahamta says:

      The ikea box is shorter…I believe 13 inches tall. We needed a taller one. The ikea one is dirt cheap too. Ours is holding up great with daily use and I am so happy with it. There are so many options, and your plan sounds awesome. It is so much fun!

  6. Asking questions are really pleasant thing if you are not understanding something fully, but this post gives fastidious
    understanding even.

  7. funtikar says:

    i’m an OT student, its funny that ive never seen a lightbox before… going to make it as a project for my department

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