Guest Post: A homemade light table for preschool

It is always exciting when my readers write to me and share how they have expanded on or implemented ideas in their own classrooms. Cynthia Tanguay sent me some beautiful photos of her light table and generously gave me permission to share her photos and her instructions on my blog.  You can learn more about Cynthia at the end of this post. I think her bio is wonderful and could have been a blog post all by itself!

Instructions for a light table

by Cynthia Tanguay

“I made your light box but found that I was going through a ton of batteries so I picked up a 13 foot light rope at Home Depot, wound it into a continuous spiral in the bottom of the box and put the cord through a hole drilled in the back.”

“I also had a large piece of silver Mylar that I taped into the bottom and sides of the box.  It is much more reflective than the silver paint.”


“Since I had two boxes, I discarded the lid from the second one and taped it (the box) onto the top of the light box.  That way we can easily contain the beads and plexi-glas pieces.”


Cynthia’s creative light table activities
“Also, I contacted a plexi-glas company on line and asked if they would be willing to send me small scraps that they would ordinarily throw out.  They sent me a 10 pound box with hundreds of brightly colored pieces.  We sanded the edges and added two of each color to our light box….. Just look at how pretty they are.”

“Like you, I traced characters from some of our favorite books.  Glass beads are great for coloring ‘The Rainbow Fish’.”


A generous gift from Cynthia
Cynthia sent me some beautiful glass beads and some of her plexi-glas shapes in the mail.  What a generous gift from a very giving teacher!  My students LOVED the plexiglass shapes…


I will be using the materials Cynthia sent me and I love the idea of drawing connections to literacy.  This is what makes teaching so exciting.  Sharing materials and ideas always inspires me to be creative and resourceful.  Thank You Cynthia!!


The Frog Game
Cynthia also shared her amazing spin on the Frog Game that I shared last year. You can read my version of the frog game here….


This is Cynthia’s inspiring version of the Frog Game along with her instructions…
“I loved your frog game so much that I made one too.  I used photo paper with markers because the the colors come out so vibrant.  I had a set of 5 poison dart frogs so I put them on the printer bed and made copies to put on a Styrofoam cube.  The frogs start out in the rocks, cross the grass and jump into the pond.  The kids say “Hop Frog Hop” until they get to the last square.  Then they say “Swim Frog Swim!” as each frog makes it into the pond.”


About Cynthia Tanguay
My name is Cynthia Tanguay and I’ve been a licensed Family Daycare Provider for well over 20 years.  Miss Puddle Duck’s Day Care is in Redford, Michigan and the kids know me as Miss Puddle Duck.   I started out with no child development training what-so-ever and my only experience was having raised five children.   I stumbled along for a few years making every mistake imaginable.  It became clear that something had to change so I started looking for some sort of training.  Then I discovered that the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and Pre-school was practically  in my backyard so I started attending conferences and trainings there. The High/Scope method is used in every Head Start program in the US.  It’s the best of the best.  
I am pleased to say I have long since abandoned my old ‘heard em up and tell em what to do’ ways.  Now I sit on the floor most of the day listening to and encouraging children to explore everything in their environment.  Now I plan around their interests rather than following themes from a book.   I’ve gotten rid of the calendar which has no meaning for a toddler or pre-schooler and replaced it with a message board with picture messages that are about the children themselves and the things they do in daycare.  Art is open-ended, paint is sometimes made from food, we play with old tires and milk crates and planks of wood.  We climb trees and play in puddles.  There are no batteries and darn few  plastic toys.  I love that I get to play all day in sand and water and build blocks and sing silly made-up songs and make spider sandwiches and paint on windows with shaving cream and read stories I’ve long since memorized using funny voices.


My favorite part of daycare is making cool stuff with the kids using interesting junk.  We have ‘The Junk Room’ full of shelves and bins of all manner of useful junk.   Two or three times a week the kids ask if we can go to the junk room to find something that can be used to make this or that.  And of course after daycare has closed for the day,  I can usually be found in the junk room inventing a new toy or game or project.    


I suppose I’ll grow up one day. . . but not just yet.   For now I’m Miss Puddle Duck. 


Links to grow on…


I am blogging over at PreK+K Sharing blog today!


Linking up with..


learning laboratory at mama smiles

By |2012-01-04T07:00:49+00:00January 4th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Heidi Butkus January 4, 2012 at 10:15 am - Reply

    That’s a wonderfully creative solution to a problem! Kudos to Cynthia! I may just have to try that myself!
    Thank you for sharing, Deborah!
    Heidi Butkus

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 4, 2012 at 10:37 am - Reply

      You are welcome Heidi:)

  2. Emma January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

    cynthia – great creation of the homemade light box – if the offer stands, I’d love to receive a few pieces of each color (happy to send you a check to cover shipping so you’re not at a loss for your generosity) – I’m quacklin2 emailed to my yahoo account – thanks Emma

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Emma, I still have quite a bit of plexi-glas and would be happy to send some your way. Just send me your address and I’ll pop it in the mail. I’ll put a self addressed envelope in the package and you can send me the postage. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment.

  3. Fiona R January 4, 2012 at 10:48 am - Reply

    This is so neat! Would love to receive a few pieces of each colour for our preschool co-op if you have any left – happy to send funds to cover shipping too. Thanks for the great post!

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Fiona, thank you for your kind words. I have no problem sharing this wonderful find with others. Just send me your address. A helpful hint: I put some of the larger pieces in a vice and snapped them in half. then sanded them smooth. All of the pieces have sharp edges and need to be sanded, Dollar Store sand paper works just fine.

  4. Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 4, 2012 at 11:00 am - Reply

    Note to ALL: I am not so sure Cynthia will be able to send out the plexiglass to others – I should have removed that part of her email from the quotes sooner:) Sorry about that!! We need to find out where others can get those for free!! Does anyone have any tips?

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 4, 2012 at 5:58 pm - Reply

      Deborah, I love to share my finds with others and will happily send the plexiglass pieces to anyone who can find a use for them. It will be exciting to see what others can do with them.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 5, 2012 at 2:31 am

        I will forward you some of the emails Cynthia and you can see what you would be able to do:)

  5. Kelly Gardner January 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    I am wondering where to get the mylar and do you think tin foil would work just as well?
    This is such an awesome idea and I am so excited to try it!
    Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm - Reply

      Cynthia has added more information in the comments below to help answer questions!

  6. Joan January 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Love your great ideas, Cynthia! Thanks so much for sharing! Your bio sounds about like mine. Not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I love watching little ones grow physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. I embrace your philosophy and agree with you wholeheartedly about making preschool fun and simple.

  7. Cynthia Tanguay January 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Joan, you’re my kind of gal. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

  8. Little Wonders' Days January 4, 2012 at 6:59 pm - Reply

    I have to make one of these for my littles. It looks like a lot of fun and so easy. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      You are very welcome

  9. Lori January 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Very nice idea. I love it 🙂

  10. Sue January 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    I love this version of a light table! Thank you very much for sharing! Do you know where I can find silver mylar that is less expensive than I found on Amazon?
    Thanks bunches!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm - Reply

      Check Cynthia’s comment below:)

  11. Kinderhaven Preschools January 5, 2012 at 2:20 am - Reply

    This is a really great idea. We pay hundreds of dollars each for light tables, whereas these could be made for less than $20.

    Thanks very much from our early childhood daycare

    Keith Handley

  12. Cheryl January 5, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

    I can’t wait to make this for my kids! It’s so simple!! Love the idea of putting a box within a box to contain items. If you still have plexiglass shapes available I would love some and will cover any costs. My 3 year old will love the frog game as he likes to move all colors in most games and help everyone else move their game pieces. Thanks for the great ideas.

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm - Reply

      Cheryl, I’m sorry to say the plexi-glas is all gone. I sent out the last of it last night. You can go on-line and look for a plexi-glas company in your neck-of-the-woods. I only had to call three before I found one that was willing to send me the scraps for free. Good luck on your hunt.

  13. Cynthia Tanguay January 5, 2012 at 11:49 am - Reply

    To All Those With Questions: Where did you find the Mylar, Plexiglass pieces, Boxes, Light Rope?

    I found a huge MYLAR bag at the Scrap Box in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is a teacher’s paradise of industrial scrap. You can also go on-line to find a company that makes Mylar and ask them for a few pieces of their industrial scrap, explaining what you are making and how much their generosity would make this project a grand success for your wonderfully inquisitive three and four year olds. I always offer to pay postage and send pictures of the children enjoying their new project along with my thank you note.

    I acquired all these wonderful colors and shapes of PLEXIGLASS in just that manner. I specified bright colors and pieces no bigger than 2-6 inches.

    I found the 14″ X 14″ SCRAPBOOKKING BOXES at Michael’s and Hobby Lobby and got them for $6 each using 40% off coupons.

    The 13 foot LIGHT ROPE came from Home Depot for $28. I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider that it is guaranteed to work for 10 years and never requires batteries, it’s an incredible bargain. I leave mine on for hours at a time and the light rope never heats up.

    Lastly, I got the INSPIRATION from Deborah’s Light Box Post. Her hard work to invent the light box gave me the foundation for a little tweeking. Thank you Deborah, without you this would never have come about.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for the extra information Cynthia! Lots of great questions here:) That means you got everyone thinking outside the “light” box!!

  14. Tonya January 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    I love it and am sure my preschoolers will as well! What size box did you use? Thanks!

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 6, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Tanya, I used 14″ X 14″ scrapbooking boxes With a hinged lid.

  15. Still Playing School January 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I love this variation!

  16. Ali January 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    That is very clever. What a great resource to have on hand. It is fabulous to see how ideas can be adapted and changed to suit other needs.

  17. allie January 6, 2012 at 12:36 am - Reply

    This is wonderful – thanks so much for sharing!

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 6, 2012 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Sharing ideas is always fun.

  18. Trisha January 6, 2012 at 1:36 am - Reply

    Would a Mylar Blanket work? or are they too thin? Maybe all mylar is thin? 🙂 They cost less than $2.00. We have them in a local grocery store here where they sell emergency preparedness things. You would pay more in shipping if you ordered them.

    Also, Walmart has plastic storage tubs about the same size. I think they were Sterilite with the clear latching lids and shallow like Cynthias. They were between $6.00-$7.00.

    I’m excited! Thank you!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 1:58 am - Reply

      I think anything silver and not too see through would work Trisha!

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 6, 2012 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      Trisha, Mylar blankets, who’d a thunk it? What a great (and inexpensive) idea. The thickness doesn’t matter, it’s the reflectivity that counts. Sounds like the Sterlite containers are a really good deal. I’m making another light box for my Grand kids. I think I’ll check out Walmart. This is the great part about sharing, better and better ideas just keep popping up. Thank you for the new insight.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 10:56 pm

        You make a great partner!!

      • Trisha January 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm

        Just an update to my original post.

        The Sterilite tubs were a bit smaller for only $3.00 and the $7.00 tubs were bigger. Still a great deal!

        I like how the lids unlatch and come off so you don’t need to take it off permanently. You can put it back on when you’re done and store light box things inside the top box.

        Also, I cut and taped a piece of baking parchment to the bottom of the top box to diffuse the light. Low tech I know, but it works really well. The Mylar blanket works really well too. Bought it in the camping section at Walmart.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm

        Awesome – thanks so very much for the update! We are all learning as we go along!

  19. maryanne @ mama smiles January 6, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

    What a wonderful light table! And the plexiglass shapes are wonderful! What a great idea to contact that company, and how generous she has been to share!

    Thanks for linking up to Learning Laboratory at Mama Smiles =)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      I am blessed to have such wonderful readers:)

  20. andiejaye January 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    wow! this is amazing! it’s my favorite form i think i’ve seen yet!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      I thought it was pretty cool too Andie:)

  21. [email protected] Kids Create January 7, 2012 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    Wow, what a fun learning tool. I love the plexiglas-glass shapes. I have a container I think would work for this, I need to give I a try.

    Thanks for linking up to Monday Madness.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm - Reply

      Give it a try and see what you think:)

  22. [email protected] January 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    This is awesome! I love the see through bead, but the Plexiglas is great too! What an awesome idea.

  23. Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I think the plexiglass is awesome too Laura! We love ours!

  24. Carrie January 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    those are great! I would love to do this, where did you find the plex-glass?

    • Cynthia Tanguay January 10, 2012 at 11:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Carrie, I went on-line, looked up plexi-glas companies and started calling around. On the third call I talked to a gentleman who understood what I was doing and he spent the next few weeks collecting small scraps for me. I had them inside a month. Waiting was the hardest part but so worth it.

  25. Michelle January 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I have been wanting to make one of these light tables ever since I first saw the blog a year ago. I have been searching and searching and cannot seem to find a suitable container. All of them seem to be made with lids that are ridged, not smooth. Has anyone else had this problem?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      You are right, it is tough to find a good lid without any ridges. I finally decided that a ridge around the edge was fine – just not in the middle…

  26. SnoopyGirl February 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Miss Cynthia is amazing! Love love love your educational philosophy. Too many people have forgotten the vital importance of play and discovery. Toddlers are already prewired to learn. We definitely don’t need to cram it down their throats. Thank you for sharing!

  27. N. April 12, 2012 at 5:57 am - Reply

    I love this idea! I just can’t find Plexi-glas like that anywhere! Darn. I’ve called and emailed several companies and struck out each time. If anyone else has other recs on where to find scraps like these (I need bigger ones as we have kids as young as 1 in our program), please post!

  28. Gabrielle July 11, 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Hello I work for a YMCA and we have a light table like this for our classroom. We found a blog on how to make your own shapes for the table. They arent plexi-glass but the kids love them none the less! In the article there is also steps on using water beads! Our kids love them because of their slippery texture!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gabrielle – I will go and check it out!

  29. […] Fun creating on a homemade light table – Preschoolers will love turning the lights out and watching their fish glow! […]

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