Welcome to the Bright Idea Zone!

One toy, many ways to play.

Discover a multitude of bright ideas for each placemat and keep the fun fresh. Designed by educational experts and sorted by age and ability, these activities help keep little minds engaged and growing.

For offline play, click to download the printer-friendly version of this page, as well as your bonus printable tools, and begin your learning adventure today!

Hat-Cat-Bat-Mat! Did you just see how I did that? A simple sound change and you have yourself several new words. And it doesn’t have to be boring learning about phonemic awareness, it has to be fun–at least that’s what we think at D&J! The Phonics Mat serves to supplement your letter-sound play and helps your child’s reading skills on their way. Ahh, we love a good rhyme and a good time!

Here’s a little key for the alphabet:      

Ant, bicycle, cupcake, dinosaur, egg, fan, goat, heart, igloo, jump rope, kangaroo, ladybug, mouse, net, owl, pig, question mark, rainbow, snail, tiger, underwear, vacuum, wagon, fox, yellow, zebra

SOUNDS Like A Good Place To Start

  • Syllable count by playing ‘Clap it out!’ Model a few words and identify how many syllables are in each word by clapping out each syllable. Now it’s your child’s turn! Have them clap out the syllables of words. For example: “bike - 1,” “vac-uum - 2”, “rain-bow - 2.”  
  • Now, write the syllables! Your child can place a post-it on each center picture showing how many syllables exist within that word. Alternatively, they can place their D&J 123 Find and Fit puzzle pieces on top of the words to show the syllable count. 
  • Sound play! Say to your child: “I’m going to say a word like a robot – sound by sound. Tell me/point to the word I’m saying: /p/  /i/  /g/.” Child: “Pig!” This can be turned into an “I Spy” game. For example, “I spy a g-oa-t.” Child points at the goat and says, “goat.” Easy-peasy and highly important!
  • Rhyme time! Point to a picture and say, “Does boat rhyme with goat?” Do this across a variety of words seen on the mat, demonstrating just how to go about this if needed.Now point to a picture and provide your child with two other words, asking which ones rhyme. For example, “Which two words rhyme: goat, crab, boat?”

Let’s Have Some Real Phon(ics)

  • Getting sound specific! Grab your D&J Find & Fit alphabet letters, or simply have your child write out the letters of the alphabet on Post-it notes, and have them place them on top of center images that begin with the same letter-sound. For example, “L” on “leaf” and “F” on “fan.” Demonstrate this for your child as needed.
  • Point to two pictures with the same beginning sound and ask if they sound the same. For example, say: “Do ‘wagon’ and ‘whale’ begin the same?” Then ask about images that do not begin the same. “Do ‘fox’ and ‘igloo’ begin the same?”
  • Name three words aloud and have your child identify the two words that begin with the same sound. For example, “Which words begin the same: fox, dinosaur, fan?”
  • Getting sound specific with ending sounds! Point to two pictures with the same ending sound and say them aloud. For example, “Ladybug and egg both end with a /g/!” Repeat across other pictures that end with the same sound. Now it’s your child’s turn! 
  • Ask your child to tell you the last sound they hear in the pictures on the mat as you label the words. For example, “What is the last sound you hear in the word leaf?.../f/.” Repeat across other pictures on the mat using your D&J Find & Fit alphabet letters or post-it notes with letters written on them for placing on top of the corresponding pictures. 
  • Using the center images, play “I spy” using initial sounds or ending sounds. Say: “I spy a picture that begins with the sound /t/.” 
  • Another way to play: “I spy a picture that begins the same as ‘bat’.”  “Bike!”  “Yes, ‘bat’ and ‘bike’ begin the same!” Now it’s your child’s turn! Have them provide you with a clue of what they spy using an initial sound! Don’t worry if you have to demonstrate this a few times for them to get the hang of it. This can be done with beginning or ending sounds.
  • Go beyond the mat! Have your child find something in the room with the same initial or ending sound as a picture on the mat. For example, “Can you find something in this room that begins the same as ‘goat?’” Work together as a family! Glass! Goldfish! Grandma! Green! Grapes! etc.
  • Medial Sounds! Grab your D&J Find & Fit alphabet letters and pull out all of the vowels, or have your child write out the vowels on Post-it notes. Tell your child, “There are long and short vowels with long vowels simply sounding like their letter name. For example, the O in “goat” is a long vowel just as the I in “bike” is a long vowel.” Now ask your child to mark each picture on the placemat that contains a long vowel with either a D&J bingo chip or any other marker. Set aside a different colored chip to denote the short vowels.
  • When explaining what short vowels are, tell your child they are all the other vowels that are left and are produced in a shorter way. So instead of the long vowel O in “goat” if you place a short vowel O in the middle you now have “got”. Other words to highlight the difference: “Kite” and “Kit”, “Meat” and “Met”, “Cute” and “cut”, etc. Now it’s your child’s turn to go through the mat and have them mark the pictures containing short vowels in the middle!  *Note: It’s okay if you need to help your child with this activity by explaining and demonstrating several times before they understand. Remember, it’s never a race!

Game On!

Roll the Trim Game: This game can be applied to any skill level. Using a D&J bingo chip or LEGO figurine, roll a die and move that many images around the border. Then say the word you land on along with the particular skill you are working on (see bullet points below!). Whoever gets around the border first wins! 

  • Provide a word that rhymes (it can be a nonsense word as long as it rhymes!)
  • Clap the syllables
  • Give the initial sound
  • Give the ending sound
  • Segment the sounds within the word 
  • Give the vowel sound within the word

ABC House Hunt: You or your child can write the alphabet down the side of a piece of paper and go on a hunt to find items that start or end with the corresponding letter! Write down what you find! 

Seek and Sort: Give your child a category and see how many images they can identify from it. For example: How many things can you find that you can eat? How many living things can you find? What can you find that you would see in our backyard?”

20 Questions: Select a picture on the placemat but don’t say it out loud or point to it. It’s a secret! Your child can then ask yes/no questions to figure out which picture it is. Here are some ideas to get you going: Is it an animal? Does it begin with the sound /f/? Can a person ride on it? Does it have 3 syllables? Does it have a short vowel sound? Is the last sound of the word /_/? Does it rhyme with ______?