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!

It’s a whole new world under the sea, and we’ve brought an imaginative and immersive experience with this mat! Is your child a Beginner Oceanographer? Budding? Intermediate? Or perhaps an Expert Oceanographer? Whatever their level, we’re ready for them to dive right into the learning activities that have been divided into 3 categories including language development, mathematics, and literacy, matching the learning level of your child! Get those oxygen tanks and flippers ready…we dive in five!

Language Development

Beginning Oceanographer Activities

(ages 0-2)

Fun with animal sounds! 

  • For children ages 0-1 make fish babble sounds like “glub, glub” or bubble sounds and see if your child can imitate!
  • For children ages 1-2 make fish sounds into a game saying, “Can you make a fish sound?” Allow your child to come up with their own sound!
  • Suggested sounds to make: fish bubbles: glub glub; water: splish, splash, sploosh

Time to name the fish and creatures! 

  • Point to a creature and name it, saying, “This is a jellyfish!”
  • Talk about details of the animals by saying, “Crabs have claws…Octopus have long tentacles,” or imitate features with hands and gestures.
  • Use your D&J printables to practice. Show your child a fish printable and match it to the mat. “Here is a jellyfish. Look, I found another jellyfish!” 

What sound does the letter “T” make?

  • Name an object on the mat and repeat the beginning letter sound, letting your child simply listen. For example, “turtle…t,t,t…turtle”
  • Start with the easiest sounds of b, p, m, n, h, w, d, and t and focus on 1-2 sounds at a time!

Budding Oceanographer Activities

(ages 2-3)

Build that ocean knowledge! 

  • Say “Let’s go on an ocean scavenger hunt!”
  • If needed, model and label the creatures and various ocean vocab as you point. For example, point and label fish, whale, shark, crab, fin, shell, tail, and gills.
  • Ask your child, “What is this?” or “Can you find the crab?”
  • Encourage your child to say the sea creature they found. Don’t be afraid to simply model/demonstrate by labeling if your child gets stuck.
  • As your child masters the first set of words, expand their knowledge! Show them the stingray, octopus, jellyfish, starfish, seahorse, sea turtle, lobster, tentacles!

Test that knowledge! 

  • Ask your child to find ocean animals of certain colors, starting with colors you know your child already knows! 
  • Say, “Can you find some sea creatures that are red? Can you find some yellow coral? How many blue fish can you find?” 

So many colors! 

  • Start with primary colors: red, yellow, blue.
  • Point to the school of fish, sand, or coral with the corresponding primary color. For example, point and say, “This is red…red. This is blue…blue.”

Fun with listening! 

  • The object of this activity is to imitate a sea creature’s movements by giving a simple instruction:
  1. “Swim like a fish”
  2. “Walk like a crab”
  3. “Float like a jellyfish”
  4. “Breathe like a whale”
  • Model the motions for your child or let your child use their own imagination!
  • For extra fun, turn the activity into a Simon Says Game!

Intermediate Oceanographer Activities

(ages 3-5)

Expand that ocean vocab!

  • Say “Let’s go on a deep-sea adventure!” and focus on the suggested vocabulary: school, types of sea creatures: clownfish, lionfish, bluefin tuna, puffer fish, barracuda, coral reef, mollusk, crustacean, reptiles, flippers.
  • If needed, model and label the creature as you point. Also point out details to help your child identify its characteristics! For example, “Clownfish are orange and white.”
  • Now ask your child to tell you what they see in the different ocean animals like color, sizes, and patterns.
  • Expand the conversation by exploring different features on the sea creatures and ask, “What do gills do? What is a defense mechanism?” As always, it’s great to simply demonstrate proper responses when your child gets stuck or is new to these terms!

What’s it feel like? 

  • Ask how different creatures/fish might feel using words like: smooth, bumpy, slimy, sticky, spikey, soft, hard, or squishy – Explore features in the images like fish with spikes, creatures with smooth textures, and jellyfish with squishy tops!
  • Ask your child to guess by saying, “Which of these do you think feels slimy? What about spikey?” 

Answering ocean-themed questions! 

  • Talk about different images on the ocean mat by asking a “W” question:
  1. “Who swims in the deep part of the ocean?”
  2. “Where are the jellyfish?”
  3. “When do crabs use their pinchers?”
  4. “How do whales breathe?”
  5. “What fish looks like a horse?”
  • Be sure to pause to allow time for your child to answer the questions and model a response if needed!

Expert Oceanographer Activities

(ages 5-7)

Let’s describe! 

  • Ask your child to describe their favorite sea creature and share details like color, size, what they think it does, what it eats, and where it lives.
  • Which sea creatures are the biggest and smallest?
  • What does the sea creature see or do at the bottom of the ocean and at the top of the water's surface?
  • Ask your child to make up their own story about the fish or sea creatures in the oceans! Use as much description as possible.

Building a story! 

  • Encourage your child to pick a scene on the ocean mat (eg. the jellyfish) and tell a short story about the picture!
  • Offer story ideas about what an animal does, a friendship between two animals, or an adventure the animals might go on.
  • Take turns telling the story. Specifically, have your child say one sentence and you say another. For example, person A: “The jellyfish like to float at the surface.” Person B: “They can see the sun shining on top of the water!”
  • Place the D&J printables in a bag. Have the child select 3-4 printables and make up a story about the sea creatures they select from the bag.

Beginner Oceanographer Activities

(ages 0-2)

It’s counting time!

  • Look for images on the mat that offer opportunities to count. Examples include: sea creatures, fins, tentacles, points on the coral, shells, and fish.
  • To start, show your child how to count. Point to and count specific sea creatures in the beginning saying, “There is 1 turtle…1. There are 4 sharks...1, 2, 3, 4…” etc. 
  • Now review the number you counted one more time to reinforce what was counted, “There are 3 pink seahorses…1...2…3...we counted 3!” 
  • Take it further! As your child grows in their counting skills, increase the counting opportunities by counting tentacles on the octopus, fins on the fish, legs on the starfish, specific colors on fish, and so on. Say, “Let’s count the legs on the starfish. Let’s count the green fish.”
  • If your child seems ready, try asking them if they can point and count on their own. Say, “Can you count the legs on the crab?” Allow them time to find the picture and point and count independently! 

Ocean animal sizes! 

  • Point out large and small sea creatures so your child can see what the sizes look like when you say “large” or “small.”
  • Say, “These sea creatures are large” and then point to the large sea creatures. As you point, name the sea creatures like “Whales are large...sharks are large…octopuses are large…”
  • Then point to the small sea creatures and say, “These sea creatures are small” and point the smaller animals. As you point you can name the fish, “Starfish are small…clown fish are small…seahorses are small.”
  • Let’s take it further! As your child grows in understanding you can add in counting large and small sea animals or playing “Seek and Find” by pointing to all the small things and then the large things.

Simple compare and contrast!

  • Look at the seahorses. Label them as different, saying, “The pink seahorses are different than the blue seahorse. They are the same because they both have spikey tops and curly tails and swim!”
  • Expand the concept of “sameness” to matching! Demonstrate matching by pairing up animals that are the same, saying, “This pink jellyfish matches this one! This blue fish matches this one!” At this age, it is all about narrating what you see and simple listening from your child.

Budding Oceanographer Activities

(ages 2-3)

Keep practicing with numbers! 

  • Introduce the concept of quantity with numbers using fingers and hands. Start with 1 to 2, then 3 to 5, and work your way up to 10. 
  • Follow your child’s pace when building number knowledge, helping them hold up their fingers to count along if they are okay with you touching their hands. All about respect! 
  • After your child gets the hang of counting with their fingers, start pairing the mat with their counting and ask, “How many tentacles are on the octopus? How many orange fish are there?” You can also count sharks, jellyfish, seahorse, crabs, starfish.
  • After your child counts the sea creatures ask your child to show you how many they counted by holding up the appropriate amount on their fingers! As always, it’s great to model responses after allowing them enough time to respond. 
  • Use your D&J 123 Find & Fit puzzle to show the number you are working on. Alternatively, write out the numeral to match the quantity that was counted on a Post-it.

Get deep sea sizing! 

  • Look at a group of fish such as: the tuna, sharks, jellyfish, clown fish, sea horses, or colored school of fish. 
  • Point out the size differences of the fish in the group by saying, “This tuna looks longer. This tuna looks shorter….” or “This shark looks bigger…this shark looks smaller….”
  • Now it’s your child’s turn! Test their knowledge on sea creature sizes by comparing them within a group. Ask “Which one of these tunas is the longest?” “Which fish is smaller: the orange one or the blue one?” 
  • What other questions can you come up with?

Work on those WH-questions UNDER the sea! 

  • Focus on these prepositional words to model with your child: below, beside, between, behind, by, down, in, near, next to, under, upon
  • Select a position like “below,” pointing to them and saying, “These sea creatures are below.” Go through above prepositions and positions and model each with the sea creatures you see on the mat!
  • Now ask your child to find a sea creature in a certain position by saying, “Who is…” For example, “Who is swimming up high near the surface of the ocean? Who is swimming at the bottom of the ocean? Who is swimming above the stingray? What color coral can you find next to the octopus?”

Compare and contrast! 

  • Point out and look at the details of different fish you see. Talk about their sizes, colors, types, fins, and patterns!
  • Descriptions you could point out include:
  • “The clown fish have orange and white patterns.”
  • “The sharks have a fin on their back.”
  • Now let your child explore the details and ask them what they see or notice.
  • Then talk about making comparisons by saying “Look at these tuna and clownfish. What is the same about these fish? What is different?” 
  • Ideas for “same” include: fish, fins, eyes, tail. 
  • Ideas for “different” include: sizes, color, stripes.

Ea-SEA peasy math! 

  • Select a group of fish to demonstrate adding or taking away (subtracting). For example, together you can look at jellyfish, sharks, tuna, sea horses, or colored schools of fish.
  • Talk about fish swimming away or joining to show adding 1 more to start. For example, “There are 3 purple seahorses, and 1 blue one swims to join them. That makes 1,2,3,4…4 seahorses altogether!” 
  • We’ve made this super easy to do with the D&J printables. Simply use them as extras which can be moved around to illustrate adding and subtracting. 
  • Demonstrate counting with your own fingers so your child can point or recount the fish after something was added or taken away! 

Let’s look at groups!

  • Find a group of fish on the mat such as: jellyfish, green fish, red fish, or clown fish.
  • Point to the group and say, “Look at this group of green fish.” Count the number in that group.
  • Now find a smaller group or single sea creatures like a turtle, swordfish, crab, or octopus!
  • Model and say, “Look at the swordfish.” Count the number.
  • Identify what you see “more” of for your child: “I see more green fish than swordfish. There are more green fish.”

Where are the sea creatures? 

  • Focus on these positional words words: on; off; in; out; up; down; under; on top.
  • Look at one spatial word at a time and say, “The crabs are on the coral.”
  • Now pick a spatial word and count all the objects, “Let’s count all the creatures that are swimming in the coral!”
  • Select the opposite position like up high and say, “These sea creatures are up high in the water,” and point to them (dolphins, whales, jellyfish, blue fish).
  • As you look at the sea creature positions you can also practice counting and label their colors, sizes, and shapes that you see.

Intermediate Oceanographer Activities

(ages 3-5)

Expand those counting skills! 

  • Figure out how high your child can already count by having them count fish on the mat up to the highest number possible!
  • If your child can count to 20, focus on learning number sequence from 20 to 30). For example, say, “Let’s see if we can count from 20 to 30 by counting all the little fish in the colored schools of fish!”
  • Slowly point and count or ask your child to point and count along with you. 
  • Check out the details in the sea! As your child grows in counting number ranges, practice counting higher numbers using fins, tentacles, eyes, and spikes on the coral.
  • Now test your child’s knowledge of understanding numerical order. Pick a number like “25” and ask your child what number comes before and after. Allow them time to respond and if stuck, feel free to model for them!

“First, Second, Third” talk time! 

  • Select a group of fish placed in a line such as: clownfish, sea horses, or other schools of fish. Point to and label the fish as “First, Second, Third” and so forth.
  • Now it’s your child’s turn! Ask your child, “Which one of these clownfish will make it to the octopus first? Which is second in line to meet the octopus?”
  • Explore other ordinal numbers placement using coral, underwater plants, and jellyfish making it to the surface! So much sea fun!
  • Use your D&J animal printables to bring additional fish or sea creatures into the line.

Learn about groups!

  • Select 2 groups of ocean species on the mat like jellyfish and sharks. Ask your child if there are more jellyfish or sharks.
  • Now add a bit of complexity! Ask how many more sharks than jellyfish there are. 
  • Count the members in each group to see the answer! 

Basic sea math! 

  • Select a group of fish like sharks and ask your child how many sharks they see swimming in a circle. Now say, “If one more shark swim up how many will there be?” Add a printable shark to the placemat. Have your child count the sharks to find the answer and repeat the process with other sea creatures!
  • Another example question to ask: “I can see 5 orange clownfish. If two of them swim away from the pack how many will there be? How many tunas do you see? If a school of 10 tuna swims up how many will you have then?”

A whole school of fish! 

  • Identify the schools of fish on the mat, pointing to the red, green, purple, and blue fishes, and the sharks.
  • Talk about how the school of fish is a whole group saying, “All the red fish in this school of fish is a whole group.”
  • Show your child how smaller groups of the same fish are part of the whole. For example, point to 2 red fish and say, “These 2 red fish are part of the whole school of red fish!”
  • Expand the parts of the whole concept by pointing to all the schools of fish and say, “All of these fish are the types that live in schools, unlike the puffer fish who lives alone. They make up a whole school of fish.” 
  • Now it’s their turn! Test your child’s knowledge and ask them to find parts of a whole with the schools of fish. Ask, “How many red fish? How many purple fish? How many total fish in this school?”
  • To help your child visually understand this concept, use the printable ten frame paired with the D&J colored bingo chips. Using the green fish as an example, you can line up 3 red bingo chips (dark green fish) and 3 purple bingo chips (light green fish) on the ten frame to show the 6 total green fish.

Expert Oceanographer Activities

(ages 5-7)

Concept of ten

  • Let’s try to make sure there are 10 of each fish or creature on this placemat. How many jellyfish do we need to add? Have the child build how many are on the placemat currently using the ten frame printable. This allows them to see conceptually and concretely how many more to make ten.
  • Using the D&J printable fish have the child add the correct number of fish to bring the totals to ten (this will require printing two sets of the printables!). 

2, 4, 6, 8! Counting under the sea is great! 

  • Start with skip counting by 2s. If needed, demonstrate saying, “I’ll show you how to count by 2s with the red school of fish 2, 4, 6, 8, 10!”
  • Point to 2 fish at a time so your child can see how to count.
  • Now let your child practice counting by 2’s with other fish groups, then move on to counting by 5s or 10s.
  • Expand skip counting opportunities by counting coral, shells, and plants! An ocean full of fun indeed!

Get specific and add or take away! 

  • Discuss adding the parts within the groups saying, “3+1 seahorses equal 5 seahorses,” or “4+1 clownfish equal 5 clownfish!”
  • Now add two groups together! For example, “How many total clownfish and tuna are there?”
  • Encourage your child to count the pictures on the mat to come up and see the answer. Allow enough time for them to attempt it themselves and then help as needed.
  • Start by adding and taking away 1-2 and the move up to 3, 4, and so on!

It’s the guessing game!

  • Have your child look at schools of fish and ask, “Do you think there are more or less than 5 fish in this school? Why do you think that?” 
  • To answer the “why”, double-check the answer by counting the picture in the grouping.
  • Repeat the activity with other sea creatures or items in the scene!

Write it out!

  • Have your child pick a favorite sea creature or school of fish on the ocean mat and talk about the types of numbers related to it. For example, you can talk about the number of eyes, fins, tales, scales, or the amount of the creatures found on the mat. 
  • As you count, ask your child to write out the numbers. For example, if you select the puffer fish, write out the number of its fins and spikes. If you select the school of sharks, write out the number of the shark fins, tails, and eyes you see!

Beginner Oceanographer Activities

(ages 0-2)

It’s storytime!

  • Pick a scene from the mat like a school of fish, sharks, sea horses or clownfish and make up a short story about what is going on in the picture!
  • For example, say “Once upon a time there was a beautiful ocean filled with colorful fish! The fish lived together. The groups were called schools of fish. They made a colorful ocean in the water. There were red, green, and blue schools of fish. There were orange and white schools of clown fish. There were purple sea horses. Every day the fish loved to swim together to make beautiful rainbows in the ocean.”
  • What’s another story you could tell? There’s no wrong answer!

Rhyme with me! 

  • Get your singing voice on and sing Down by The Bay, Sea Mat style! 
  • “Down by the bay, Where the ocean animals grow, Back to my home I dare not go, For if I do
  • My mother will say "Did you ever see a crab do a little dab?" Down by the bay…
  • Down by the bay, Where the ocean animals grow, Back to my home I dare not go, For if I do
  • My mother will say "Did you ever see a fishy do a little swishy?" Down by the bay!
  • Down by the bay, Where the ocean animals grow, Back to my home I dare not go, For if I do
  • My mother will say "Did you ever see a shark say bark bark?" Down by the bay!
  • Down by the bay, Where the ocean animals grow, Back to my home I dare not go, For if I do
  • My mother will say "Did you ever see a shell ring a bell?" Down by the bay!”

Budding Oceanographer Activities

(ages 2-3)

The A-B-Seas song! 

Start off singing ABCs for simple letter review, then say, “Let’s point to things that start with the letter as we sing!”

Now that you’re refreshed, go through the alphabet, and search and point to the corresponding sea creature or plant life: 

  • A = Albacore (tuna)
  • B = Blue shark/whale, fish
  • C = Crab, Clown Fish, Coral
  • D = (not on mat) Dory, Dolphin
  • E = Elhorn coral, (not on mat) Eel
  • F = Fins
  • G = Green fish, giant Octopus
  • H = Horn fish
  • I = Ivory Coral
  • J = Jelly fish
  • L = Little fish/crab, leaf
  • M = (not on mat) manatee, manta ray
  • N = Narwhal
  • O = Orange school of fish
  • P = Purple Seahorse/starfish
  • Q = Quick fish
  • R = Red crab/coral/fish
  • S = Startfish, Seahorse, School
  • T = Tuna
  • U = Under the sea
  • V = Very big ocean
  • W = Whale
  • X = your guess is better than ours!!
  • Y = Yellow fish/coral, sand
  • Z = (not on mat) Zebra shark

What sound does it make? 

  • Name an image on the mat and repeat the beginning letter sound. For example, “Blue fish…b, b, b…blue fish…”
  • Start with the easiest sounds of b, p, m, n, h, w, d, and t and focus on 1-2 sounds at a time!
  • Encourage your child to say the first letter sound along with you. What else starts with that sound? Take it beyond the mat. 
  • Fish-swish, let’s rhyme! 
  • Name a sea vocabulary word and then name a rhyming word with it! For example, “Fish…swish rhymes with fish!”
  • Ask your child to repeat the rhyming word you say.
  • Note that at this stage adults can say the rhyming words and not expect children to come up with rhyming words as this is meant to give children exposure to making rhymes.
  • Suggested rhymes: Fish=wish, swish, Crab=grab, dab, Whale=pail, hail, Shark=bark, park, Fin=pin, bin, Gills=pills, hills, Ocean=motion, lotion, Shell=bell, gel.

Let’s go fishing–Wh-Questions exploration! 

  • Tell your child you’re going to play “Let’s Go Fishing” by instructing them, “Let’s go fishing! I will tell you to find a fish or ask you what the sea creature is, and you tell me what it is!”
  • Point to a crab and say, “What is this? Where is the crab? What color is the crab?” Repeat the same with other sea creatures.
  • Now ask your child, “Find the jellyfish. How many jellyfish are there? What colors are they?”
  • Note that it is okay if your child cannot answer these questions independently. Simply give them enough time to attempt to answer by themself and then offer help as needed!

Intermediate Oceanographer Activities

(ages 3-5)

Shark-bark! Let’s rhyme!

  • Ask your child to select a sea creature on the mat like “shark.” Now ask, “What words rhyme with shark?” 
  • Encourage your child to come up with as many words that rhyme with shark! (Bark, lark, dark, mark…)
  • Go through the entire alphabet to come up with “ark” sounding words even if they are silly sounding! Have fun with this! 

Say it – Write it – Sea sounds! 

  • Pick a letter like “B” and point to a blue shark or whale. Say, “Blue fish!”
  • Now ask your child to make the letter B sound, and then have them write it down on a Post-it.
  • Reverse the activity by pointing to a blue fish and ask your child what the starting letter sound is!

Expert Oceanographer Activities

(ages 5-7)

Ea-SEA, Beginning reading!

  • On Post-it notes write out different words related to the ocean mat from the following categories:
  • Animals/nature: easy=fish, whale, crab, shark, tuna, clown fish, sand, water, shell/difficult=seahorse, octopus, jellyfish, coral
  • Colors: red, blue, green, yellow, purple, pink
  • Sizes: big, little, tall
  • Prepositions/ positions: in, on, out, up, down, under, top
  • Use the Post-it notes to review words with your child, having them first read the word on the note card and then place the word next to the matching picture on the mat! Make sure your child is sounding out the word and not memorizing it. 
  • Now hold up 2 cards and ask your child to point to the word you say OR lay out 2 cards and ask your child to hand you the word you say!
  • Another option is to turn all the words over like a memory game, flip a word over and have your child read it! 
  • Invite your child to write out the words on a separate sheet of paper for practice. 

Searching the Sea for Understanding! 

  • Ask your child to look at the details on the ocean mat, then ask the following suggested questions:
  • Who do you think can swim the fastest in this picture? Who is the slowest? 
  • Which of these sea creatures would you like to touch? Why? 
  • If you could pick one of these sea creatures to have in a tank in your bedroom which one would it be? 
  • Why do you think those sharks are swimming in a circle? 
  • Which of these creatures have we seen at the aquarium?
  • Have fun and come up with your own WH-questions!