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 forest frenzy full of furry friends! Say that 10 times fast! But in all seriousness, you’ve found you and your child a forest to walk through hand-in-hand while exploring exciting learning experiences centered around 3 categories: language development, mathematics and literacy. Perhaps your child is a Beginner Forester? Budding? Intermediate? Or an Expert Forester? Each activity across the categories is set up to meet your child on their level and to grow with them as they become masters of forestry!

Language Development

Beginner Forester Activities

(ages 0-2)

Let’s have fun with sounds of the forest! 

  • Point to the owl. “The owl makes the whoo, whoo, sound.”
  • Make the animal sounds “whoo, whoo” and see if your child can imitate the sound.
  • Turn it into a game! “Can you make an owl sound?” and allow your child to come up with their own sound or continue modeling what an owl makes. There’s no pressure for your child to be able to say the sound independently. It’s all about having fun!
  • Suggested sounds to try out: wolf howling, fox barking, birds tweeting, snake ssss, bear growling, squirrels chittering, eagles calling.

Time to name the animals!

  • Point to an animal and name it, saying “This is a snake…snake!”
  • Focus on 1 to 2 animals at a time adding more animals as you go.
  • Animal names to introduce at this age: bunny/rabbit, bird, moose, fox, bear, fish, moose, deer.
  • Use your D&J printables to practice. Show your child an animal printable and match it to the mat. “Here is a skunk. Look, I found another skunk!” 

Other forest words to know!

  • Point to the other objects on the mat and label them together: “This is a tree…tree.”
  • Continue with other common forest words including: tree, grass, flower, rock, creek.

What’s it start with? 

  • Name an object on the mat and repeat the beginning letter sound
  • ”Bear…b,b,b….bear”!
  • Start with the developmentally appropriate sounds including b, p, m, h, w, d, and t and focus on 1 or 2 sounds at a time.

So many colors in the forest! Let’s find them together!

  • Start by pointing and labeling basic colors, green, blue, brown.
  • Keep it simple but now add in the noun! “This is green…green grass. This is blue…blue water. This is brown…brown bear.”

Budding Forester Activities

(ages 2-3)

So many words in the forest! 

  • Point to and share what you see! “I see this wolf has gray fur. I see this snake is long and slithery. I see this fox is orange and fluffy.”
  • Talk about the details of the animals by saying, “Deer have antlers…Moose have hooves…Fish have fins…and so forth.

Add in the actions! 

  • Point to an animal and label the animal’s actions using 2 to 3 words: “The bunny hops. The fish swim. The eagle flies.”
  • Actions to use: walk, run, hop, jump, sit, swim, stand, go, fly.
  • Encourage your child to repeat the sentence asking, “What does the eagle do?” and providing the initial words of the response, “The eagle _____.”
  • Ask your child what the animal is doing and imitate the actions of the animals together!

Learning locations

  • Just where are those animals located? Point and label prepositions: on, off, in, out, up, down, under, top.
  • Point and say, “The skunks are on the log,” “The fish is in the water.”
  • Using the D&J animal printables, “Can you put a squirrel on the stump?” 
  • Let your child take a turn and ask them, “Where are the bunnies?” etc. 

What sound does the D make? 

  • Name the animal and the beginning sound, “Bird, b,b,b, bird,” “skunk…sss…skunk,” “Deer…d,d,d…deer.”
  • Ask your child to make the sound of the animal you name. Jump in and join them!
  • Let’s do some letter-sound practice, ”What sound does a wolf start with?” Pause and praise, “YES! The wolf starts with the letter sound “/w/!”

So many colors in the forest! 

  • Be sure to start with colors you know your child knows. Kids love to show off their skills!
  • Mix it up and say, “Can you find some animals that are orange?” “Can you find some black forest friends?” “How many brown animals can you find?” “Point to all the green things you see!”

Intermediate Forester Activities

(ages 3-5)

Let’s expand those listening skills!  

  • Come up with instructions that require extra-close listening. For example: “Find the skunks, moose, and eagle. Point to 3 animals in a tree. Find the animals that hop.”

Take it beyond the mat and to the great outdoors! 

  • Grab your shoes and water bottles and hit the trails, “Let’s go on a hike and see what types of animals we can find!”
  • Focus on the suggested vocabulary: nocturnal, hibernate, mammals, reptiles.
  • If needed, model and label the animal(s) you see.
  • Chat about what you know and share with your child on your hike: “Nocturnal animals sleep in the day and are awake at night. Owls and raccoons are nocturnal, ” “Animals that hibernate sleep all winter, bears hibernate.” 
  • Expand the conversation by exploring different features of the animals by asking “What do nocturnal animals do all night?” “How do birds fly?”

What’s it feel like? 

  • Talk about different textures on your hike: soft, rough, smooth, bumpy, spikey, wet, hard, squishy.
  • Back at home, grab the mat again and chat about the various textures of the animals and the plants in the pictures. 
  • Turn it into a guessing game, “I’m thinking of an animal with long, fluffy fur who hibernates in the winter.” Once answered, it’s your child’s turn to come up with clues! Keep taking turns.

Expert Forester Activities

(ages 5-7)

Orientation and other time concepts! 

  • Focus on temporal terms: yesterday, tomorrow, morning, afternoon, night, later, earlier.
  • Chat about things that happen in the forest by sharing little stories, “Yesterday the deer ate berries,” “Tomorrow it will be sunny,” “Raccoons go to sleep in the morning and wake up later in the day.”
  • Talk about sequence by using “first,” “next,” “ then” routines. “First the squirrel hops out of the tree, then it looks for nuts, next it buries nuts.”
  • Let your child know it is now their turn to tell a story using the words “first, next and then.”
  • Incorporate present tense words for events that happen now, past tense words for events from yesterday, and future tense words for events later or tomorrow.

Cause and effect!

  • Ask “why” questions that are simple to understand.
  • Say “Why do snakes slither on the ground?” “Why do owls stay up at night?”
  • Model “because” responses if your child needs support and to show cause and effect.
  • Say “Because snakes don’t have legs.” “Because owls hunt for food at night!” 

Use that imagination! 

  • Ask your child to describe their favorite forest friend and share details like color, size, what they think it does, what it eats, where it lives.
  • Ask your child to describe the biggest and smallest animals.
  • Ask your child what the birds see when they fly or eat when they find food. 
  • Ask your child to make up their own story about the forest animals using the concepts “first, next, then.”

Beginner Forester Activities

(ages 0-2)

It’s counting time! 

  • As you count, point to the pictures, first focusing on 1, 2, and 3, and finally expand up to the number 10.
  • Group it up! “Let’s count the (wolves, rabbits, skunks, and squirrels) we see!”

Count by size

  • Count the “big” and “little” animals together: First show your child all the big animals on the mat and then show them the little ones. 
  • Say, “Show me a BIG animal!”, “Show me a LITTLE animal”. Take it beyond the mat and have them find a little stuffie in their room and a big stuffie! 

Simple compare and contrast!

  • Look at the bunnies. Label them as different, saying, “The grey bunnies are different than the brown bunny.” “They are the same because they both have two ears, whiskers and fluffy tails!”
  • Expand the concept of “sameness” to matching! Model matching by pairing up animals or forest plants that are the same, saying, “These pink flowers here by the bunnies are the same as these pink flowers by the fox!” 
  • Show your child how to match the D&J animal printables to the mat. “Look, here is a skunk! Let’s find the skunk that looks the same. Here it is!”

Budding Forester Activities

(ages 2-3)

Build that number knowledge!

  • Introduce the concept of visual numbers by counting your fingers. Start with 1-2, then 3-5, and work your way up to 10.
  • Find two animals on the mat, like two squirrels, and count them, “1..2” Hold up 2 fingers to show 2.
  • Repeat for the next number, 3, and count 3 animals like 3 bunnies. 
  • As you progress in counting up to 10, you can move on to counting finer details like stripes on the racoon’s tail, points on the antlers, legs on an animal, or the tails, etc. 

Let’s work on sizes! 

  • Point out the large animals: moose, wolf, deer, and bear. Label them by saying, “These animals are large!”
  • Point out the medium animals: raccoon, fox, skunk, owl. Label them by saying, “These animals are medium!”
  • Point out the small animals: fish, snake, squirrels. Label them by saying, “These animals are small!”
  • Point out and label the size differences from large to medium to small by saying, “This moose looks large. This owl looks medium. These purple birds look small!”
  • Have fun and quiz your child on animal sizes by comparing the different groups. Ask “Which one of these is small, medium, or large?” “Do you think the deer is small, medium or large?”

Compare and contrast! 

  • Examine the details of different animals you see. Talk about their sizes and colors. 
  • Say, “the fox is orange” and “the bear is brown.”
  • Let your child explore the details and ask your child what they see or notice.
  • Then talk about making comparisons by saying “Look at these 2 furry animals, the skunk, and raccoon. What is the same? What is different?” 
  • Ideas for the same- size, colors, height, antlers, hooves, paws, tails, pattern

Now let’s visually learn about “more” and “less”! 

  • Let’s look at the pictures on the mat.
  • Find a group of animals on the mat like skunks, rabbits, wolves, deer and raccoons.
  • Say, “Look at the raccoons!” Count the number in that group.
  • Find a smaller group or single like woodpecker, owl, eagle, moose, bear. 
  • Say, “Look at the bear.” Count the number.
  • Say “I see more raccoons…1-2…than bears...1. There are more raccoons.” 

A little forest math! 

  • Introduce adding and taking away objects with just 1 object, saying, “There are 3 bunnies, if I added 1 more (bring one more onto the mat using your D&J printable), I have 4!"
  • Model counting and/or allow the child to point or recount the object after something was added or taken away for practice. 
  • Repeat these steps with deer, skunks, raccoons, wolves, squirrels and your D&J animal printables!

Where are the animals?

  • Help your child learn the meanings of places and positions by looking at where the animals are on the mat by following these steps.
  • Focus on the words: on, next to, up and down.
  • Select a preposition like “on” and say, “These are on a log/tree” and point to them skunks, rabbit, squirrel.”
  • Select another preposition like “next to”. “These animals are next to the stream” and point to them (wolf, snake, deer).
  • As you look at the animal positions you can also practice counting, labeling colors, sizes and shapes that you see!

Intermediate Forester Activities

(ages 3-5)

It’s counting time! 

  • Let’s count to ten! Review the counting order with your child by counting an image like the small flowers on the mat “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.”
  • Pick one number in the range, like “7”.
  • Show or ask your child what number comes before or after the number.
  • Write out the number order (1-10) on a sheet of paper and ask your child to say or point to the number that comes before or after.
  • Have your child count out the number using the mat. For example, count out the antlers. As they count, ask your child to point to the antlers that come before or after the number.

First, Second, Third, and so Forth! 

  • Look for things lined up in a row on the mat: skunks, points on the antlers, points on the eagle's wing, pine trees, mountains, blades of grass, stones in the stream. 
  • Point to an item on the mat and show your child what is 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. For example, “The points of the mountain are lined up like this, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th…”
  • Get creative and make up stories about the ordinal numbers like, “Which skunk will make it across the log 1st?” 
  • Use your D&J animal printables to bring additional animals in and expand on the opportunities.

Hmm! What do you think? 

  • Let’s determine when there is “more”, “less” or “equal” amounts of animals and items! 
  • Select 2 groups of animals on the mat like rabbits and racoons.
  • Ask your child if there are more rabbits or racoons. Have your child count to find the answer.
  • Take it further and ask how many more rabbits than racoons there are.
  • Count the groups to see the answer, “There are 1, 2, 3, rabbits, and 1, 2 racoons.”
  • Switch up asking about more, less, or equal (smaller group vs bigger groups of animals, etc.) 

The story of addition and subtraction!

  • Select a group of animals like rabbits. Ask your child how many animals they see hopping around. Then say, “If one more rabbit hops up how many will there be?” Using the printables, add one rabbit. Have your child count the rabbits to find the answer.
  • Repeat the process with other animal families. Talk about both adding or taking away by 1 or 2.
  • For example, “I can see 3 deer. If two walked away (cover them with your hand) from the group how many will there be?”


  • Discuss parts of a whole with your child “There are 3 total bunnies and 2 of them are grey, 1 is brown,” “Let’s look at the skunks. There are 3 babies and 1 mama. There are 3 and 1 more is 4 total skunks!” 
  • Other examples of this may include animals with fur, things that can swim, total birds. 
  • To help your child visually understand this concept, use the printable ten frame paired with D&J colored bingo chips. Using the skunks as an example, you can line up 3 red bingo chips (baby skunks) and 1 purple bingo chip (mama skunk) on the ten frame to show the 4 total skunks.

Expert Forester Activities

(ages 5-7)

Concept of ten

  • In the forest there are 10 of each animal. How many wolves do we need to add to this picture? Have child build how many are currently in the forest using the ten frame printable. This allows them to see conceptually and concretely how many more to make ten.
  • Using the D&J printable animals, have the child add the correct number of animals to bring the totals to ten (this will require printing two sets of the printables!). 

Skip counting

  • Start with counting by 2s. If needed demonstrate how to count by 2s by counting all the pink flowers or the points on the moose antlers. 
  • Point to two pink flowers at a time so your child can see how to count.
  • Let your child practice counting by 2s with another wildlife (animal legs), then move on to counting by 5s using the yellow flowers.
  • Expand skip counting opportunities by counting bird wings, animal eyes or animal ears. 

Let’s add and subtract! 

  • Discuss adding the parts within the image (3 + 1 antler points, 4+1 raccoon stripes).
  • Talk about adding or taking away from the groups (1 more skunk shows up). 
  • Add two groups together! How many furry animals are there if you add the bunnies and the squirrels? 
  • Encourage your child to participate by counting the pictures on the mat to come up with their answer. 
  • Start by adding and taking away 1-2, and then move up to 3, 4, and so on. A great way to practice is using the D&J animal printables with the placemat! 

Learn how to estimate! 

  • Ask your child to look at the berries on the bush. Then ask, “Do you think there are more or less than 5 berries on this bush? Why do you think that?”
  • Double check the answer by counting the pictures in the grouping. 
  • Repeat with other animals or pictures in the scene using the carrier phrase, “Do you think there are…” You can expand on your options by using the printables or grouping animals pr plants by location (“Do you think there are more or less than 5 flowers around this stump?”).

Now let’s write it out! 

  • Have your child pick a favorite forest friend on the forest mat and talk about the types of numbers related to it. You can talk about the number of eyes, paws, tails, antlers, or even patterns on the creatures. 
  • As you count, ask your child to write out the numbers. For example, if you select the deer, write out the number of its hooves, spots, and antler points. If you select the raccoon, write out the number of stripes on its tail. 
  • Continue this across as many animals as you’d like!

Beginner Forester Activities

(ages 0-2)

Time for a little singing! 

Sing the ABC’s and point to animals or wildlife that start with a letter if you come across a picture that matches a letter:

Here are some suggested letters that correspond with the pictures:

  • A=Antlers
  • B=Blue water, bear 
  • D=Deer
  • E= Eagle 
  • F=Fox, flowers, fish
  • G=Green grass or trees
  • H=Hooves
  • L= Leaf, log
  • M=Moose, mountain
  • O=Owl
  • P=Pine tree, purple mountain
  • R=Racoon, river, rabbit, rock
  • S=Snake, squirrel
  • T=Tree 
  • W=Woodpecker
  • Y=Yellow flower

Explore the forest wildlife 

  • Use the tune of Going On A Bear Hunt: “We’re goin’ on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. We’re not scared! What a beautiful day!”
  • Pointing to the grass: “Oh, look! It’s some long, wavy grass! Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Got to go through it!”
  • Pointing to the river: We’re goin’ on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. We’re not scared! What a beautiful day! Oh, look! It’s a wide river. Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. Got to swim across it.
  • Pointing to the trees: We’re goin’ on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. We’re not scared! What a beautiful day! Oh, look! A big forest. Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. Got to go in it.

Budding Forester Activities

(ages 2-3)

Making letter-sound connections! 

  • Review letter sounds with animals with your child. Start with the earliest developing sounds of b, p, m, h, w, d, and, t. 
  • “Bunny, b,b,b, bunny. Bunny starts with B!” “Pine tree,p,p,p, pine tree starts with P!” “Moose, m,m,m,moose starts with M!”
  • As your child grows with their letter sounds, ask them to find an animal that starts with a specific letter sound. For example, “Find the animal that starts with B.” “Find the tree that starts with P.” “Find the animal that starts with M!” 

Forest rhyme time! 

  • Say a vocabulary word and then name a rhyming word with it, “Bear, hair! Hair rhymes with bear.”
  • Ask your child to repeat the rhyming word you say.
  • At this stage, simply model various rhyming words without expecting the child to be able to come up with a rhyming word. The more they are modeled to, the more they’ll be able to make rhymes down the road! 
  • Suggested rhymes: Fish=wish, swish, Deer=hear, year, Snake=bake, rake, Bunny=funny, honey, Fox=box, rocks, Moose=goose, loose, Bird=word, Tree=free, we, me

It’s storytime! 

  • Ask your child to pick a scene or animal on the mat. For example, the skunks on the log.
  • Ask them to think of a short story about what they are doing in the picture.
  • To help with ideas ask questions like, “Why are the skunks on the log? Where do you think they are going? Who is in their family?”
  • Repeat with various animals seen on the mat! Feel free to model story ideas to help your child understand the activity before they try.

Build that animal vocabulary! 

  • Select an animal on the mat: deer, bear, raccoon, fox, moose, eagle, owl, wolf.
  • Say, “The mama deer is a dow, the baby deer is a fawn.”
  • Review all baby names on the mat: fawn, cub, kit, pup, calf, eaglet, owlet.
  • Ask your child the names of baby animals as you point to the animal on the mat!

Intermediate Forester Activities

(ages 3-5)

Quiz your child’s forest vocabulary!

  • Ask your child Wh-questions such as the following questions using the mat:
  • “Where is the bear?”
  • “Who lives in the tree?”
  • “What animal is orange?”
  • “When do owls sleep?”

Letter sounds

  • Encourage saying and writing letters with their sounds following these steps:
  • Pick a letter like “F” and point to a fox. Say, “Fff, fox, fff.”
  • Ask your child to make the letter sound for “F.”
  • Ask your child to write the letter F on a Post-it.
  • Reverse the activity by pointing to a fox and ask your child what the starting letter sound is. 
  • Repeat this activity across anything you see on the mat!

Expert Forester Activities

(ages 5-7)

Letter knowledge is power! 

  • Look at the animals on the mat. Pick one. For example, say you selected “bear.” Ask, “Which animal starts with the /b/ sound?”
  • Now, have your child pair the letter (either written out or with silicone letter) with the sound and place it near the mat/near the animal you are referring to!
  • Take turns and see how many different letter pairings you and your child can do!

Learning to read together! 

  • On Post-it notes write out different words related to the ocean mat from the following categories:
  • Animals/nature: fish, fox, bear, tree, snake, deer, squirrel, mountain, river, raccoon.
  • Colors: red, blue, green, yellow, purple, pink.
  • Sizes: big, little, tall.
  • Prepositions: in, on, out, up, down, under, top.
  • Now, review words with your child. Make sure to encourage sounding the words out, no memorization! 
  • Ask your child to read the word on the note card, and then place the word next to the matching picture on the mat.
  • Hold up 2 cards and ask your child to point to the word you say. , lay out 2 cards and ask your child to hand you the word you say.
  • Turn all the words over like a memory game, flip a word over and have your child read and or write it!

Become a storyteller master! 

  • Ask your child to look at the details on the forest mat. Encourage them to look at what the animals are doing, who they are with, how many animals are together, and what they eat.
  • Ask your child questions using sequencing words: first, next, and then. For example: 
  1. “What does the bear do first thing in the morning?”
  2. “What does the bear do next?”
  3. “Then what does the bear do?”