Educational Placemats For Mealtime Learning

by Melanie on November 21, 2013

Tot school is still going strong, but because we’ve been learning all about weather, I’m letting this theme run even longer than usual to get the full scope of what nature has to offer. So far we’ve seen everything from gorgeous days to nasty, stormy days and have been learning a lot in the process! Next week, I’ll write out the details of what we’ve been doing.

For now, I want to talk about an amazing learning tool: educational placemats.

Rocket loves examining pictures on themed placemats and learning during mealtime. He asks lots of questions, repeats after us as we explain to him what the placemats depict, and even has special requests for specific placemats on some days. We have gathered a nice variety of educational placemats over time and we alternate them regularly depending on his current interests.

Educational Placemats

Breakfast fun: Using porcupine balls as markers on specific states where people we know were born or where they live (here, he is identifying Montana- his birth state).

I highly recommend for parents of young children to collect educational placemats to turn breakfast, lunch, and dinner into fun learning experiences!

You’ll be surprised how much your child picks up once they are exposed to the information on these mats regularly. Mealtime makes learning effortless. It’s a time when you come together anyway to sit down and eat. You might as well take the opportunity to do some teaching also, if the child is interested.

If the child is not interested, then it’s just a mat! It still functions for catching food and keeping your table clean. You can try to slip in some learning and see how the child responds (i.e. uh oh! A piece of egg just dropped on Canada!), but if the child doesn’t care about what’s on the mat, that’s okay too.

Some days, Rocket is a nonstop chatterbox about his mat and other days, he’d rather sing through mealtime and ignore the mat completely. Either way is okay with me. I wholeheartedly believe that the best teaching method for young children and toddlers is to follow the child’s lead. Expose them to many opportunities, resources, and learning tools, and then allow them to decide what interests them and when.

Rocket has learned many things from his placemats and we are careful to always be mindful of how receptive he is feeling, never forcing facts on him if he’s not feeling it. We make conversation to peak his interest, but only continue if the interest is there. I want to stress that “drilling” facts- either from educational mats, books, or flash cards, can backfire and give young children a very negative association with learning, which can impact them for life. Always pay attention to their needs.

Teach according to their interests and with their emotional state at the forefront of your thoughts. They should always be having fun. There will come a time later in life for more formal learning. The toddler years are better spent developing a deep passion for learning and a strong bond with the parent.

Placemats, used at Rocket’s own pace, have taught him so much. His alphabet mat has helped him to recognize many letters and words that go with those letters phonetically- an important first step in learning how to read. From his map mats, he can now show you where O Pho was born (Vietnam), where Gramps was born (Kansas City), where we live (America on the world map & Kentucky on the states map), where he was born (Montana), where his Aunt Michelle lives (New York), and where his Cousin Judson’s family lives (South Carolina).

To enhance the educational placemat experience, buy mats that are laminated and give your child dry-erase utensils & a wet napkin. We switch between dry-erase markers, dry-erase crayons, and dry-erase colored pencils, depending on which Rocket is in the mood to use. Let children write on the mats, marking items that you name, or just doodling as they please!

Educational Placemats

Using markers to identify planets. And to just color wildly!

We also use various small objects as markers on the mats. We’ve used dried beans, porcupine balls, beads, etc. Many of the items we’ve collected for sensory tubs work wonderfully as mat markers.

Educational Placemats

Matching letter beads on one of his alphabet mats.

Educational Placemats

This alphabet mat has letters in capital, lowercase, and cursive writing, so it helps with his recognition of letters in various forms.

Our educational mats come from thrift stores, superstores, the Internet, and as gifts from friends and family. For your convenience, here is a list of some amazing educational mats I’ve found on Amazon, by category (alphabet placemats, numbers placemats, shapes & colors placemats, ASL placemats, geography & maps placemats, science placemats, music placemats, animal placemats, and practical life skills placemats) . For everything I’ve listed here, we either own it, own something very similar, or would love to own it.

I hope educational placemats can be as valuable a tool in your home as they are in ours!


Alphabet Placemats:


Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Placemat Bundle With Write-On, Wipe-Off Crayons (Handwriting, Phonic, Telling Time). – This is a great beginner bundle with 3 mats focusing on handwriting, phonics, and telling time.

Melissa & Doug Alphabet/Numbers Bundle With Write-On, Wipe-Off Crayons. – Another awesome bundle with 3 educational mats- numbers, counting, and the alphabet.

Alphabet Placemat By Brainymats. – A phonics-centered alphabet mat with real photos.

Alphabet With Animals Placemat By Painless Learning. – An animal-centered and phonics-focused alphabet mat with colorful pictures.


Numbers Placemats:


Melissa & Doug Alphabet/Numbers Bundle With Write-On, Wipe-Off Crayons. – Awesome bundle with 3 educational mats- numbers, counting, and the alphabet.

Numbers Placemat By Brainymats. – A fun numbers mat with real photos.

Melissa & Doug Numbers Placemat With Write-On/Wipe-Off Crayons. – Numbers 1-10 placemat (the single from the bundle above).

Roman Numerals Placemat By Painless Learning. – Teaching Roman numerals, ideal for older children.


Shapes & Colors Placemats:


Shapes And Colors Placemat By Painless Learning. – This mat depicts the common geometric shapes as well as an introductory color wheel.

Learn Shapes & Draw Placemat By Tot Talk. – A placemat designed to help children learn how to draw shapes on their own.


ASL Placemats:


Sign2Me Early Learners Placemats (ASL/Spanish/English). – A set of 16 ASL educational mats for the serious signer!

Sign Language Alphabet Placemat By Painless Learning. – The complete ASL alphabet on a placemat.


Geography & Maps Placemats:


Explore The World Placemat by Tot Talk.  – A map of the world’s countries and continents. The backside has a blank map so older children can fill in the names (and younger children can doodle).

World Map Placemat By Crocodile Creek. – A fun world map with beautiful illustrations.

USA Geography Activity Placemat. – A USA map with the states, capitals, and various pictures to make learning fun.

Melissa & Doug United States Write-A-Mat. – A United States placemat with a blank map on the backside for children to fill out.

United States Placemat By Brainymats. – A very realistic map of the USA with states, capitols, major cities, and major rivers & lakes.

Flags Of The World Placemat By Painless Learning. – My son loves his state flags placemat. One day we will get this one too!

State Flags Placemat By Brainymats. – All 50 state flags on a mat, with blank flags on the back to test identification for older children.


Science Placemats:


Solar System Explorer Placemat By Tot Talk. – Rocket has a solar system placemat very similar to this one.

Weather Placemat By Tot Talk. – I wish we had this one for our current theme on weather!

Periodic Table of Elements Placemat By Brainymats. – A great periodic table for older children.

Periodic Table of Elements Placemat By Painless Learning. – Another nice periodic table for older children.

Human Body Placemat By Painless Learning. – A very cool human body placemat that introduces basic human anatomy.


Animal Placemats:


Mountain Animals Placemat By Tot Talk. – A lovely educational placemat depicting animals that live in the mountains.

Dogs Placemat By Tot Talk. – An introduction to dog breeds.

Popular Dogs Placemat By Painless Learning. – Another great introductory dog breed placemat with nice photos.

Melissa & Doug Dinosaurs Write-A-Mat. – If you have a dino-lover, this mat will be a big hit! Learn the names of dinosaurs while coloring them.

Ocean Explorer Activity Placemat By Tot Talk. – A look at ocean life.


Music Placemats:


Musical Instruments Placemat By Painless Learning. – My son’s great passion is music. He loves to strum on the string instruments depicted on the mat!

The Young Pianist Placemat By Tot Talk. – The perfect placemat for children learning how to play the piano.


Practical Life Skills Placemats:


Learn To Type Activity Placemat By Tot Talk. – This mat is ideal for older children learning how to type.

Melissa & Doug Set-The-Table Color-A-Mat – This mat teaches children how to set the table and has space for them to draw their own food on the plate!

Table Setting & Manners Placemat By Brainymats. – Another table-setting placemat.

Learning About Money Placemat By Painless Learning. – This is a great mat for kids learning the different denominations of American money.

Let’s Talk Money Activity Placemat By Tot Talk. – A second option for learning about money.

Time To Tell Time Placemat By Painless Learning. – Telling time, for older children.

Little Wigwam Telling The Time Placemat. – Another placemat for helping kids learn how to read a clock.



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