50+ Fabulous & Fun Loot Bag Ideas

Hosting a "Half" Sleepover

One of the items on our Summer Checklist this year is "Host a Half Sleepover", and last night we checked it off our list.

Here's the invite we sent out...


We had 10 guests arrive in their PJs toting their sleeping bags and pillows.  We had pancakes for supper, and the kids had lots of treats while they watched a movie.  I also gave all the guests glow sticks and mini flashlights from the dollar store.


The plan was to watch a movie outside, but a really aggressive stray cat wouldn't leave our deck, so we moved the movie inside.  (True story!  lol)  



A great time was had by all, and I think we might need to put this on our summer checklist again next year.


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


PS (If you want to pass out a little "party favor", I think "breakfast for tomorrow" is an adorable idea. You can read all about it here.)

Tip for Beginner Readers

This tip is a simple one that actually came from my school teacher aunt.  When kids are learning to read, and pointing at the words as they go, give them a "witch finger" (a Halloween prop from the dollar store).  I know it sounds crazy, but my younger boys think it is great.


It is an easy way to keep little ones focussed on reading.  Isn't it a fantastically simple idea?

Do you have a great tip for beginner readers?  I'd love to hear it.


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Tips for Back to School Shopping...and a chance to win a Sears gift card

Last week I received a gift card from Sears, and it was a perfect excuse for a Back to School shopping extravaganza.  I usually avoid clothes shopping with my boys, but I thought it would be fun to let them pick out a couple of special items this year.  I followed a few "back to school shopping tips", and we had a great time.


Here are my top tips for shopping with kids:

1)  Keep it short.  -- Little ones do not love browsing.  Pick one store, and when they start to get tired, leave.

2)  Plan ahead.  -- Make sure the children are well rested and well fed before you leave the house.  Tired and hungry children do not make very good shopping companions.  (A few snacks in your purse might come in handy too.)

3)  Make it fun. -- If you want the kids to stay interested, make it about them.  (This is not the time to hang out in the ladies section looking for the perfect pair of pants.)  I let my boys pick out two shirts each, and they really enjoyed choosing items that fit their personal styles and interests.


I think we all have special back to school shopping memories from our own childhood, and I think my boys had a great time picking out their own "just for school" new clothes from Sears.  My seven year old loves his "brand name" clothes and new backpack, my six year old is thrilled with his "sports team" shirts, and my four year old thinks his "graphic tees" are awesome.  

And, as a mom, I was really happy with the prices and selection at Sears' new Kids Room.  (I also love the KidVantage lifetime wear out warranty and Price Match Guarantee.)


What is your best "back to school shopping" tip?  Do you like taking your little ones with you, or do you prefer to leave them at home?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


PS (You should totally check out the Sears "Back We Go" Facebook contest that's live now!  Enter for a chance to win one of five weekly $500 Sears gift card prizes and 35 daily $50 Sears gift cards to put towards your back to school shopping!  To enter the contest, "like" the Sears facebook page and enter your info here.  Good luck!)

Disclosure: I am part of the Sears Back to School Blogger Campaign with Mom Central Canada, and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group.  The opinions on the blog are my own.

Best Things to do in Prince Edward Island {with kids}

The boys and I just got back from a week and a half in Prince Edward Island {PEI}, and we had a fantastic time.  If you ever get a chance to vacation on the East Coast, I highly recommend including PEI in your vacation plans.


Here are {in my opinion) the best things to do in PEI with kids:

1) Visit Avonlea Village - My boys love Avonlea Village.  It provides great "old fashioned" fun for the whole family.  If your little ones love live music, live theatre, dressing up, and playing games... you should totally check it out.


2) Have a Cow's ice cream - No trip to PEI is complete without a stop at Cow's.  Trust me, this ice cream is delicious.  (PS... "Moo Crunch" is my favorite flavour.)


3) Attend the Gold Cup and Saucer Parade - If you happen to be in PEI during Old Home Week, you should make sure you attend the Gold Cup and Saucer Parade.  It is full of fun floats, characters, and music.  My boys thought it was great!


4) Play at the beach - PEI has some of the world's most beautiful beaches, so take some time to explore them.  My boys love swimming in the ocean and searching for sea glass.


5) Spend time with family - PEI is a great place to focus on family.  This year, we were lucky to have family from Ottawa, Halifax, and England join us.  I can't think of a better place for my boys to make memories with their cousins.


6) Visit Shining Waters - When the temperature rises, Shining Waters is the perfect place for the little ones to cool off.  There are rides, water slides, boats, a pool, and much more.  Children of all ages will have a blast!


7) Go camping - PEI has many excellent family campgrounds, and this year we stayed at Marco Polo Land.  It is a great place for kids.  My favorite part was our campfire snack... Reese Peanut Butter Cup S'mores.  Yum!


8) Take the ferry - Instead of taking the Confederation Bridge, we took the ferry.  It costs a little more, but it is definitely a highlight for the boys.  We like to pick the boat that has live music and Cow's ice cream.  :-)


Have you ever taken a trip to Prince Edward Island?  What was your favorite part?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

First Day of School Card... from our Elf on the Shelf

Look at what our Elf on the Shelf {Elfie} sent my boys.  I am planning on surprising them with it on the first day of school.


Isn't it cute?

If you think your little ones would like to receive one from your eIf, you can download a generic 4x6 jpeg {for free} here.  (Feel free to share and pin the link to this post, but please do not link directly to the download.  Thank you!)

Enjoy, and good luck on the first day of school!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Quick Tip Tuesday #13 - Labels for Kids

This is the time of year that many moms order name labels for back to school.  So today's "Quick Tip Tuesday" is a simple {but helpful} idea -- when you have multiple children, order labels that have all the children's names on them or just use their last name.


Then, when clothes (or other items) get passed down from one child to another, no "re-labelling" is required.

Clever, right?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


PS (If you are interested in supporting me and this blog, I would love for you to considering ordering labels from me... here.  Thank you!)

Lemonade Stand {for Charity}

Teaching my boys to have compassion for other people is very important to me.  So, this year we had our second annual lemonade stand for charity.  The boys raised $83.85 for Cystic Fibrosis... a disease that their 9 month old cousin has been diagnosed with. They were very proud of the money they raised to help their little cousin.  :-)


Would you like to have a lemonade stand with your little one?  Here is a little checklist that might be helpful:

1)  Lemonade and cookies - You don't need cookies, but it adds something extra to the stand... and getting the kids to help bake the cookies is a good way to get them involved.

2)  Small glasses

3)  A cooler and ice

4)  A table and colorful tablecloth - I used two TV trays because they were easy to transport.

5)  Signs - Let people know what you are doing and what charity you are raising money for.  You can download our simple sign here.

6)  A container for donations

7)  A bag for garbage

I hope you have as much fun with your lemonade stand as we had with ours.


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


{The BEST} Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are my favorite, but my husband loves chocolate chip cookies, so this recipe is a perfect compromise for us.  If you don't have a peanut allergy, you should totally give them a try.



Here's how you make them: {*This recipe is based on one from Better Homes and Gardens with a couple minor modifications.  I also saw a yummy variation here.}



Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
Directions:
    1. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to combine butter, peanut butter, and sugars.
    2. Add baking soda and baking powder, and beat until combined.
    3. Add egg and vanilla, and beat again.
    4. Stir in flour.
    5. Stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.
    6. Spoon onto cookie sheet, and bake in preheated oven (at 375 degrees) for 7-10 minutes.
    7. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
If you make these cookies, let me know what you think.  I don't think you will be disappointed.


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

DIY Summer Gift {World's Greatest Bubbles Kit}

Who doesn't love a homemade gift, and this one is sure to bring a smile to the face of the lucky recipient.  Who wouldn't love a "World's Greatest Bubbles" Kit?  


All you need is a bottle of {light} corn syrup and a bottle of good quality dish soap.  (I like "Dawn".)  Tie it up with some ribbon and a recipe for bubbles (12 cups water, 1 cup light corn syrup and 2 cups dishwashing liquid), and you're done!

It's a great gift for a neighbour or friend, and it would make a great loot bag for a summer party.  You could also add some bubble wands and a bubble dispenser for a fun and unique birthday gift.

Do you know someone who loves bubbles?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Are you in a Dinner Rut?

With busy family schedules, it is easy to see how moms get into dinner ruts.  I find it stressful to squeeze in homework and a home cooked dinner before rushing to the rink, and it is always tempting to pop a frozen pizza into the oven.  However, I do have one time saver that helps me keep my sanity -- cook several batches of hamburger, put them in freezer bags or containers, and pop them in the freezer.


With hamburger frozen this way, it is ready to heat and season for a quick weekday meal.  I often use it for tacos, spaghetti or shepherd's pie.  Lots of easy options at my fingertips helps keep me out of a dinner rut. 



Wouldn't Taco Tuesday be simple if you could just add spice, heat, and serve?  I always have an Old El Paso kit in my pantry and some fried hamburger in the freezer.  

Are you in a dinner rut?  Do you have a way of (easily) adding some variety to the dinner table?  I am now an Old El Paso Ambassador, so I will have some great Mexican food ideas for you soon.  Stay tuned!


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


PS (You can always check out the Old El Paso Canada Facebook page for delicious meal ideas, and you can follow this campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #YouMexiCAN.)


Disclosure – I am participating in the Old El Paso Ambassador Program by Mom Central Canada on behalf of Old El Paso. I received compensation as a thank you for participating and for sharing my honest opinion. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Painted Rocks

One of the things on our summer checklist this year is "Paint Rocks".  So, a couple of days ago, my aunt collected some rocks at her cottage, and the boys "got to work".


We laid out the rocks and acrylic paints, and the kids started painting based on the shape of the rock.  It was so much fun!  We ended up with penguins, a tic tac toe game, a lady bug, an alligator, a bunch of hearts, paintings of scenery, dominoes, and a couple of caterpillars.


We plan on keeping our creations outside, so after they were dry, I sprayed them with some Acrylic Crystal Clear Indoor/Outdoor paint.

Have you ever let your little ones paint rocks?  What kind of designs did they come up with?  The penguins were definitely my favorites.  :-)


Cute, right?


Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)


PS (Check out the adorable Minion rocks my nephews painted. Great job, boys!)

8 Tips for a Successful Family Photo Shoot

I confess... I detest getting my picture taken.  However, I do think it is important for moms to get in pictures with their kids, so this summer we scheduled a family photo shoot.


I am so pleased with the way our pictures turned out, and I am so grateful to our wonderful photographer -- Hilary Hendsbee. (You can check out her facebook page here.)  

I am not a photography expert, but here are a few things I found helpful during the handful of family photo shoots we have done over the past few years.

1) Timing is everything - Make sure you pick a time of day that works with your kids' schedules.  Well rested children will be way more cooperative.  Also, make sure you give yourself lots of time for the shoot.  Arrive early so there is no need to rush around and stress out.

2) Dress for success - Make sure everyone (especially the kids) are comfortable, and choose clothes that are not trendy or distracting.  Clothes don't have to match, but they should coordinate for a cohesive feel.  A change of clothes and a sweater (in case it gets cold) are also useful.

3) Choose the right photographer - Get recommendations from friends, and find someone with experience working with kids.  You are going to want to find someone that specializes in the style of photos you are looking for.

4) Be clear about what you want - Decide whether or not you want candid shots or formal portraits, and figure out who you want in the pictures.  e.g.  I really wanted a picture of just my three boys, so I made sure to let the photographer know ahead of time.


5) Let the photographer take the lead - Although it may be tempting to take control, let the photographer call the shots -- he/she is a professional.  Give your opinion, but take advantage of his/her expertise when it comes to locations and poses.

6) Pick the right location - Pick a location with lots of interest for the children and one that will give you the "look" you are going for.  We picked the beach, and the boys had a lot of fun.



7) Bring a bag of goodies - Any activity with children requires some solid "prep" work.  Bring snacks, blankets, stuffies, bubbles -- anything that will make the kids happy and put them at ease.

8) Relax and have fun -  It will make the experience (and your pictures) better!  :-)


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

ECM Kids' Craft Club - #18 {Paper Plate Duck}

Welcome to the 18th edition of the ECM Kids' Craft Club.  This month we are making a paper plate duck!



First, gather your supplies.  You'll need a paper plate, two googly eyes, yellow cardstock, orange cardstock, glue, a yellow crayon, and a pair of scissors.  

Then:

1) Fold a paper plate in half and color it yellow.



2)  Trace your hand onto an orange piece of cardstock, and cut it out.



3)  Cut out a circle (head) from yellow cardstock, a triangle (beak) from orange cardstock, and two duck feet from orange cardstock.



4)  Glue two googly eyes and the beak onto the head.  Then, glue the head and two feet onto the paper plate.



Cute, right?  I hope you had fun making your handprint paper plate duck.

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)



Don't forget... Assist young children when using scissors, and be careful of the small parts included with this kit, as they can be a choking hazard for children under three".)

Quick Tip Tuesday #11 - Simple Summer Craft - Butterfly

A few of weeks ago, I posted a Simple Fish Craft, and it has gotten a lot of views.  So, here's another easy craft for kids that requires minimal supplies and minimal adult supervision.


To make this butterfly craft:

1) Draw a simple butterfly shape, and have the child cut it out and color it.
2) Cut out some holes in the wings or use a shaped-punch.
3) Glue some tissue paper to the back of the butterfly to cover the holes.
4) Optional -- Use a popsicle stick to make the body and add a couple of googly eyes to the top of the popsicle stick.  (Or... as pictured here... if you are three, you can just glue a bunch of googly eyes onto the wings like my son did. lol)

That's it!  A simple butterfly craft that looks great when the sun shines through the wings.


Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)


Top 5 Pirate Play Ideas

Around here, we LOVE playing Pirates, so I thought I would share my Top 5 Pirate Play Ideas:


1)  Make your own pirate costume - You can follow the tutorial for my "no sew" Jake costume here (including a template for a cardboard sword), or you can just cut up some old jeans and shirts to look like ragged pirate clothes.  


2)  Make a pirate craft - You can color a pirate picture, or you can try making our mod podge pirate treasure chest.  (You can find the full tutorial here.)


3)  Read some pirate books - If you don't already have a book shelf full of pirate stories, head to the library and check out some new pirate adventures.


4)  Have a pirate lunch -  Pirates love fish, and these fish sandwiches ARRRRR! almost too cute to eat.  Little pirates will love these peanut butter sandwiches cut out in the shape of fish (with chocolate chip eyes).


5)  Enjoy a special pirate treat - Every pirate adventure ends with a treasure, and these Gold Doubloon cupcakes are the perfect pirate treat.  (You can find the tutorial here.)


Fun, right?  Do your little ones enjoy going on pirate adventures?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Lunchbox Notes {free printable}

School is starting in a few weeks, so I thought it would be fun to design a sheet of lunch box notes for my boys.  The messages are simple, but they are important, and I know by boys will love them.


Want to download your own sheet of these adorable lunch box notes... for free?  Just click on one of the links below.  {Feel free to share the link to this blog post, but please don't link directly to the download.  Thanks!}

You can download a free pdf version here.
You can download a free 8X10 jpg version here.

Do you like sending notes in your child's lunchbox?



Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Back to School Printables

School doesn't start here until the first week of September, but I know some of my readers are heading back sooner.  So, I thought now would be a good time to share some Back to School Printables.



These 8X10 prints would be cute as photo props on the first day of school.  They would also be cute framed and sitting on the table for a special "first day of school breakfast".  You can download prints for grade primary to seven {without the watermark} below.  Feel free to share the printables, but do NOT link directly to the download.  Thank you!

Preschool Print
Grade Primary Print
Grade 1 Print
Grade 2 Print
Grade 3 Print
Grade 4 Print
Grade 5 Print
Grade 6 Print
Grade 7 Print

I hope you have a great first day of school.  Enjoy the free printables!


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)


UPDATE:  I've had a few requests for Pre-K and Kindergarten since I originally wrote this post.  They are slightly different from the ones above, but you can right click on the pictures below, save them to your computer, and print them like regular 8X10 photos.)



{simple} Magic Trick for Kids

One of the items on our Summer Checklist is "learn a new joke or magic trick".  Magic tricks can be tough for little ones, but this one is really simple and lots of fun.  (It is based on one I found at HowDoesShe.com.)


Here's how my boys used "magic words" to turn clear liquid into a colorful magic potion.


Step 1 - Put a couple drops of food coloring onto spoons.
Step 2 - Cover the food coloring with baking soda.
Step 3 - Fill glasses (half full) of vinegar.
Step 4 - While saying magic words, stir the baking soda into the vinegar.

The kids will love watching the clear liquid turn into a colorful and foamy fountain.

Do you think your little ones would love fooling friends with this simple magic trick?


Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)
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