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5 Tips for Establishing a Back to School Routine

The kids have been back to school for a few weeks now, but my boys and I are still working on settling into a back to school routine. This time of year comes with new classes, different after school activities, and the need for schedules that work for everyone. Most kids thrive on routine, and it makes a parent’s life a lot easier, so it is worth spending a little time right now to get things on track.

Here are 5 tips for establishing back to school routine:

1)  Establish a bedtime routine -- Sing a song, have a bedtime snack, take a bath and/or read a story. Find something that works for you and stick with it. A well-rested child will perform better in school and will be less prone to dinnertime meltdowns.

2)  Set up a family calendar -- I put everything on my calendar – appointments, gym and library days, hockey practices, etc… At one glance, I know what everyone needs for the day and where they need to be. I use an excel spreadsheet, but some people use wall calendars or magnetic calendars on the fridge. Choose something that works for you, and update it at the beginning of every month.

3)  Use your weekend to set yourself up for a successful week -- Catch up on laundry, do some cleaning, stock the fridge and pantry, and plan meals and lunches. I like to bake and cook things that I can stick in the freezer for lunches (like biscuits, banana bread, muffins, cookies and French toast) so that I can easily pop them in the boys’ lunch bags each evening.

4)  Sort through seasonal clothing -- Now is the perfect time to You may also want to sort through the Fall/Winter clothes. The days are getting cooler, so now is the time to figure out what needs to be purchased and what needs to be packed away.

5)  Try and do as much as you can the night before -- Make it a habit to lay out clothes, pack lunches, and organize backpacks. A little prep the night before will make mornings run a lot more smoothly.

All of these tips for establishing a back to school routine should help, but don’t forget to be patient with the kids. This time of year is exhausting for both parents and children, so a little understanding will go a long way.

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

Simple Handprint Trees for Fall

My boys are back to school, Fall is in the air, and the leaves are starting to turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange.  Inspired by the beautiful colors around us, my boy and I recently made these adorable handprint trees.

We made two versions of the handprint trees... a simple version for younger children, and a slightly more difficult one for older kids.  You can find full tutorials for both versions at CBC Parents {here}.

Happy Fall!

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

DIY Olaf Costume

My youngest son loves the movie Frozen, so I was not surprised when he announced that he wanted to be Olaf for Halloween this year.  I knew it would be difficult to come up with a DIY Olaf Costume for him to wear, but I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.

Isn't he the cutest?

To make the "body" part of the costume, I started with an oversized turtleneck from Walmart that I got on clearance for $3.  (It's big so my little guy will be able to wear a jacket under it for trick or treating.)  Then, I made some pom poms and used hot glue to attach them to the front of the shirt. Finally, I cut the legs off a pair of old tights and pulled them over the sleeves of the turtleneck (to make arms), and I added a pair of black stretchy gloves from the dollar store.

To make the Olaf hat, I started with a plain white hat that I got at the dollar store for $2.

Then, I cut all the facial features out of felt.  You can use the template below as a guide.  Just right click on the picture below, save it to your computer, and print the 8X10 photo.

I stitched the eyes together, and I stitched the nose together, but if you are looking for a "no-sew" option, you can use hot glue to assemble the pieces.

Then, once the pieces were assembled, I attached everything to the hat with hot glue.

Finally, I cut a small slit in the top of the hat, pulled through a couple of pipe cleaners, and secured them in place with some hot glue.

I made this DIY Olaf Costume for less than $10, and I think it is totally adorable, don't you?

Happy Halloween!

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

PS (You can find 21 more DIY Halloween Costume Ideas here.)

5 Tips for Saving for Post Secondary Education...and a chance to win $500 from RBC

Recently, I asked my boys, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  Their answers were all different, but they will all need post secondary education in order to reach their goals -- and it isn't going to be cheap.  I have already started saving for my boys, and here are 5 tips to help you save for your little one's post secondary education.

1) Set up an RESP - It's simple, and the government will help you save.  The Canadian Education Savings Grant will match up to 20% on the first $2,500 contributed.  (This could add up to an additional $500 a year, up to a lifetime maximum of $7,200.)

2) Start early and contribute regularly - I opened a family RESP when my oldest was a baby, and I try my best to contribute as often as I can.  ($25 a week can add up to $50,000 in 18 years.)  If a weekly contribution fits in your budget, you can set it up as an automatic payment with RESP-Matic® from RBC.

3) Use money from family and friends - When my boys were younger, they received money for gifts, and I put it all in their RESPs.  As they get older, I will encourage them to contribute a percentage of all monetary gifts to their education fund.

4) Get the kids to contribute - My boys are young now, but as they get older, I plan on having them contribute a percentage of their earnings to their education savings.

5) Make lump sum contributions - Whenever possible, I try and make lump sum contributions to the boys RESPs.  For example, when we get a tax refund, I take a percentage and put it in the boys' account.

It isn't always easy to find extra money, but an RESP is simple to set up, and it is a great investment.  You have the flexibility to use the RESP for university, college, apprenticeship, non-credit courses, etc., and if your child doesn't use the funds, you can use your contributions and earnings to fund your RRSP.

If you want to find out more great tips on saving for your child's education, you can head on over to the RBC website and check out the following links: and  RBC is also giving away 4 prizes of $500 to help you with your RESP savings.  You can enter the contest here.

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

Disclosure: I am part of the RBC RESP blogger program with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Lunchbox Treats, a FREE printable, and a GIVEAWAY from Dare

Recently, my boys and I were invited to test out the new nut-free Dare cookies featuring Wowbutter (which tastes like peanut butter but is totally nut-free).  I was excited at the chance to add some variety to my boys lunches, and so were my boys.

Each of the boys quickly picked a favorite.  My oldest loved the Wowbutter Wagon Wheels, my middle son chose the chocolate chip and Wowbutter Bear Paw minis, and my youngest really enjoyed the Bear Paws morning snack with wowbutter and strawberries.

My boys love the taste of these new snacks, and I love that they are a tasty source of protein with no artificial colours.  They are the perfect peanut-free addition to school lunch boxes, and they would be great for class treats and loot bags.

To make our new snacks a little more fun, I decided to design some cute lunchbox notes to attach to the "bear paws".  I think my boys will get a kick out of my little puns when they find them at lunch time.

To print your own 4X6 sheet of lunchbox notes, right click on the picture below, save it to your computer, and print it like a regular photo.  Then, cut the tags, and attach them to the treats with a stapler or tape.  Cute, right?

And... in addition to these free lunchbox notes, I have another treat for you today... a chance to win a Dare Prize Pack (ARV$75).  This prize would definitely make packing lunches a little easier!

To enter for a chance to win Dare cookies, lunchbox containers, an ice pack, a water bottle, a lunch bag, a backpack, and a $25 Visa/Mastercard gift card, simply leave a comment below letting me know which of these Wowbutter treats from Dare would be a favorite in your house.  (Don't forget to leave me your email address if you don't have one linked to your profile) so that I can contact you if you win.  This contest is open to Canadian residents and closes Monday, September 22, 2014.

You'll also want to head to to learn more about their great products and visit the Dare Bear Paws facebook page to stay up to date on their latest news, promotions and contests.

Enjoy the lunchbox notes, and don't forget to enter the contest.  It's a great prize.  Good luck!

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

Disclosure: I am participating in the Dare Bear Paws and Wagon Wheels blogger program with enCompass Media and received product and payment as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinion on this blog are my own.

Contest Rules:
1) The winner of the contest will be chosen by the Random Number Generator.
2) To enter the contest, you must leave a comment on this post (with contact info). Contest is open to Canadian Residents only.
3) This contest is not being hosted or sanctioned in any way by Facebook.
4) Contest closes on September 22, 2014 at 11:59pm.
5) Prize will be accepted as awarded. 
6) Winner will be contacted via email and will have 48 hours to respond. After 48 hours the prize will be forfeited, and another winner will be selected.

Little Monsters Halloween Sign {free printable}

My boys don't like Halloween decor to be too spooky, so I like to have a lot of "cute" decorations around the house.  This year, I designed this darling sign that says, "BEWARE... 3 Little Monsters Live Here", and I am sharing the free printable with you today.

I printed the 8X10 photo, and framed it in a dollar store frame.  I love how easy and inexpensive this picture is.

To download your own copy, right click on the picture below (that corresponds to the number of children you have), save it to your computer, and print it like a normal 8X10 photo.  Easy!

As with all of the printables I have designed, I invite you to print, share (the link to this site), and enjoy them for your personal use for free.  However, I own the copyright to these items, so please don't resell this image, and/or reprint or repost it without prior written consent.  Thank you!

I can't wait for October so that I can hang this cute piece of Halloween decor in my hallway.  How many little monsters do you have?

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

No Cook Play Dough Recipe

Last week, my sister asked me for the play dough recipe I use with my boys, and I realized that I have never posted it here.  I love this recipe (based on one I found at DLTK) because the ingredients are simple, you don't have to cook it, and it smells great!

Here's how to make my favorite (fantastic smelling) play dough:

1) Mix 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/4 cup salt, and 1 (6g) package of unsweetened kool aid powder.

2) Stir in 1 cup boiling water and 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil. (I use canola oil.)

3) Wait for the mixture to cool slightly, and then knead it for 5 minutes. It will be sticky at first, but if you keep kneading it, it will smooth out nicely.

That's it!  Easy, right?

Don't forget to store the homemade play dough in a Ziploc bag or an airtight storage container when the kids have finished playing with it.  It should last a month or two.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)
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