10 Back to School Tips, Treats, and Traditions

I can't bear to think about sending my boys back to school (when they don't go back until the first week of September), but I know a lot of my readers have children heading back within the next couple of weeks.  With this in mind, I thought this was a perfect time to share a collection of my favorite back to school tips, treats, and traditions.

1)  Back to school countdown - Build some anticipation by counting down to the big day. Why not try an easy countdown with candy or a simple balloon pop countdown? {Click on the links for more details.}

2)  Back pack organization - Get organized by making sure the backpacks have a place (and don't end up on the floor).  Over the door hooks are a perfect solution for a small space. {Click on the link for more details.}

3)  School lunch ideas - Get ready for lunches with these tips and tricks: a lunch idea for kids that don't like sandwiches, an out of the box lunch idea, a tip to make packing lunches easier, and 5 tips for getting kids to eat their lunches.  {Click on the links for more details.}

4)  Lunchbox notes - Make lunches a little more fun with these FREE printable lunchbox notes.  {Click on the link for more details.}

5)  Back to school printables - These FREE back to school printables make fun back to school photo props or back to school home decor.  {Click on the link for more details.}

6)  First day of school photos - I always take photos of my boys (on the first day of school) holding a photo from the first day of school the year before.  {Click on the link for more details.}

7)  First day of school teacher gift - My boys like to bring a little gift for their new teacher on the first day of school.  You can read about it here. {Click on the link for more details.}

8)  First day of school class treats - My boys like to bring treats for their new classmates on the first day of school.  You can find a few ideas for class treats here. {Click on the link for more details.}

9)  Elf on the shelf postcard - If your little ones are fans of Elf on the Shelf, you might want to check out the FREE printable first day of school postcard here. {Click on the link for more details.}

10)  Back to school traditions - If you are looking to start some back to school traditions, you can check out my five favorite back to school traditions here.  {Click on the link for more details.}

I still have a month before I have to say good bye to summer, but I know the time will go by quickly.  I hope you have more vacation ahead, but if you are heading back to school soon, these tips should be helpful.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Jake and the Neverland Pirates Party Food

Don't you just love a party with cute food?  Recently, I had a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party for my youngest son, and although I kept it simple, I think the pirate themed food was adorable!

Here are some of the highlights:

1) "Fish" sandwiches - I made peanut butter sandwiches, cut them out with a cookie cutter, and added a chocolate chip eye.  Cute, right?

2) Fish and Chips - I threw some salt and vinegar chips and goldfish in a bowl and called it "fish and chips".  My 5 year old thought it was hilarious.

3) Pixie Sticks - Although I am not a big fan of feeding my kids pure sugar.  I couldn't resist serving "pixie dust" at a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party.

4) Gummy sharks - This is another overly sugary snack, but sharks and pirates just go together, so I had to have a few on the table.

5) Bucket of Cheesies - I bought this bucket on clearance, cleaned it, and filled it with my little guy's favorite treat.  Clever, right?

6)  Edible Necklaces - The party guests made their own edible necklaces with some cord, froot loops and a gold coin.  It's a party craft and a snack.  Fun!

7)  Pirate Cake - Every party needs a cake, and this one was adorable.  You can find the full tutorial here.

All the pirate party food was a hit with the little party guests. Which one is your favorite?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

You can find more Pirate Party ideas here.

No-Sew Spy Shirts

Recently, I threw a 7th birthday party for my middle son.  He chose a "spy" theme, and I thought it would be fun to have the boys wear personalized spy t-shirts.

I bought 3 plain black shirts at Old Navy for $6 each.  Then, I used dimensional fabric paint to write on each shirt.  I used their agents as their secret agent names.  Fun, right?

It's a fantastic idea for an adorable personalized spy t-shirt, and it could easily be made into a no sew spy costume for Halloween.  Add some black pants, gloves, and a ski mask, and you're good to go!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Birthday Letter {to my middle son turning 7}

My second born son turns 7 today, and in keeping with tradition, I have written him a birthday letter.  It is my way of capturing all the little details that I don't want to forget when he is older.  Here are some of the reasons my adorable 7 year old is so special:

To my sweet boy,

I can't believe that you are turning 7 today.  Time goes by so quickly, and I am really making an effort to treasure every moment of your childhood.  You are full of energy and life, and I am grateful that I have you for my son.  Here are a few reasons that you are such a wonderful little boy.

  • You lost your first teeth this year (three of them)... but you still have a killer smile.
  • Your favorite color is blue, and you love watching Star Wars.
  • You are turning into an excellent reader, and I love all the notes you write me in your "Mommy and Me" journal.
  • You are a natural athlete.  You recently won your first trophy at Tir Nan Og (a track meet), and Mommy and Daddy were very proud of you.
  • You are fantastic at fixing and building things.  You love LEGO, and you want to "fix things" when you grown up.
  • You have tons of friends.  When you go out, you are always waving and smiling at someone you know.
  • You continue to love playing with your brothers.  Some of your favorite games are: hockey, soccer, baseball, cars, pirates, and Star Wars.  (You are great at acting out scenes from Star Wars with pool noodle light sabres.  You are an awesome Jedi!)
  • You have a really big heart.  When I am sick, you give me your "blankie" to make me feel better and you cry at sad movies.  You also made cards for everyone on Father's Day so no one would feel left out.
I love you to the moon and back... and more each day.

Love, Mommy xoxo

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. -- Winnie the Pooh

Simple Spy Cake

My middle son is having his 7th birthday party tomorrow, so I thought a 007 spy cake would be perfect.  I am not a professional cake decorator, so I came up with a simple design using two round cakes and one square one.

I used Duncan Hines Cake mixes, but I used 2 tbsp less water and half the oil called for in the recipe in order to make the cake more dense and easy to work with.  Then, I carefully carved out the numbers, covered them in a crumb coats, and stuck them in the refrigerator.  When the icing was firm, I added a finishing coat of frosting.

I decorated the cakes with dollar store magnifying glasses, sunglasses, and black icing footprints.

Didn't it turn out cute?  Have you ever had a spy themed birthday?  What kind of cake did you have?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Spy Party - Loot Bags

I am planning a spy party for my middle son on Sunday afternoon, and I thought it would be fun to send all the guests home with a simple spy kit loot bag.  Here's what I came up with:

Each kit contains a notebook, pen, fake moustache, glow stick, laser pointer and glasses.  Fun, right?  

I packaged each kit in a brown lunch bag, stamped it "top secret", and added a cute tag I made in Picmonkey. 

I think all the guests of the party will be thrilled with their spy kit loot bags, and I know my little birthday boy will be excited to give them out to his friends.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Pixie Dust Pouches {with free printable tags}

We recently had a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party, and because I think it is fun to send the guests off with some fun party favors, I made some inexpensive pixie dust pouches.

I purchased some little glass jars at the dollar store (6 for $1.00) and half filled them with red and gold glitter.  Then, I put them in small yellow bags, and added a cord necklace.  I finished them off with a cute little tag I designed.

To print your own tags, right click on the picture below, save it to your computer, and print it like a normal 4 X 6 photo.

Obviously these aren't for unsupervised use or for young children.  Anything that goes around a child's neck can be dangerous if worn while playing.

I think these pixie dust pouches were a fun addition to our little party.  Do you have a little Jake and the Neverland Pirates fan that would enjoy these magical accessories?

(aka East Coast Mommy)

Jake and the Neverland Pirates Cake

My "baby" just turned five, and he requested a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party.  I love making special cakes for my boys on their birthdays, but because I have never taken a cake decorating course, I am always looking for easy ways to make adorable cakes. Here's what I came up with this year:

Fun, right?  Can you believe this is a cake mix and pre-made frosting?  I started with 2 Duncan Hines mixes (chocolate for the boat and white for the island... but I cut the oil in half and subtracted 2 tbsp of water to make the cake a little more dense and easy to work with.

I found a lot of pirate cake inspiration on Pinterest and in books from the library, but here is how you can make one like mine:

First, you'll need to construct the cakes:

1) Make one 9 X 13 chocolate cake and two 8" round white cakes.  The rectangle cake is for the ship, and the round cakes are for the island.

2) Allow to cool completely, and then trim the chocolate cake to make a perfect rectangle.

3) Use a serrated knife to cut the top off the cake.

4)  Cut the rectangle in half (lengthwise), and then cut 2-3 inches off the top.

5) Assemble the ship by placing the two long rectangles on top of each other and the smaller rectangles at either end.  (Use icing in between the layers to secure.)

6) Cut a triangle shape out of the front of the boat.

7)  Lay one of the round cakes on top of the other (with icing in between), and then cover both the "boat cake" and the "island cake" (gently) with "crumb coats" of icing.  Refrigerate until the icing is solid and easy to decorate.

Then, you can decorate the cakes:

To make Jake's boat (Bucky):

1) Frost the cake with chocolate icing, and use a knife to carve "planks" into the cake.

2) Trim the boat with yellow icing, and add a red lifesaver steering wheel and yellow lifesaver windows.

3) Finished the boat by adding a paper sail on a dowel and some little plastic toys.

To make Captain Hook's Island:

1) Frost half the cake with blue icing and create little waves with the knife.

2) Cover the other half of the cake with graham cracker crumbs.

3) Finish the island by added some little plastic toys.

Finally, to finish off the masterpiece, cover the cake board with blue icing, and create tons of waves with your knife.

That's it!  There are quite few steps, but nothing too complicated, and the result is totally worth the effort.  My little guy could not have been more pleased with his cake!

If you make a version of this Jake and the Neverland Pirates cake, please let me know.  I'd love to hear how it turned out.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

You can find more Pirate Party ideas here.

Happy Birthday Baby Boy! {birthday letter to my 5 year old}

Today, my "baby boy" turns five, and in keeping with family tradition, I wrote him a birthday letter as a way of remembering a few of the little details that make him so special.  Here is my birthday letter to my youngest son on his 5th birthday.

To my darling baby boy,

Today you turn five, in less than two months, you will be starting "big" school.  I am so happy that we have had so much time together before this big step in your life.  I will always treasure our lunches, walks, crafting sessions, and snuggles on the couch reading stories.  I am slightly sad to see you getting older and more independent, but I am so proud of the sweet little boy you have become.  Here are a few of the things that make you so special:
  • You love to snuggle on the couch (with "big blanket") and read stories.
  • When you grow up, you want to be an "X-Men" hockey player, and you want to be #11 (like your older brother).
  • You are super-funny, and you always like to make Daddy and I (and your brothers) laugh.
  • Your favorite color is green, and you always want to eat your cereal out of a green bowl.
  • Your favorite show is Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and you chose it as the theme of your birthday party this year.
  • You love music, and I often catch you singing when you don't think anyone is listening.
  • You had a great time in Florida this year, and you often talk about the fun we had at Disney.  (You were a pro at Jedi Training Camp!)
  • You love playing hockey, soccer and baseball... and you are so happy that it is finally "your turn" to have your own teams and jerseys... instead of being dragged around to all your brothers' practices.
  • You stick your tongue out when you are concentrating.
  • You are shy with people you don't know, but you really come out of your shell around family and friends... and when you get on a stage.
  • You always ask me to sing you a "soft song" when you go to bed, and your favorite is "Mum-a-bye" (aka "Hush Little Baby").  I love that you still play with my hair as I sing.
I love you all the way to the moon and back... plus a little more each year.


Mommy xoxo

PS (I apologize in advance for the fact that I am going to cry like a baby on your first day of school.  I hope I don't embarrass you too badly.)

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. -- Winnie the Pooh

Summer Reading List

One of the items on our summer checklist this year is... make a summer reading list.  First, the boys and I came up with a list, and now we will get the books from the library and read them together.  Today I am sharing our new summer reading list.

Fun, right?  Don't you just love seeing your children reading during the summer months.  I know I do!

To download a copy of our list, right click on the picture above, save it to your computer, and print it like a regular photo.

Or... why not try making your own list?  I bet your little ones have tons of great ideas.

I think creating a summer reading list is a great way to encourage kids to read (and help prevent the "summer slide").  What are your best tips?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Jake and the Neverland Pirates Party Loot Bags

Loot bags are always a challenge for me when I am planning a party for my boys.  I want to give the guests something that goes with the party theme, but I like to choose something that won't end up in the garbage as soon as they get home.  Here is the loot bag idea that I came up with for my son's Jake and the Neverland Pirates party.

I found reusable cups at Walmart for $1 each.  Then, I added a little bag of cookies, a beaded necklace, and a gold coin.  I made custom tags on Picmonkey, but if you would rather something you can just print easily, you can use the generic "pirate booty" tag that I designed.  Just right-click on the picture below, save it to your computer, and print it like a regular 4 X 6 photo.

Cute, right?

I hope the party guests will really like this Jake and the Neverland Pirates loot bag.  I know my little birthday boy is excited to share them with his friends.  

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

Simple Pirate Hooks

I am planning a Jake and the Neverland Pirate party for my youngest son, and I thought it would be fun to make pirate hooks for all the party guests.  After the party, the hooks (that don't go home with our guests) will be added to our "dress up bin".  We love playing pirates!

Want to make your own pirate hooks from cups and tin foil?

1)  Start with a square piece of tin foil.
2)  Roll up the tin foil and "squish it".
3)  Cut a little hole in the bottom of the cup.  Make sure it isn't too big.  The tin foil needs to fit tightly in order to stay in place.
4)  Place the foil through the hole, pull through, and twist into the shape of a hook.

That's it!  Do you have a little pirate that would love dressing up with this pirate hook?

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

You might also like this pirate party post.

Spy Party {pom pom target practice}

I am currently planning a DIY Spy Party for my middle son's 7th birthday. Given that he and his friends will be training to be spies, I knew I needed some sort of target practice, but I didn't want to give all the kids guns, so... I thought it would be fun to make some pool noodle pom pom shooters. I got the idea for a pool noodle pom pom shooter from FSPDT.  (You should totally check out her version if you get a chance.)

For our version, I used black balloons and "moustache/secret disguise" duck tape.  Cute, right?  I love how easy and inexpensive these were to make.  Here's all you need to do:

1)  Use a serrated bread knife to cut a pool noodle into short pieces.  I made mine slightly taller than the width of the duck tape.

2)  Cut the top off a balloon with a pair of scissors.

3)  Place the balloon onto the pool noodle, and tie the top into a knot.

4)  Secure the balloon to the pool noodle with duck tape.

These are perfect for my son's spy party, but they would be fun any time.  My boys have been playing with them ever since I made them.  Trust me... they will keep your little ones entertained for hours!

Do you have a little one that would like these pool noodle pom pom shooters?

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

Celebrating the Last Day of School

Monday was the last day of school for my two oldest boys, and we had a lot of fun marking the special day.  Here is how we celebrate the last day of school in our home.

First, I always pick my boys up from school, and we go for ice cream.

Then, the boys run through a "finish line".

I think it is a lot of fun to have end of the year traditions, don't you?  I don't do grading gifts, but I did treat the boys to new books and a special treat.

How does your family celebrate the last day of school?

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

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