40 Ideas for Your Summer Bucket List

Summer has arrived, and with it come those lazy mornings, schedule-free afternoons, and spontaneous evenings. But the lack of structure can leave some families scratching their heads trying to figure out how to fill the long stretches of time ahead of them. Dreaming up a bucket list can be a great way to inspire plans that you can all look forward to this summer.  

When brainstorming bucket list ideas, it’s important to let every member of the family have some say-so, even young children. It can be a lot of fun to write your ideas on popsicle sticks and place them in a jar. Throughout the summer, when you have some spare time, draw a stick and start the activity suggested.

If some of your ideas require more planning, put them on the calendar and keep that time sacred. A bucket list is more than just a way to fill the time during the summer, it’s a way to make lasting memories as a family that your children will cherish forever.  

Get Started With These Ideas 

  1. Create a Summer Playlist - As a family, create a playlist to stream throughout the summer. Keep updating your list with new songs and rank your favorites at the end of the season.
  2. Schedule a Lunch Date - Arrange a date and time to take your kids to see where mom or dad work, then go to lunch at one of their favorite spots.
  3. Enjoy Summer Reading - Get the whole family excited about summer reading! Decide on a challenge you can all participate in such as reading books from different authors and genres.
  4. Give Back to the Community - Getting your children involved with volunteering can be a great way to make some memories and change lives. Find a local charity or take part in a neighborhood improvement day to show your kids what it means to give back to their community.
  5. Enjoy a Pool Day - Whether you're sliding down a water slide, playing Marco Polo or lounging on a pool float, taking a swim together needs to be part of every family's summer. If you don't have a neighborhood pool, check your local parks and recreation department's web site to find public pools.
  6. Try a New Sport - Step out of your comfort zone and experiment with a new activity. Arrange a family tennis lesson or try a sport like pickleball or beach volleyball. 
  7. Run a Lemonade Stand with a Twist - Give kids a chance to grow their entrepreneurial skills for a good cause! Set up a lemonade stand and donate the sale proceeds to charity. Let kids pick a cause they would like to support. Genius Tip: Use an online sign up to plan a lemonade stand fundraiser.
  8. Screen Free Day - Turn off your home's digital devices and turn on the world around your family. It's likely you will hear some complaining, but you will see your kids' creativity emerge and they will forget about their beloved screen time (at least for a while).
  9. Beat the Heat with a Matinee - Some days, it’s just too hot to be outside. Cool off with an afternoon matinee at your local movie theater. Often, theaters will have special child-friendly showings during summer days where you don’t have to be as concerned about keeping children quiet throughout the film.

Schedule summer rafting lessons with an online sign up. SAMPLE

Roam in Your Own Backyard 

  1. Water Balloon Fight - Every family needs to experience a water balloon fight together, so on a hot summer's day let them fly! Invite your neighbors over if you want an all-out war.
  2. Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest - Liven up an afternoon with some friendly competition. Challenge your kids to see who can aim at a target or spit the farthest.
  3. Paint with Your Feet - A big roll of white paper, non-toxic paints and your kids' feet are all you will need for this fun outdoor art project. Your children will love getting messy and creative all at the same time. Make sure to wash your little artists off with a hose before they go indoors.
  4. Watch for Shooting Stars - On a cool summer night, spread out a few blankets in the backyard. Have everyone bring a pillow and be on the lookout for shooting stars. Print out a few star maps to find constellations in the sky or download an app.
  5. Backyard Olympics - Create the ultimate summer competition with favorite games like corn hole, ring toss, badminton and even an obstacle course. Divide your group up into teams or play as individuals, and crank up fun tunes to add to the merriment. Give out prizes to the winners and celebrate with a cookout.
  6. Bonfire and S'mores - One of the best summertime desserts is made by roasting marshmallows over an open fire. Add a piece of chocolate and graham crackers for a gooey treat, or step up your s'mores game with raspberries and Nutella. Create some yummy memories by making these after dark and telling ghost stories.
  7. Catch Fireflies After Dark - Most of us have fond childhood memories of catching fireflies on a warm summer's night. Give your kids those same experiences. Your children can use their hands, a net or a jar to catch and then release them.

Get Outside 

  1. Venture to the Great Outdoors - Visit a state park, nature preserve or other local spot that's free and beautiful. Research online to find an outside destination your family has never experienced.
  2. Jump in a Lake - Cool off on a sweltering hot summer day by jumping in a freshwater lake. Research canoe and kayak rentals or try out stand up paddle boarding if you have adventurous older kids. Bring floats for everyone to help avoid too many steps on the bottom of the lake, which can be slimy.
  3. Go Camping - It's a classic summer activity, plus it's fun, cheap and an adventure to sleep under the stars. Research the best site depending on your children's ages. Older kids can handle roughing it better than young children, who are better off staying at a site with bathroom facilities.
  4. Hike to a Waterfall - Go online to research waterfalls in your region. Plan a day trip and bring along a picnic with plenty of water for hydration. Just make sure to put safety first — getting the perfect picture isn't worth an accident.
  5. Try Skipping Stones - A flowing creek is a great place to spend a few hours. Search for flat stones to skip across the water. Research local wildlife before your visit, and try to identify creatures such as birds, minnows, and frogs.
  6. Go on a Boat Ride - There is something magical about cruising on a boat with the wind blowing in your hair. Find a boat ride that would appeal to everyone in your family. A speedboat or sailboat can thrill if you have older kids, while younger kids may prefer a pontoon or paddle boat.
  7. Hunt for Bugs - Grab a clipboard, a piece of paper and a marker, then head outdoors to discover some creepy crawlers. A magnifying glass and a plastic jar could be fun, too. Encourage your kids to list or draw every bug they see. For an added twist, count all the ants they find.
  8. Start a Rock Collection - Encourage your kids to pick up a few rocks wherever your family ventures this summer whether it's a park, the beach or your local playground. After you return home, your mini-scientists can identify or paint them for a fun art project.
  9. Watch the Sunset - Seek a high vantage point, make the trek to your chosen spot and spread out a blanket to watch the sun slip below the horizon. Pack a picnic with drinks and snacks to enjoy with the view.  

Plan a summer playgroup with an online sign up. SAMPLE

Plan Away from Home Adventures 

  1. Take an Overnight Escape - You may be surprised by how many fun locales are within a short drive from your hometown. Research family-friendly places within a few hours and plan a getaway for a night or two. Add a fun twist like keeping the destination a secret and sharing clues with your kids.
  2. Plan a Beach Scavenger Hunt - Go to the beach with a bucket in hand and a list of seashells and other items for your little ones to find on the sand. Ideas include a seashell shaped like an animal, seashell in your favorite color, piece of coral, and feather. After you return home, you can place items in a jar or use the seashells for craft projects.
  3. Visit Family - Summer is a great time for your kids to connect with their grandparents or cousins. Help plan a day or a weekend of fun activities to encourage family bonding.
  4. Discover Local History - Research historical sites in your hometown or local region to find a destination for your family. Your kids can gain a new perspective on a familiar place and find out that summer learning is lots of fun!

Be a Foodie 

  1. Eat Breakfast for Dinner - Surprise the kids with stacks of pancakes for dinner. Enlist their help to mix in their favorite ingredients such as chocolate chips or blueberries.
  2. Make Homemade Salsa - Take a family trip to the local farmer's market and pick up tomatoes, cilantro and green chilies. Depending on their ages, your kids can help chop, blend and taste test this yummy and healthy snack.
  3. Make Homemade Ice Cream - You can find many recipes online for making your own ice cream at home. Some recipes require an ice cream maker, but it's not a necessity to whip up tasty frozen treats.
  4. Have a Picnic - You've just got to put this classic summer activity on the list. Eating with ants and bugs is a part of the adventure — just shoo them away! Plan a homemade feast or get your favorite takeout and bring it along.
  5. Make Homemade Popsicles - Enlist your kids to participate in this fun activity. Dixie cups, fruit juices and wooden popsicles sticks are the main items needed to make this refreshing summer treat.
  6. Host a Summer Dessert Bake-off - Let contestants tap into their sweet tooth. Pick a theme, such as using ingredients from a summertime farmer's market. They are packed with fresh peaches, berries and plums. Have a blind taste test by several people who aren't the bakers.  

Organize camp schedules with an online sign up. SAMPLE

Explore and Entertain 

  1. Plan an Outdoor Movie Night - Borrow a video projector to show a family-friendly movie in your yard or a community space. Invite friends and neighbors to join in the fun. Genius Tip: Plan a neighborhood potluck with an online sign up.
  2. Go to a Summer Festival - Check out festivals featuring music, art and other themes happening all summer long. Choose one that interests your family and make a day of it. If it's a craft festival, give the kids a little spending money.
  3. Host a Fourth of July Cookout - Think burgers, hot dogs and ribs. Chips, potato salad and watermelon are good for sides. Invite friends and family to your bash. Don't forget the festive decorations and fireworks if your state permits. Genius Tip: Get inspiration with these 30 ideas to plan a great July 4th cookout.
  4. Attend a County Fair - Carnival rides, corn dogs and cotton candy are just part of the fun at a local county fair. Games, contests and animal petting can be found at many as well.
  5. Try New Hobbies - Whether it's fishing, water aerobics or shell art, try some fun new activities this season. Let kids think of ideas for the whole family to try!
Checking items off your family's bucket list will create some lasting memories that are sure to make this a fun summer tradition. 

Sara Kendall is a freelance writer and mom of two daughters.

Additional Resources

100 Summer Craft Ideas for Kids
20 Outdoor Games for Your Backyard Party
60 Summer Outdoor Activities for Kids
50 Fun Outdoor Activities for Families