Ultimate ‘Back-to-Basics’ Summer Bucket List for Kids

summer bucket list kids summer bucket list kids
photo courtesy Toby Lowenfels

Well, it’s been quite the year. (And a half.) It’s time to take a deep breath and let the pleasures of summer work their healing magic. My kids had fun writing up a summer bucket list for themselves– with ice cream sundaes at the top, naturally — and we posted it in the kitchen so we can tick off the items as we do them. Here are some super simple yet joy-inducing ideas for your kids’ summer bucket lists.

  • Have a water gun fight – As with a lot of parenting these days, I’m lowering my standards on our “no guns” rule. Of course, I’m against guns. Of course, of course. But my kids have been begging for water guns and, in the spirit of choosing your battles, I’m going to let this one slide. And I thoroughly intend to join in the fun instead of playing ref.
  • Put Mentos in Diet Coke – Not sure about the science behind this, but the geyser will be impressive.
  • Have a fast food picnic – And make sure to join in. You parented through a global pandemic, you deserve some fries.
  • Paint pet rocks – Rocks! You can find them literally everywhere! If you don’t have paint, or don’t feel like dealing with the mess, just add feathers and googly eyes. Googly eyes solve everything.
  • Have a paper airplane tournament – Here’s a delightful repository of paper airplane designs that should keep your crew busy.
  • Wash the car – Might as well put the kids to work. Is playing in soapy water even considered a chore?
  • Set up hydration stations for essential workers – Leave a sign on the corner with some Gatorade bottles stacked in a cooler to show your gratitude for the postal workers, delivery folks and sanitation department.
  • Make ice cream in a bag – A fun activity that produces instant gratification. What could be better?
  • Take apart an obsolete object to see how it works – I’ve got our discarded vacuum cleaner waiting in our garage for a rainy day.
  • Start a butterfly garden – Our kids loved watching the progression from caterpillars to butterflies in this kit.
  • Start a chain letter – Throw in a joke or a silly poem and encourage the kids to send it along to their friends and grandparents.
  • Invent a holiday – Or just go with “Christmas in July.” Or “Halloween in August.” Any excuse for costumes and cake.
  • Make a movie – Start with a script, throw in some costumes and sets. Or use one of those stop motion apps (here’s one to check out) and let the kids go to town with their favorite LEGOs or stuffies. Action!
  • Make popsicles – A great way to use up fruit that’s on its last leg. Make ‘em fancy by throwing in chocolate or pineapple.
  • Go to the drive-in movies – Check out this site to find out if you’ve got a drive-in movie theater in your area.
  • Make lemonade – You know what they say about lemons…try a different variety this summer, like watermelon or cucumber. Add vodka for parents.
  • Create a mural – Spread out craft paper on the dining room table or post butcher paper against the garage door and have everyone take a go.
  • Make some feathered friends – Buy or make a birdhouse for your yard. Add some feed and wait.
  • Set up a DIY Water Table – Honestly, everything’s better when you add water.
  • Go on an alphabet scavenger hunt – See if they can find an object for every letter. B is for busy bees.
  • Watch the sun set in your neighborhood – Try taking a different route for your post-dinner popsicle walk. Doing something ordinary in a slightly exotic—yet safe and easy— location is a thrill for kids.
  • Make crazy bubbles with DIY Straw Wands – Maybe it’s the inhaling and exhaling, there’s something about bubbles that makes kids zen out.
  • Have a water cup race – Who can make it to the other side the fastest without spilling?
  • Make friendship bracelets or break out the seed beads – This is summer camp, after all.
  • Take pictures (with an actual camera) – We haven’t used our digital camera in ages so I’m thinking about turning it over to the kids to see what masterpieces they find.
  • Let the kids loose in the kitchen to make ice cream treats – These three recipes from Meg are easy enough that older kids can take the reins.
  • Start a family book club – Dive into a classic series, like the Hardy Boys, because, really, anything is better than Captain Underpants.
  • Introduce them to one of your old faves – I was so excited to find all of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre on YouTube.
  • Make milkshakes – Yes, another idea that centers around ice cream. But I feel like we forget about milkshakes, the straight-to-video kid sister of dairy desserts.

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Toby Lowenfels is a writer and mom of three in Nashville. Follow her daily musings at @tobyfels.