The Best Summer Bucket List for Kids: 120 Awesome Ideas + 1 Miracle Hack
Bucket lists stress me out. They’re just another to-do list, and I’ve got plenty of those hanging around not getting done.
But I want to love them. Especially the summer bucket lists.
I daydream about giving my kids a magical childhood summer, from the ooey gooey goodness of s’mores, to chasing elusive fireflies, to no longer having dirty hobbit feet thanks to the endless pool time.
Summer bucket lists promise all this, and more.
And yet, as soon as you put it in list form, I get the heebie jeebies:
Look at all those checkboxes!
How will we fit it all in?!
Kids, hurry up! We need to have fun NOW!
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get this free printable set of summer bucket list cards so you can make this summer with your child the best one yet.
The Problem With a Summer Bucket List for Kids
Still, the idea of curating a treasure trove of joyful summer experiences? I can’t shake it.
So I did a little research on to-do lists with summer fun in mind, and I stumbled across the real reason why summer bucket lists can be stressful, especially for parents.
Because summer bucket lists are lists.
Let me explain:
- Suppose you get one of those adorable printables you found on Pinterest of 101 summer bucket list ideas.
- You hang the cute list on your wall, and you and the kids start by checking off a couple easy ideas you’ve already done. Fun!
- But then you stand back and see that you still have 99 checkboxes left. Hmm.
As it turns out, when you have a list with a bunch of unchecked boxes, it adds to your stress. Not exactly the effect we’re going for when we make a summer bucket list for kids.
What’s more, even if you were to check off 50 fun summer activities – which would be a lot of summer fun and make plenty of memories for your kids – you’d still have 51 unchecked boxes staring you down.
The psychological impact of that is that you end up feeling like you haven’t done “enough” when you actually have done a whole lot.
The Secret to a Stress-Free Summer Bucket List for Kids
When you’re making a summer bucket list for kids, don’t make a list.
Think of your summer bucket list as an idea board instead. Because with an idea board, you won’t necessarily get everything done, and that’s 100 percent a-okay.
For more on why that is and how to make a summer idea board, scroll down to the How to Make a Summer Bucket List That’s All Fun And No Stress section near the end of this post. Follow those tips, and you’ll keep your summertime endeavors happy and carefree.
But first, over the years my family has been compiling one huge smorgasbord of ideas for the ultimate summer bucket list for kids. I’m going to share that list with you today, along with a free printable set of idea cards you can use for your own summer bucket list.
120 Awesome Summer Bucket List Ideas for Kids
Use this list to get ideas for your own summer bucket list for kids – and don’t forget to get the free printable set of idea cards at the end of the post!
This card format for your summer bucket list has a big benefit for your kids, too. Because when they tell you they’re bored, pointing them to a huge list can be overwhelming and give them decision overload. Instead, put your summer bucket list cards in a bowl. Then if your kiddo is bored, tell them to pick a random card and do whatever it says. Easy and fun!
Note: If you’re sticking close to home this summer, look for the ideas with a next to them in this list. You can do all those even if you’re at home!
- Make s’mores
- Have a picnic
- Make homemade ice cream
- Eat watermelon
- Roast marshmallows
- Eat a snow cone
- Make root beer floats
- Eat breakfast for dinner
- Eat popsicles
- Make fresh lemonade
- Make homemade pizza
- Drink a milkshake
- Get a treat from the ice cream truck
- Set up an ice cream bar
- Have fondue for dinner
- Make suncatchers
- Write a story and illustrate it
- Make friendship bracelets
- Read ___ books (set individual goals or a family goal)
- Do a science experiment
- Learn origami
- Have a family game night
- Have a pillow fight
- Stay in your pajamas all day
- Have a movie marathon
- Build a fort
- Start a journal
- Bake cookies
- Bake treats and give them away
- Start a book club
- Solve a crossword puzzle
- Mail a postcard to someone you know
- Finish a jigsaw puzzle
- Play a new board game or card game
- Put on a puppet show
- Make paper airplanes and race
- Host a talent show
- Make a bird feeder
- Have a bonfire
- Go rock hunting
- Go on a nature walk
- Fly a kite
- Catch fireflies
- Blow bubbles
- Play in the rain
- Play frisbee
- Watch a thunderstorm
- Make wishes on dandelions
- Climb a tree
- Plant seeds
- Jump in puddles
- Find shapes in the clouds
- Jump on a trampoline
- Make and bury a time capsule
- Go on a bike ride
- Play hide and seek
- Play hopscotch
- Play dodgeball
- Play tag
- Play capture the flag
- Go on a scavenger hunt
- Make an obstacle course
- Feed the ducks (Just make sure to bring defrosted frozen peas or corn, never bread!)
- Run a lemonade stand
- Go bird watching
- Play catch
- Have a hula hoop contest
- Watch fireworks
- Find constellations
- Play flashlight tag
- Have a family slumber party
- Camp in the backyard
- Make homemade slime or play dough
- Paint rocks
- Color with sidewalk chalk
- Finger paint
- Make story stones
- Make tie-dye shirts
- Play Marco Polo in the pool
- Run through the sprinkler
- Have a water balloon fight
- Make sponge water bombs
- Go swimming
- Wash the family car
- Make paper boats and race them
- Play on a Slip ‘n Slide
- Have a water gun fight
- Go to a splash pad
- Volunteer as a family
- Go geocaching
- Do a random act of kindness for kids
Places to Go
- Go to the beach
- Build a sandcastle
- Go fishing
- Go to the park
- Watch the sunset over the water
- Watch the sunrise over the water
- Collect seashells
- Visit a drive-in movie theater
- Go to an aquarium
- Go to a children’s museum
- Go to a water park
- Go to an amusement park
- Go to the zoo
- Visit the library
- Visit a national monument
- Visit a national or state park
- Visit a farmer’s market
- Visit Mom or Dad at work
- Go camping
- Play miniature golf
- Go bowling
- Try a new restaurant
- Ride a ferris wheel
- Visit the local fair
- Go to an art class
- Go to an outdoor play or concert
- Go see a movie in the theater
- Go to a baseball game
- Go on a road trip
How to Make a Summer Bucket List That’s All Fun And No Stress
To keep your summer bucket list 100 percent stress-free but still fun for the whole family, just make these quick and easy tweaks.
1. Skip the Boxes
Checklists have checkboxes. And checkboxes begged to be checked.
Remember: When you have a list with a bunch of unchecked boxes, it stresses you out.
You don’t need that pressure when it comes to having fun this summer.
This is why it’s helpful to think of your summer bucket list as an idea board instead.
Here’s how we transformed our summer bucket list into an idea board:
- Find some butcher paper or poster board in a fun color† or pattern. I lucked out at our local crafts store and found a summery bulletin board background with sky and grass for $8.99, which I cut down to a smaller size so it’ll last us three years. The sky area is for stuff we want to do, and the grass is for stuff we’ve already done. (More on that in my last tip.)
- Hang the paper somewhere in your home. Use a strip of washi tape or a marker to divide the paper into two sections, or you can hang two separate pieces of paper.
- Print the summer bucket list ideas included at the bottom of this post, and grab some fun pens. (Alternatively, you can use some colorful sticky notes like these tropical color sticky notes.)
- Sit down with your kids and ask them what they want to do this summer.
- Let them pick from the summer bucket list ideas you printed. If they have their own ideas, you write those on the blank cards while they throw out ideas – one idea per card or sticky note. Or if they want to write stuff down, that works too. The most important part of this process is to write down every idea. If you start to pick apart ideas, your kids will clam up and not share their deepest wishes for a fabulous summer. Make sure to explain this so the kids don’t poo-poo each other’s ideas. (We first did this with my oldest when she was six then continued it every year, and all the kids love the brainstorming part!)
- Use tacks or pushpins to put all the ideas in one section of the paper. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain what you do with the other section in the last tip of this post.)
Now your summertime cornucopia runneth over! If you think of more ideas later, add ’em.
You won’t get everything on your idea board done, and that’s okay. These are just ideas. Inspiration.
By creating an idea board, you’ve set your intention to have a fun, happy summer:
“[You’ll] be more likely not to miss those uplifting moments and even begin to have your radar out for them. Psychiatrist Dan Siegel argues that by setting your intention, you ‘prime’ your brain to be ready for positive experiences. And this can spur a positive cycle of happiness: Research by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson shows that when we allow ourselves to feel positive emotions, we become more open and sensitive to future positive experiences, bringing us even more of those good feelings down the line.”
2. Pick One Thing
Go easy on yourself. Pick one thing a day from your idea board. Or one a week.
Better yet, have the kids pick and give them one of those yes moments they crave.
Make it a game of Pin the Tail on the Summer Donkey.
In the course of research for her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte learned that the best way to approach your day is to pick just one thing you want to do.
“[She] gives herself one thing that she has to do that day, whether it’s something scheduled like dropping the kids of at an appointment or finishing a draft of an article, or something more personal like taking a real lunch break. It’s a reasonable goal Schulte often meets, changing her entire outlook on success. ‘You’ve done your one thing that you’ve set out to do and the rest of the day feels like a win.'”Brigid Schulte
3. Cut Your Board in Half
Why did I have you divide your summer idea board in half?
Because you’ll use the second half to keep track of what you’ve done. Two reasons for keeping a done list:
- This is a productivity hack to keep you motivated and stress-free about your summer plans. (See tip #7 in my post The Secret Formula to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed.)
- It’s like a gratitude journal for your whole family.
This is particularly powerful with a summer bucket list because research shows spending time thinking about the things that make you happy actually makes you even happier.
It works on kids too. Children who regularly look back on positive experiences are happier, more optimistic, and get sick less often.
For our idea board, we put things we want to do in the sky. Then when we do them, we move the card or sticky note to the grass – our done list. At dinner every night, we reflect back on the day and the fun stuff we did. If we didn’t already have something we did on our idea board, we’ll make a new card or sticky note and put it directly in the grass.
Here’s Why This Summer Bucket List Hack Is So Magical
As the summer marches on, I know I’ll start to get anxious that we’re not doing enough. That I’m not giving our kids the most perfect summer possible.
But our reinvented summer bucket list will save me. I’ll be able to glance up and quickly see how many awesome things we’ve already done. Each card will conjure an image or a taste – a shockingly high number of our cards involve food. (Pancakes for dinner, making s’mores, going out for ice cream, baking cupcakes….)
I’ll remember. I’ll smile. And I’ll be ready for our next summer adventure.
Get Your Free Printable
Use these free printable cards to get ideas for your own summer bucket list for kids.
- Get the free printable. Join my weekly-ish newsletter and as a bonus, you’ll get the printable! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be nice and sturdy.
- Cut. Or if you’re like me and you can’t cut a straight line to save your life, fold and tear to get a charmingly casual look.
- Choose your own adventure…
- Spread the cards out on the table and ask your kids which summer bucket list ideas they want to do this summer. Use pushpins or tacks to post the cards they pick on your summer bucket list.
- Pop the cards into an empty bowl or mason jar, put it on your dining room table, and tell the kids to pick a card when they’re bored.
Here’s a sneak peek of your free printable summer bucket list for kids:
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
What’s a must-do on your summer bucket list for kids every year? Share in a comment below!
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
This makes me miss having small children to enjoy the summer with. But I DO have a granddaughter—-I think we should go out for ice cream!!!
Marcia, ice cream sounds pretty awesome right about now! Thanks for stopping by. :-)
I love this! Our little will turn two this summer and since I’m a Pinterest addict I already feel pressure to entertain her maybe too much and too perfectly – especially on the weekends (I work full time and she has daycare during the week). As she gets older, will need to keep it under control and still fun. One a week is a more realistic goal for us. . . . . plus, this year, we have to go through the zoo at least once a weekend now (we walk by it on our dog walk and it’s free, so I’ve been saying “why not”).
Kelly, I love your “why not” approach to fitting something special into your busy schedule! It reminds me of a blog post I read about “yes” moments: http://letslassothemoon.com/2012/05/31/a-lifetime-of-yes-moments/
And I hear you on the Pinterest pressure. I love, love, love Pinterest but goodness…sometimes there are just TOO MANY good ideas!
Congrats on your little one’s birthday coming up soon. :-)
I hate summer bucket lists just because a bucket list actually has to do with death. However I love your ideas!! I have decided that part of the magic of summer is to have unplanned, carefree days and having a list or board will take away from that for me.
Oh, well. I love seeing what ideas people come up with on their lists though. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!
Carrie, you make a very good point about bucket lists! It is kind of morbid when you stop to think about it, haha.
I love your approach of unplanned, carefree days. Definitely something for me to aspire to. :-)
Thank you for stopping by!
I love your ideas! Now that I think back on our bucket lists, we’ve never had checkboxes on them. And I guess it never occurred to me that removing those does make it less of a ‘check off the item’ type of list and more of a way to collect our ideas.
The other thing we’ve done is to make ‘unfinished’ lists — a place to keep the ideas for things we’d like to do but also allowing for the addition of new things that come up along the way. And I really enjoyed The Happiness Project and Gretchen’s second book too!
Thanks for sharing on the Discover & Explore summer linky!
Jacquie, I love your approach to “unfinished” lists. It reminds me of a someday/maybe list from the Getting Things Done book.
I am a big fan of The Happiness Project too, but I haven’t read her second book yet. It’s good to hear you enjoyed it – I should bump it up on my TBR list. :-)
Thank you for the opportunity to share on the Discover & Explore summer linky, and thank you for stopping by to comment too!
Ha – I thought I was the only one who finds those summer bucket lists a chore!
Emma, I’m glad you like the idea board approach! You hit the nail on the head – it’s fun to read summer bucket list ideas, but after a while, they start to feel like another obligation.
sea glass hunt!!
I love this!
It lets you just decide if it will be a Yes, No or Maybe. And you can rearrange and make it your own. Fun!