2018 Summer Bucket List: Fun and Frugal Summer Activities

Family Summer Bucket List Ideas

Ah, summer. Sunny days, grilling out, and fireflies at dusk. Longer days and summer vacations also mean more downtime, play time, and hopefully more family time!

A while back we started the tradition of creating an annual summer bucket list. Even if we don’t do them all (the list is getting long), this summertime family tradition is a great way to remember what we’ve enjoyed in the past as well as think of some new fun summer ideas to try.

More on what we came up with for this year in a bit…

How to Make a Fun Summer Bucket List

Even though we homeschool, summer means a more relaxed schedule (in the name of time at the beach!). It’s inevitable though that when the routine changes, eventually I hear… “Mom I’m booored.” (I’m sure this sounds familiar?)

We’ve come up with a few different solutions to this over the years, but one of the best is to write down a physical summer bucket list. It really motivates us to think of a few new things to try that are out of the norm and bring back a few old favorites. And when boredom strikes, it’s the perfect time to point to the list.

A word of advice: make a first draft of a summer bucket list before involving the kids. That way you’re clear on priorities before the kids add their many “contributions.” (And there will be many!)

Summer Bucket List Brainstorming

Some questions to get the ball rolling are:

  • What are our favorite things to do? What leaves us feeling recharged? How can we do more of those things this summer?
  • What are our least favorite things to do? What do we need a break from? How can we minimize or manage those things this summer?
  • Which skills or subjects do we want to learn? What do we need to get started? (I like this question for kids in particular so they can learn what goes into executing their ideas.)

One we have a running list of ideas, we narrow down to the ones that fit our current family priorities. This is the list we take to the kids and brainstorm all over again.

We write the final list on a posterboard and put it on the fridge for everyone to see.

Setting Priorities

Next we narrow down the list to the main things we want to do. We just star or circle these items. Since we know we’ll reuse the list next year (with a few updates) no ideas ever go to waste.

Sometimes as we look over the list a theme emerges. If that’s the case for you, consider coming up with a simple word or phrase that captures your goals for the summer.

My contributions to the summer activities list tend to be educational (disguised as fun… I’m sneaky like that). These include trips to a museum or the zoo, visiting the botanical gardens, or hikes at our favorite nature center.

Kids learn a lot just by being kids and playing outside as much as possible, so we tend to give priority to outdoor activities. Bonus: playing outside is free!

Putting It in Action

Studies show that giving kids visual reminders of important rules and routines increases their sense of independence and control. It also cuts down on parental nagging. This is one big reason we do the summer bucket list.

Sitting down to plan the summer is a great time to think through new routines and put a few visual reminders in place. Here are some we’ve used or want to try:

The above will definitely vary depending on what ages you have in the house. I don’t have teens (yet) but I’m getting there, so I’d love your ideas on that front!

On to the summer bucket list…

Summer Activities Checklist for Families

Here’s our ultimate summer buck list, with a few new ones added for this year. The best part? Most of these are free or very low cost.

Of course, the kids suggest more than a few things that aren’t realistic (“buy a horse” comes to mind), but with a little redirection they come up with some really great ideas!

If your family is the competitive type, check out this adventure points system to go along with your summer bucket list. It keeps kids motivated to try and do new things on their own.

Our Ultimate Summer Bucket List:

    1. Hike a new trail.
    2. Create a nature scavenger hunt (or go letterboxing or geocaching).
    3. Try a new food at the farmer’s market.
    4. Visit a nearby nature center.
    5. Camp in the treehouse.
    6. Finally go check out the state parks near our house that we’ve never visited.
    7. Build a sandcastle as a family (and enter a sandcastle contest if we can find one!).
    8. Have our version of a water balloon fight in the backyard (using sponges, not balloons, to avoid choking hazards and plastic waste).
    9. Go to a matinee or drive-in movie.
    10. Pre-make a bunch of frozen meals for friends who are expecting babies.
    11. Put bubble solution in a kids’ pool and use a hula hoop to be inside a giant bubble!
    12. Make a lemonade stand.
    13. Catch fireflies.
    14. Make popsicles from fruit and chia seeds.
    15. Have a luau for neighbors and friends.
    16. A projector + outdoor wall = outdoor movie!
    17. Teach the kids to make homemade ice cream (handy when the ice cream truck rolls around).
    18. Have a picnic.
    19. Get in on the fairy garden craze. (Challenge: Make as much as we can from natural materials!)
    20. Look up local outdoor concerts (many of these are free.)
    21. Stay up late and try to find constellations. (Have you stargazed with an app yet? Gamechanger!)
    22. Go wildcrafting for herbs and plants with a local expert.
    23. Collect seashells at the beach.
    24. Make real-food snow cones. (May invest in a snow cone machine this year!)
    25. Go fishing and learn how to clean the fish.
    26. Visit a local museum (these are usually free) and learn about the history of our town/neighborhood.
    27. Play frisbee.
    28. Turn on some oldies and have a dance party in the living room.
    29. Make a slip and slide in the backyard.
    30. Go to a baseball game.
    31. Run through sprinklers on a hot day (Mom and Dad too).
    32. Play wiffle ball in the backyard.
    33. Learn how to make simple origami.
    34. Take a road trip somewhere we haven’t been.
    35. Finger paint outside.
    36. Draw with sidewalk chalk.
    37. Have a puppet show.
    38. Make necklaces with homemade clay beads.
    39. Make a bird house.
    40. And a bat house.
    41. Visit the fire station.
    42. Make slime.
    43. Go to the zoo.
    44. Play in the sprinklers.
    45. Visit a retirement or nursing home and make cards for the residents.
    46. Learn how to score a baseball game.
    47. Make a DIY beauty recipe and have a spa night.
    48. Go to the lake.
    49. Ride a ferris wheel.
    50. Try out the free kids’ workshop at Home Depot.
    51. Learn new card games.
    52. Have a backyard campout.
    53. Teach kids how to jump rope (and practice it myself… yikes).
    54. Make some healthy ice cream sandwiches.
    55. Take a nap! (Maybe in a hammock?)
    56. Fly a kite.
    57. Build a fort.
    58. Play Capture the Flag.
    59. Climb trees.
    60. Join the library’s summer reading club.
    61. Make paper airplanes and race them.
    62. Let the kids plan and cook dinner.
    63. Pick an empty wall in the garage and paint a family mural. (Or in the house for other braver/more artistic parents!)
    64. Play flashlight tag.
    65. Make root beer from scratch.
    66. Learn how to crochet or knit.
    67. Try an online class from Udemy.com and learn a new skill (many are only $10).
    68. Learn to walk a slackline.
    69. Find a maker’s space or attend a mini-maker’s faire.
    70. Go to a fruit farm U-pick and make homemade freezer jam.

    53 Fun and frugal summer activities for children

    1. Volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
    2. Invite a neighbor we don’t know over for dinner.
    3. Walk barefoot as much as possible!
    4. Plan and build a woodworking project together.
    5. Carry out some random acts of kindness.
    6. Plant a fruit tree.
    7. Hold a family version of “Chopped.” (My kids love this one ever since they took the Kids Cook Real Food Course.)
    8. Master a new recipe with foods we’ve never tried.
    9. Exercise together.
    10. Organize a family field day or block party in our neighborhood.
    11. Start a read-aloud tradition at night (one chapter).
    12. Plant an herb garden.
    13. Find a new biking trail.
    14. Design an adventure course in our backyard. (Already done!)
    15. Play outside in the rain… the best things in life are free, after all.
    16. Spend time with each other! (The ultimate goal)

    Make It a Family Affair

    A lot of summer bucket list ideas I see are kid-focused, and no surprise since parents aren’t often wondering what to do with all their extra free time! Still, I’m a firm believer that we can’t give what we don’t have and we can’t teach what we don’t do ourselves.

    Make time to do something relaxing and invigorating. Schedule a babysitter, swap childcare with a friend, or set aside a day of the week to work on something that’s been on the back burner but would be very rewarding. And don’t feel guilty about it!

    Ultimately, we all know that kids learn by watching our habits (no pressure!), and we can only give them our best when we take time to recharge ourselves.

    Bucket List Ideas for Mom and Dad

    Hopefully, with a little (fun) advance planning you will have your own fantastic family summer bucket list to mix things up and make this summer a great one!

    What other fun summer activities does your family love? Are there some good ones I should add to this summer bucket list? Please share below!


    These 63 summer activities are fun for the whole family (and frugal too!) with ideas for playing outside, cooking inside, and exploring.

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