Family, Kids & Relationships

31-Day “Summer Bucket List” Family Challenge

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Whether you’re looking forward to summertime fun with your kids or secretly dreading it (how to keep kids occupied for that many weeks in a row?!), you’ll love this summer bucket list of ideas.  You definitely don’t need to go on a fancy vacation to have an unforgettable summer!

This family challenge features 31 ways to enjoy the outdoors, stay cool, try new things, and harness the power of the sun. Even if you have to work all summer, you’ll be able to fit many of these activities into the longer evenings. Schedule some now so you don’t let summer pass by without taking full advantage of those nice, sunny days!

  1. Smoothie pops

It’s great to have frozen treats on hand for hot days, and you can make your own healthy version at home. First blend up a homemade smoothie with the fruit(s) of your choice, plus yogurt and/or any kind of milk or juice that you like. Then pour your mixture into an ice cube tray or other small containers, and freeze it overnight. Popsicle sticks are optional!

2. Sponge fights

Water balloon fights are fun, but wet sponge tosses are easier to set up, gentler on sensitive kiddos, and reusable—making them much cheaper, less messy, and more environmentally friendly in the long run. All you need is a couple of buckets of water, a few sponges, and a warm day!

3. Pick your own

Blueberries, melons, tomatoes, peaches, you name it! So much produce is ripe-off-the-stem during summer months, and by asking around or doing some online research, you can find a friend’s garden or a nearby farm to pick some yourself. Kids can learn to appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables more if they’re involved in the process!

4. Ice cube creativity

Who says ice cubes are just for putting in beverages? Time to get creative while cooling down! You can use ice cubes to make a temporary drawing on the front stoop or patio, have a challenge to see who can melt an ice cube the fastest, or set up an iceberg scene for toy animals and boats. See more ice cube activity ideas here!

5. Catch fireflies

Go out to a dark yard or park after sunset when the fireflies (aka lightning bugs or glowworms) are active. You don’t really need any special equipment, but you may want to use a bug-catching net or a flashlight to help you catch them, then transfer them to a clear container with a lid that has tiny holes punched in it. Then, after observing them for up to an hour or two, let them go!

6. Make crayons

On a very hot day, you can use the power of the sun to melt down your old crayons (you know, those broken bits that are lying around in the bottom of your kids’ art box) and turn them into new, upcycled crayons of different shapes and colors. Put the crayon bits into small containers or silicone molds/ice trays, and then create a heat-trapping environment for them, such as a car’s dashboard, or a box lined with aluminum foil and topped with clear plastic.

7. Banana “nice cream”

Make your own ice cream at home! For an even healthier and easier version of ice cream that kids will still love, “nice cream” using frozen sliced bananas is the trick! Here’s one recipe, but you can get creative and come up with your own combinations.

8. AC alternatives

On a day when it’s hot (but not too dangerously hot), see if you can save on your energy bill by turning off the AC and finding other ways to stay cool. Some ideas to try: take a cold shower, sip homemade slushy drinks, drape a damp towel on your shoulders, spritz each other with spray bottles, turn off electronics, or hang wet rags—at a safe distance—in front of fans or breezy windows.

9. Dip your toes in

If getting the family to a beach or a pool is too massive an undertaking, you can still get your toes wet! Set up a chair next to a kiddie pool, or even a bucket of water, and relax while you let the kids splash around!

10. Sundae bar

Put out some toppings plus containers of ice cream, sorbet, or frozen yogurt, and let kids make their own wacky combos! Kids can also help prepare toppings for the family by crushing cookies, washing berries, slicing bananas with a butter knife, etc.

11. Frozen canvas

With just a freezer, a wide baking dish, and the ability to plan one day ahead, you can make your own ingenious tabletop activities—that’ll keep kids cool while playing. For kids who love sports, try making a mini ice hockey rink. For kids who like art, create a frozen canvas to paint on. For kids with big imaginations, building a block house on top of a slab of ice and then letting the “ground” melt away gradually could provide a couple of hours of fun. Let kids come up with their own ideas!

12. Evening ride

To take advantage of the longer days, get the whole family on scooters or bikes for a before-sunset ride. You won’t have to worry about sunscreen, and the breeze from biking generally keeps the mosquitoes away. If you’re feeling ambitious you could even pack a dinner picnic, or ride to your favorite take-out or dessert spot.

13. Sun prints

You don’t need to have special solar paper to make cool art prints using the sun’s rays—you can also use construction paper! Starting in the morning, use clear tape to attach leaves, flowers, or cut-outs of any shape to a piece of construction paper, and leave them to sit still in the sun for several hours. You can weigh the papers down with rocks outside, or place them inside in front of a very sunny window (try a car’s dashboard!).

14. Flashlight games

If your kids are staying up later during the summer, take out the flashlights for some fresh new outdoor (or indoor) fun and games! Try playing flashlight tag, flashlight limbo (using the beam of light in place of a stick), or a scavenger hunt in the dark using flashlights to search.

15. Color science

Curious kids can learn about the sun’s energy and the properties of different colors with this simple science experiment. Using food coloring and water, create several different colored ice cubes, ranging from clear to almost black. Make sure the cubes are the same size. Then put all of the ice cubes out in the sun, side by side. Have kids guess which one will melt the fastest and which one will take the longest to full melt. Then observe what happens!

16. Outdoor dance party

Crank up the tunes and bring your family dance session outdoors! Bring some fun drinks and snacks, string up festive lights or streamers, and dress in your snazziest duds to make it more of a party—even if you’re not inviting anyone else.

17. Toy wash

All you need is a bucket, bathtub or kiddie pool, plus a hose or jug of water. Let kids put on bathing suits and set up a car wash for their toy trucks, a pool party for their dolls, or a block-washing factory—whatever they’re into. Their imaginative play may last longer since they’ll be staying cool at the same time.

18. Solar s’mores

Did you know you can cook using just the energy of the sun on a hot day? Budding scientists will have fun setting up a solar oven using a pizza box, aluminum foil, and a few other household supplies. Then try making s’mores as a first kid-friendly cooking experiment!

19. DIY visors

Make it fun for kids to get in the habit of protecting their faces from the sun—by letting them design their own visors! Use paper plates to make a template, have them decorate it with paint, markers, glitter, stickers, etc., and then poke holes and attach an elastic string or ribbon. Alternatively, you can buy plain canvas or foam visors and decorate them.

20. Dirt-free garden

Did you know that you can generate more vegetables from some of the vegetables you’ve bought at the store? You don’t even need any dirt to start this easy growing experiment with cut food scraps. Celery, lettuce, bok choy, and many other veggies will regrow if you place the scraps in a dish of water in the sun. Maybe that’ll get kids more interested in eating their veggies!

21. Lemonade stand

Have kids learn money and entrepreneurship skills, social skills, food service skills, and creative problem solving skills by setting up a lemonade stand in your neighborhood or at a kids’ sports game. Everyone loves to support a kid-owned business! Bonus: Have kids choose a local nonprofit organization to donate the proceeds towards, and display a sign showing where the money will go.

22. Chalk shapes

Make your sidewalk chalk art really pop by creating shapes with painter’s tape or masking tape, then having kids fill in the shapes with whatever colors they want. Then remove the tape, and behold your Instagram-worthy creation!

23. Fly a kite

Find a wide open space on a windy day to try your hand at kite-flying. Kids will learn a new skill and get a thrill out of seeing how high their kite can fly!

24. Camp out

If you don’t have the equipment (or time and energy) to stay at a real campground—or if you just want a practice run—try camping out in the backyard, on the porch, or even in a blanket fort in the living room. Make it an adventure by having kids pack flashlights, toothbrushes, reading materials or card games, and clothes for the morning. If kids are too little (or too scared) to do it at nighttime, pretend-camping still makes a good afternoon activity.

25. Asphalt games

Play an old-fashioned game of foursquare or hopscotch on the driveway, sidewalk, or at the park. It’s super easy to set up: just use chalk or painter’s tape to make the lines.

26. Mini golf

Visit a mini golf course near you for a fun, active family outing. Then at home, have kids design their own challenging and/or imaginative mini golf courses on paper—or even make a working version with cardboard and marbles.

27. Outdoor movie

Plan a family movie night—under the stars! Look up family film screenings at local parks, or drive-in movie theaters. Or set up your own outdoor cinema in a yard or porch using a flatscreen or projector, some cozy chairs or blankets, and a string of lights. Don’t forget the popcorn!

28. Sand castle

Get creative as a family by planning and building a sand sculpture together. Check out these creative sculpture ideas and these sand sculpting tips for inspiration. If you don’t have access to a sandy beach, you can look for a playground with a sandbox, buy some play sand or kinetic sand, use mud instead—or just stick with play dough but put on sunglasses and pretend you’re at the beach.

29. Summer reading

School may not be in session—but summer reading can be tons of fun, because there’s less pressure to read certain books, levels, or subjects! Let kids pick any books they want at the library (even if they seem way too easy or way too silly), and have some carefree family reading time in the backyard, at the park, or at the beach.

30. Grill out

Not everyone has a grill or a place to put one, so if you want to barbecue or cook with fire you might need to get creative. Some other options include: reserve a grill at a local park or beach; rent a grill from a hardware store; roast food on skewers or aluminum foil over a campfire or fire pit; use an electric grill or griddle; buy burgers from your favorite restaurant and bring them to a great outdoor picnic spot.

31. Photo challenge

Document your summer and get kids involved in a creative project by taking on a fun photo challenge. Here are 10 boxes to check:

  • Sunset
  • Refreshing drink
  • Tank top family selfie
  • Reflection in sunglasses
  • Wet hair
  • Action shot with a ball
  • Bare feet
  • Cloud shapes
  • Insect
  • Lying down outdoors selfie

If you enjoyed this, check out our other 30-Day Challenges for families!

See them all here!


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.




Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.