Your family's ultimate summer bucket list (2024)

Every family has their favorite warm weather traditions. But challenging everyone to tackle new close-to-home activities can help make this the best summer ever.

“One of the most powerful and refreshing things we can do is to be fully present with our kids,” says Cheryl Charles, executive director of the Nature Based Leadership Institute at Antioch University New England and cofounder of the Children and Nature Network.

Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, eco-friendly ideas, travel inspiration, or cultural fun, this guide will help you put together your family’s ultimate summer bucket list.

Getting Outside

Getting kids outdoors is more important than ever—and doing it as a family is a great way to achieve that. “These are stressful times for so many people,” Charles says. “Getting outdoors in nature calms us down.”

Celebrate the summer solstice—21st century style. Kick off the longest day of the year with a sunrise hike complete with wildflower-picking to make a flower crown. (That’s a Swedish symbol of fertility and abundance, but your kids will just think it’s pretty.) Come evening, play a game of whiffle ball in honor of Alaska’s Midnight Sun Game and roast marshmallows over a backyard campfire (instead of the traditional bonfire) when the sun finally sets.

Find a sit spot. One of the best ways to connect with nature is simply to sit outside in peaceful reflection. Have everyone in the family choose a relaxing place to visit throughout the summer: a quiet backyard nook, a space in a local preserve, or even a shady park bench. The key? Find an easy-to-access place where you can really tune into your surroundings.



Start a family nature club. Make getting outside a regular event—and help others do the same—by starting a family nature club. Have kids name your club, then decide when and how often your club will meet. Research meeting locations, like a local nature center or a park with varying trail lengths, good parking, and public restrooms. Do a couple of trial visits as a family, then invite other families to join.

Attend a star party. Although an inexpensive telescope (here’s a DIY one from paper towel rolls) or pair of binoculars will improve your chances of spotting more remote galactic features, the moon, the International Space Station, and several planets and constellations can all be seen with the naked eye. Gather in your backyard or local park to scan the skies, or check out a star party hosted by a local astronomy club.


Earth-friendly activities stay with kids long after summer has passed. “The single largest contributing factor to becoming an adult who cares for the environment is having shared experiences in nature with a caring adult during childhood,” Charles says.

Make your yard wildlife friendly. Transform your backyard into an inviting habitat for birds, butterflies, and other fauna. To attract pollinators like honeybees and hummingbirds, replace a corner of lawn with native plants that provide lots of flowers, nectar, and pollen. (Here’s a bee hotel craft for kids.) Add a bird feeder and a simple birdbath for feathered friends and a flower pot or two (tip them on their sides and bury them halfway) for toad abodes.

Meet a farmer. Browsing a nearby farmers market can help teach kids about the impact of locally sourced food on the environment. Try sending them on a scavenger hunt for familiar items as well as weirder fare like garlic scapes, green zebra tomatoes, and lemon cucumbers. Or set forth challenges: the biggest and smallest fruit, something that grows underground, or four things that could go on a pizza. To seal in the eco-lesson, bring a map to locate each farm, then figure how many miles your food traveled.

Go on a backyard bioblitz. A family bioblitz—recording as many plant and animal species as you can in a specific amount of time—is a great way to show kids the importance of biodiversity. Grab a field guide or nature app to help identify flora and fauna, then set a goal. Can you identify 25 different species? 50? 100? Have kids jot down their findings in a notebook, index cards, or even a hand-drawn map of the backyard. Split the family into teams and make it a friendly competition!

Organize a neighborhood clean-up. Is there a waterfront area where trash tends to accumulate or a playground that needs a new flower bed? Tackle those issues with a green service day. Kids can design and print flyers to advertise the event, create an online sign-up, and reach out to friends and neighbors to enlist their help. Parents can post information about the clean-up on community social media pages and solicit local businesses or the public works department to donate or lend supplies.


Summer travel doesn’t have to mean jetting off to the other side of the world. “If parents can’t take a big vacation, that’s not necessarily a negative,” says Rebekah Hutton, program officer at the National Academy of Sciences. “They key thing is having that quality time together.”

Take a trip around the world … at the zoo. Your local zoo can be a great place to explore the world. Bring a world map (here’s an extra large version!), then have kids record where different animals live as they find them. They can also jot down other geographic characteristics they notice, like climate, water features, and natural vegetation. Along the way, talk about some of the challenges humans and animals living together face.

Plan a daytrip using public transportation. Hop on a ferry. Ride the bus. Journey by train. Challenge your kids to plan a quick getaway that involves traveling via public transportation. Start by brainstorming local places your family would like to visit, like a beach or museum. Then help kids read maps and schedules for various modes of mass transit to figure out how to reach your chosen destination. And remember—getting there is half the fun!

Be a tourist in your own town. Spend a day exploring your family’s hometown through the eyes of a traveler. Before the “trip,” encourage kids to pick up some brochures at a welcome center or grab a guidebook at the library. Then help them design an itinerary with lots of new-to-your-family activities. One fun idea is to check in to a nearby hotel the night before your adventure.

Preserve your memories. Document your family’s summer escapades by making a scrapbook. Encourage kids to collect plenty of souvenirs, from favorite family photographs to postcards to ticket stubs. You can also include restaurant menus, pressed flowers from a hike, party invitations, sketches, and favorite quotes. Work on your scrapbook throughout the summer.


Help kids explore beyond their friend group and embrace other cultures this summer. “It’s important for parents to celebrate diversity by showing children not only the importance of diversity but also how to embrace it as part of their communities,” says Julie Yeros, a Denver-based elementary teacher and founder of Globe Trottin’ Kids.

Visit an ethnic neighborhood. Big cities are known for their ethnic neighborhoods, but plenty of smaller towns have pockets of immigrants—or their ancestors—who influence the community. Have kids search for a restaurant that is known for its authentic cooking, or join a tour in an ethnic neighborhood. Throughout the day, pay attention to the different sounds and smells. What music is playing? What language is being spoken? Can kids learn how to say “hello” or “thank you” in that language?

Plan an international dinner party. Bring another culture home to your dinner table. Kids can help choose recipes, design a menu, decorate the table, and pick out the music. Then take them to local markets and ethnic grocery stores to shop for ingredients. Encourage them to ask questions: Are there holidays when certain foods are eaten? Do some foods or ingredients have special significance?

Hold your own summer games. Add some competition to your summer fun with a family Olympic games. Each person or team chooses a country—real or imagined!—to represent. Create uniforms, paint faces, make team flags, and design medals. Events can be classic contests like relay races, games from other cultures, and even silly stuff like water balloon tosses and squirt gun archery. Bookend the fun with opening and closing ceremonies.

Host a film festival. This summer, use your family movie nights to highlight diversity, equity, and inclusion. Choose some family-friendly films, then amp up the red carpet fun. Kids can make movie tickets and prepare movie-themed snacks. (Perhaps coconut-flavored popcorn for Moana?) Challenge different family members to MC the night, introducing the film with a bit of information about the actors and plot. For even more summertime fun, screen the movie outdoors under the stars. Your family can even have an end-of-summer awards ceremony to vote on things like Best Actress and Funniest Scene.

Your family's ultimate summer bucket list (2024)
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