Ultimate Summer Bucket List Ideas: 100 (Mostly) Free Outdoor Games and Activities for Kids
To help you get summer started, we've come up with the ultimate summer bucket list of 100 (mostly) FREE ways you can pack more play into your day with (mostly) outdoor games and activities for kids. These summer bucket list ideas aren't just for kids—they're fun and engaging activities for the whole family. After all, grown-ups need time to play, too.
Check out our roundup of outdoor games for kids, crafts, experiments, and other activities below. If you make your way through all of these, try our list of '70s outdoor games, our 25 water games for kids, our favorite bounce houses and kiddie pools, and 15 backyard science experiments for messy outdoor fun. Not to boast, but summer really is our forte.
Now, set aside school, work, and stress; it's time to focus on this summer bucket list of 100+ ways to play with kids this summer.
Summertime Outdoor Activities for Kids
1. Go on an alphabet scavenger hunt. See if you can find things that begin with every letter in nature. Or, try one of these scavenger hunts.
2. Create your own pop-up playground from old cardboard boxes, fabric pieces, and other recycled materials.
3. Take out the bicycles and hit a local bike trail. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.
4. Grab your binoculars and go bird-watching at the beach or local park. Don’t have a pair of binoculars? Make an upcycled pair with paper rolls.
Look for lovely blooms in your neighborhood.
5. Go on a neighborhood wildflower walk—do some research in advance so you can identify some of the blooms.
6. Paint the sidewalk with water. See how fast the sun makes your art disappear.
7. Head to your local creek or pond and try to catch (and release) crayfish and minnows with a fine net.
8. Catch fireflies in a glass jar and watch them shine before letting them fly away.
9. Make a target with chalk on a blackboard or the sidewalk, and then throw wet sponges at it until it disappears.
10. Set up a glow-in-the-dark ring toss—use dollar-store glow necklaces or bracelets as rings.
11. Draw a game board on the sidewalk and make up the rules. Kids can become life-size pieces in a game of their own invention.
12. Have a car wash for your toys, bikes, and scooters. Make sure to get really wet!
13. Grab your camera and take photos of plants and animals using different filters and frames, and then compare the results.
14. Dig up rocks to see the critters that live underneath.
15. Get dirty making mud pies or dirt sundaes.
16. Got a projector? Turn your yard into a drive-in movie theater by showing a family favorite on an old sheet or the side of the house. Check out our list of 50 Family Movies to pick something that everyone will love.
17. Put a small toy in a balloon, fill it with water, and freeze. How can your kids rescue the toy?
18. Head to the beach and build an enormous sand castle. (This beach gear will make your day easier...)
Head to an orchard or berry patch to pick delicious, local fruit.
19. Head to the berry patch, peach orchard, or local farm to pick some in-season produce.
20. Hit the water in a canoe or kayak.
21. Organize a massive water gun battle. All those empty spray bottles will do the trick too!
Clouds have some very cool shapes!
22. Lie outside and watch the clouds and try to pick out interesting shapes.
23. Make ice sculptures by freezing different shaped containers full of water. Once frozen, take them out (use a little warm water if necessary) and use them as building blocks.
24. Go stargazing. Look for the Big Dipper, the Great Bear, and other constellations in the night sky.
25. Have a water balloon war! Fill balloons up before starting and keep them in buckets. Make sure the kids wear their swimsuits.
Indoor Activities for Kids in the Summer
26. Build a toy car racetrack out of old boxes, paper towel rolls, and other repurposed materials.
27. Build a tall Lego brick tower, set up a Lego ice excavation activity, or choose any of the other awesome Lego ideas on our 100+ Fun Things to Do with Legos list.
28. Indoor campout: Set up a tent in the living room, make oven s'mores, turn off all the lights and download a campfire app for your tablet.
29. Build a fort in the living room using couch cushions, blankets, and old sheets.
30. Play restaurant: Have the kids create a menu, take orders, cook the meal and serve you for a change. We've got you covered for recipe inspiration.
31. Rain spoil your picnic plans? Break out the basket and paper plates for an indoor picnic lunch or dinner.
Pull out the costumes and have a pretend play day.
32. Put on a show! Make up your own or adapt one of your favorite books, movies, or TV series. Craft sets and costumes for extra fun.
33. Cover your dining table with craft paper and paint a giant collaborative mural.
34. Play indoor baseball. Set up a paper home plate and three bases in the living room, toss a paper ball that you hit with your hand, and run. Great for a rainy day.
35. See if you can actually get a Slinky to go down the stairs. (Alone or in pairs!)
36. Get some pots and pans for drums, dress up, and have a parade.
37. Host a fancy tea party for your stuffed animals.
RELATED: Create a Rain Cloud in a Jar
Have a massive pillow fight. Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay
38. Start (or end) your day with a giant pillow fight.
39. Make noisemakers by filling Tupperware with dried beans.
Turn those large cardboard boxes into playhouses, cafes, trains, and more. Photo courtesy of Party with Unicorns
Summer Crafts for Kids
40. Turn an old cardboard box into an arcade game, a robot, rocket ship, dollhouse, or hideout and let your imagination do the rest.
41. Get sculpting with Play-Doh—have extra fun making your own.
42. Create a baking soda volcano. Pour a bit of white vinegar into a plastic cup, add a tablespoon of baking soda and watch it "explode."
43. Squirt shaving cream onto a paper plate and "draw" with your fingers.
44. Make tie-dye t-shirts together. For less mess, skip the dye and try this Sharpie method or ice tie-dye.
Gather all the materials you need to build a fairy house.
45. Craft a fairy garden from moss, acorns, leaves, and other natural materials.
46. Raid the pantry for craft materials: Make a macaroni necklace; create a collage from dried beans, peas, and lentils; or try painting with salt.
47. Lay down sheets of bubble wrap and have the kids get popping
48. Create a wallet out of duct tape.
49. Create your own pop-up playground from old cardboard boxes, fabric pieces, and other recycled materials.
50. Hit your local garden, park, forest, or yard to collect items for a terrarium.
51. Collect items from nature and make a collage. Add paint or leave it au naturale.
52. Go through your recycling bin to see what you can turn into a boat—almost any plastic container will work! Add sails and decorations, and then float it in a pool, river, or tub.
53. Create a short stop-motion film using dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures. There are lots of apps that make this easy. (Check out this one that one of our editor's children made with Elf on the Shelf!)
54. Draw family portraits—everyone takes turns sitting/drawing, no talent required.
55. Collaborate on a summer vacation scrapbook using one page for each day.
56. See who can create the best shadow figures. All you need is a flashlight, a sheet, and your hands.
Make a masterpiece on your sidewalk. Photo by Jaime Sumersille
57. Create a sidewalk masterpiece with chalk. Try a sidewalk paint airbrush for a fresh take on this old favorite.
58. Make salad spinner art. It's not as messy as it sounds, and so much fun.
59. Make a kite out of paper and string, and then see how high it can soar. Not a DIYer? Flying a store-bought kite is also fun.
60. Paint a terracotta pot and put a plant in it—succulents and grass seeds grow quickly.
61. Paint with ice. Put some food coloring in an ice tray, add water and freeze to make super cool "crayons."
62. Make paper bag puppets; decorate them with glitter, yarn, and other creative items; and then put on a show.
63. Make your own puzzle. Take a page from a magazine, glue it to a piece of cardboard, and cut it up into funky shapes.
Summer Games for Kids
64. Go geocaching, a fun high-tech scavenger hunt that you can do with a smartphone. You can play anywhere caches are hidden, but we have tips on how to start in Los Angeles, NYC, and New Jersey.
65. Navigate an obstacle course fashioned out of recycled items (bottles, boxes, cups, etc.).
66. Host silly relay races and games. Have the kids hop on one foot, walk backward, gallop like a horse, skip—the more ridiculous the challenge, the better.
68. Throw a balloon into the air and see how long you can keep it afloat without letting it touch the ground. Or try playing balloon tennis.
69. Institute a no-screens rule in the car and play games like license plate bingo and I Spy. Check out this list for more car game ideas.
71. Play old-school backyard games like Leap Frog, Red Rover, Mother May I?, and Red Light, Green Light 1-2-3.
70. Navigate an obstacle course fashioned out of recycled items (bottles, boxes, cups, etc.).
71. Give parents a break: play with Alexa! (She never gets tired.)
72. Organize a family game night and pull out old standards like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Pictionary. Winners can earn points to cash in for small prizes or extra scoops of ice cream.
73. Learn how to do yo-yo tricks.
74. Glue small magnets to foam letters and another magnet to a toy fishing pole. See if you can fish your name out of a tub or kiddie pool.
75. Host a beverage challenge: Set up chilled cups of seasonal drinks (lemonade, iced tea) and get your friends to try to identify each while blindfolded.
See how long you can keep a hula-hoop going.
76. Have a hula-hooping contest—see who can keep the hoops spinning longest and who can twirl the most hoops.
77. Have a bird-call imitation contest. See who can do the best owl screech, blue jay squawk, or chickadee tweet.
78. Play a rousing game of themed charades—see what kinds of wacky themes you can come up with. (Harry Potter, superheroes, books, sports, etc.)
79. Have a sumo-style wrestling match.
80. Challenge the kids to a bout of arm or thumb wrestling.
81. Build a house of cards—see how high you can go before they all come crashing down.
82. Make a domino chain reaction. See how long you can make it—or try adding curves and going up and down stairs.
83. Stage a massive bubble battle and invite the whole block.
84. Play bossy ball. Write 10 silly ways to throw a ball on masking tape (through your legs, eyes closed, etc). Tape them to a ball and play catch. When you get the ball, you have to return it the way it says.
85. Play flashlight tag. While the other players hide, whoever is "it" must find and "tag" them with the beam while saying their names.
86. Have fun with bouncy balls: Try dodgeball, gaga, or kickball.
87. Have a water cup race. If your kids are on the older side, make it harder by telling them to balance the cups on their heads.
88. Play freeze dance. Switch it up with themes like zombie freeze dance.
More Summer Bucket List Ideas
89. Perfect some simple magic tricks and put on a show.
90. Make your own ice cream, no special maker required. Here's our recipe for Bananamon ice cream, and how to make ice cream in a plastic bag!
91. Open a lemonade stand or come up with your own small business idea.
92. Belt out your favorite tunes with the karaoke machine. Don't have one? You'll find instrumental versions of many songs on YouTube.
93. Enjoy Opposite Day and eat breakfast for dinner, wear your clothes inside out, and other silliness.
Braiding is a fun new skill to learn this summer!
94. Learn a fun new skill as a family: Try juggling, skateboarding, French braiding, or whatever strikes your fancy.
95. Learn how to play something your kids are obsessed with, like Minecraft or Pokemon, and instantly become the coolest parent in town.
96. Take apart an obsolete and unwanted household object, like an old printer or clock radio, to see how it works.
97. Rifle through the dress-up bin and have a photoshoot with your little princess, pirate, or superhero.
98. Make up ghost stories and tell them outside at night. Be sure to bring a flashlight.
99. Wrap the kids up in toilet paper, mummy-style, and see how far they can walk.
100. Create a comic book based on your summer adventures!
Unless noted, photos by Sara Marentette
Originally published 2014