The Back-to-School Bucket List

Capture as much family fun as you can before busy fall schedules take over. Here are 15 easy ideas.

Before you know it, we’ll be back to catching buses and doing homework. Try these creative ways to savor the last days of summer freedom with your kids—and forge new memories that can last a lifetime.

1. Go bowling in the driveway with water-bottle pins.Cover the bottles with decorated construction paper, making each one a funny monster or otherworldly creature. A soccer ball makes a good mock bowling ball.

2. Create a story together around a campfire or just under the stars, with each member of the family contributing a new sentence. Or if you’d rather, brainstorm a new twist to an old fairy tale—say, “Snow White and the Seven…Orangutans”?

3. Create a chalk masterpiece with your driveway or a local (approved) parking lot as your canvas. Don’t forget to preserve the art with a photo.

4. Invest in a pair of binoculars and go bird-watching, making a list of the birds you see near your home and noting on a calendar when you spotted them. A bird guide borrowed from your local library will help. If you vacation in a different area, be sure to watch for new types of birds there. (Slather peanut butter and honey over pinecones, then dip in birdseed—the birds will love you for it.)  

5. Have a breakfast date at Panera Bread®. Kids love our Cinnamon Crunch Bagel, while parents pick one of our delicious breakfast sandwiches. Celebrate a leisurely morning meal while you can.

6. Take the idea of a scavenger hunt to a whole new level by using a GPS (or a GPS app on your phone) and geocaching. Learn more about the “buried treasure” near your home at a website about the subject, like 

7. Make orchestral instruments out of plastic bottles, string, paper-towel tubes, aluminum foil, straws, rubber bands, and more household items. Hold an outdoor concert.

8. Interview one another. What are your favorite places in the world? What are your favorite colors and songs? What makes you laugh, and what makes you think? What is your biggest wish? What are you afraid of? Record your answers for posterity. 

9. Volunteer time together in your community—maybe serving at a summer lunch program or food pantry or walking the dogs at a shelter. 

10. Grow something—a flower garden or a single herb plant in a paper cup. 

11. Go raspberry picking (and painting). Don’t throw out those overripe or crushed berries. Make paint by smashing them and mixing them together with cornstarch. Finger paint never tasted so good!

12. Spend a day near a stream. After exploring the water for creatures big and small, enjoy a picnic lunch.

13. Sketch the stars. While camping in your backyard (and eating s’mores!), draw your own star charts and invent new constellations. The next day, look up a real star chart and compare it with yours. 

14. Make a dozen sock puppets—or finger puppets using gloves your kids have outgrown. Then put on a backyard show with a stage made from painted cardboard boxes.

15. Teach your children how to write simple poetry. Here’s a short, popular form that asks you to count the number of syllables per line:

This three-line poem (5)
with syllables you count out (7)
is called a haiku. (5)

Your finished poetry collection—complete with hand-drawn pictures—can later be made into a special gift for grandparents or other family members.