Back when my oldest child was in Kindergarten, Pinterest had just hit the scene. Naturally, because I didn’t have enough to do during the last week of school, I prepared a summer gift basket in a sand pail for her to celebrate the end of her first year of school and to greet summer.
It has been seven years and whether or not I have done the bucket since then is up for debate. There are years that I did it and, likely, more years that I didn’t. As I wrap up another school year – the first with two children in public education – I am jumping back on the summer gift basket wagon.
Please note that I’m not just creating one more thing for you to do or another reason to have to buy stuff for your kids. If anyone feels this burden throughout the year, it is me. I’ve just created a list in case you were interested in starting off summer with something fun.
I based these gift basket ideas on my own children, as well as suggestions from my students. I did my best with the rest. And if you find yourself in a position where you need more ideas, Pinterest still has your back. Alternatively, just ask your kids!
Start with summer essentials:
- Swim Suit
- Cover Up
- Towel or Beach Blanket
- Flip Flops
- Hat–Sun hat, baseball cap, or visor
- Sunglasses Case
- Sunscreen–you can get sunscreen with glitter in it for your tween girls or even try the new “whipped” sunscreen.
- Beach Bag–drawstring or otherwise. If you’re feeling creative, you could even bust one of these out with a matching towel, a little sewing-machine-know-how, and a few minutes… better yet, you could give a “coupon” to make this with your kiddo!
- Pool toys of any kind–this one depends on the age, of course, and ranges from Puddle Jumpers (although I agree with this), to mermaid tail floats, dive sticks, and beach balls.
- Beach Towel Clips
- Water Bottle
- Pool Snacks
- Mosquito Repellent–You can go with the bug sprays of our childhood or look into all sorts of different kinds on the market today. Personally, I love a particular anti-bug balm that smells of citronella and rosemary. They have a spray, too. But there is a new thing out called Para’Kito mosquito repellent made with natural essential oils. It comes in an area diffusion (in the form of refillable bands or clips) and skin application (a roll-on or one-dose gel). I don’t know how well these work, but I’m interested in finding out!
Pre-schoolers, Kindergartners, and Early Elementary School Kids:
- Bubbles–You can buy the bubbles or just wands (or fly swatters) and dish soap!
- Squirt Guns–Go big or simply go to the dollar store and grab the neon hand-held ones that last for a week or so. If you get enough for the whole family, you’re in for a treat.
- Sidewalk Chalk–This is fun for the whole family. You can vary this with all the new stuff coming out–different shapes of chalk, chalk paint, chalk stencils, and kits with 3-D glasses.
- Water Balloons–there are all sorts of modifications with this one–you can get that item that fills 100 water balloons at once without having to tie them (I haven’t tried it so can’t attest to it) or a new set of disks for kids to toss water balloons back and forth.
- Play-Doh–again, if you’re feeling crafty, you could make your own or offer a “coupon” for your child to redeem for an afternoon of homemade dough-making.
- Backyard Bowling Kit–we just received one of these the other day; it is so much fun.
- Silly String–You do what you want with this one, but kids love it!
- Popsicles–Try the kind you freeze then eat–these can even be ordered in bulk from Amazon.
- Popsicle Molds–we bought Star Wars light saber molds one Christmas and fill them with smoothies or fruit juice. Bonus, they even light up!
- Toys that your child likes (my little guy is really into Beanie Boos and Disney’s Cars… I can buy one of these for fewer than six bucks).
- See some of the Rainy Day Ideas or Fads below!
Upper Elementary Kids:
- Big League Chew–(because you really can’t go wrong with this one), but any bubble gum would suffice.
- Kool-Aid/Lemonade packets–pair it with a kid-friendly pitcher and disposable cups and this could double as an entrepreneurial starter kit!
- Wikki Stix–we first discovered these at a restaurant years ago. They’re so fun, and even though they’re yarn covered in wax, they won’t melt in your car.
- Colored Pencils/Markers–I have had to pry melted crayons out from between seats in my car in the summer. My kids don’t carry crayons around anymore!
- Watermelon Ball–this unique ball is neutrally buoyant, which allows kids to play with it like a basketball and a beach ball in water. I can’t wait to give this thing a go!
- Flashlight or Headlamp–We love hiking and camping. Our children got headlamps in their stockings last Christmas, but the beginning of summer is a great time in invest in one. They’re good for when the sun is setting and they’re riding their bikes around the cul-de-sac or even when they’re reading in bed.
- Glow Sticks–Who doesn’t love glow sticks? Or glow necklaces? Or anything that glows? Just be careful. Once, I had a child bite into one of these cheap illuminated pieces of jewelry and my car was suffused with its contents!
- See any of the Rainy Day Ideas or Fads below!
Middle/High School (Teens):
- Gift Cards–because, face it, they want the independence to buy what they like. $5 can go as far as they will allow it, unless it is at their favorite coffee chain… then it doesn’t go far at all.
- Tumblers–These reusable to-go cups for water, tea, or frappuccinos are a win-win. They are cute on the outside and keep your beverage cold for a long time on the inside. Just make sure your teen washes it out!
- Ear Buds–you know, those headphones that go inside your kids’ ears? If your child is like my oldest, she can never find hers. I have started to carry some in my purse. I say they’re for me, but they’re really for when she needs them and doesn’t have them. Again. She hasn’t asked, yet.
- Speakers–For when you don’t mind listening to your kid’s music. Or for when you’re not home. Or for when they’re at the pool. There is a really neat DIY speaker kit that I saw at Joseph-Beth!
- Charger–You really can’t have enough of these. They make some pretty neat ones these days. Look for the chargers that light up while they’re refilling your phone’s battery! Moms, just go ahead and get one of these for yourself, too… you don’t want to wind up taking your child’s, ahem, not that I have ever done that.
- Bath Bombs–While I prefer a certain all-natural line of bath bombs that isn’t at a mall near me, there are plenty of options here, including DIY versions that are relatively cheap to do and are fun on a rainy day.
- Movie Tickets or voucher to a movie date–believe it or not, these kids still want to do stuff with us sometimes. They may even post on Instagram or snap a pic on Snapchat–then you’ve made it!
- Spa Treatments–Both boys and girls will benefit from the face masks that are out now (like the charcoal ones). Just don’t count on all of your teen boys enjoying this luxury.
- S’mores Kit–You can do this yourself… just put some large marshmallows in a bag with some chocolate (don’t leave this out in the sun or a hot car) and graham crackers. You can get fancy with marshmallow roasting sticks, or just go with a downed tree branch.
- See any of the Rainy Day Ideas or Fads below!
Rainy Day Ideas:
- Movie Kits–DVD with microwavable popcorn and/or a box of candy.
- Craft Kits–Peruse local hobby stores; they sell paint-by-number kits, model cars, even starter baking kits.
- Baking Kit–Does your child long to be a chef or a baker? Why not let them try out some of their handiwork in your kitchen? I know why I wouldn’t, but I hope you’re less of a control freak than me.
- Duct Tape and DIY books–It isn’t just silver anymore. Get something fun!
- Clothes pins and fabric–Who doesn’t like forts on rainy days? Again, I hope you’re not as uptight as me. I promise, I’ll try to loosen up this summer.
School-Year Fads that Might Last into Summer (but might not):
- Slime–you can buy any variation of slime or you can buy ingredients to make it… because, if you’re a parent of a teen, you know that even Target sold out of glue for a few months! Just ask your kid for their favorite recipe–they’ll know it!
- Fidget Spinners/Cubes–these really are fun to play with… because they’re toys. Just set some ground rules with your kids about when it is appropriate to use them and when it isn’t.
- Squishies–if you don’t know what these are, yet, you will. They’re little foam replicas of food with faces that you squeeze and can attach to your phones.
- Rubik’s Cubes–because some things never die.
- Stress Balls–your kids may just like the stuff to DIY this one, but maker beware.
- PopSocket–I even have one of these! They attach to the back of your phone and serve as a handle or kickstand. They come in all sorts of designs; you can even personalize them by creating your own on their website. The PopClip that attaches to the car and holds my phone while I’m driving is handy (or hands-free).
School-Work Over Summer?
#SorryNotSorry… You can take the teacher out of the school, but you can’t take the school out of the teacher!
- It wouldn’t hurt a student to complete summer bridging activities. You can purchase activity books made specifically for your child’s grade level with the Core Content Standards in mind. Ask your child’s teachers what they recommend to help reinforce skills they’ve worked on all school year or what your child needs additional help with.
- Some schools have required reading for students over the summer. Check with the school to see what books need to be bought and read before August.
- Notebooks or Journals–research supports the benefits of writing… actual writing. Kids can document anything in their notebooks; they’re just not used to it since they record history with their smartphones. By giving them a notebook (nothing special) you can encourage this. Journals have been published with the intention of destruction, for example, the Wreck This Journal. Have fun with them.
It goes without saying that I love reading and I love books. I have purposely left books off of my lists. To begin naming even a few wouldn’t do you or your child any favors. Instead, you should take advantage of all that the local bookstores and libraries have to offer in terms of summer reading programs and/or clubs. Browse displays, attend story times, and build your own library.
A few years ago, one mom I know set a theme for each week of summer. She checked out books for her preschooler and did things around the city related to that theme. For the record, that mom was NOT me. This may seem like a lot for just anyone, but some moms and dads may enjoy it, so I list it here… for them.
Summer in, some are not!
Obviously, your best bet is to fill the bucket, bag, or gift basket with things that you know your child will use for the summer. And don’t feel obligated to go to the latest and greatest store; a lot of these items can be purchased pretty cheaply, even at a dollar store or Target’s Dollar Spot! Lastly, it goes without saying that some of the groups overlap… you ultimately know what your kid would like!
Should you choose to take the leap with me, know that you and your kids will ultimately enjoy it. Should you choose not to, please know that I will not judge you if you don’t judge me. It is quite an undertaking; I simply can’t wait to embrace summer with open arms!