It seems like no matter how many actual days of summer there are, the minute the Fourth of July passes, we get hit with all the back-to-school prep and stress. Whether you like to plan ahead or it sneaks up on you, the pool noodles at Target quickly give way to school supplies — and all of those hopeful dreams of finishing a summer bucket list start to fade. And while some students are heading back to the classroom in mid-August, others don’t start until after Labor Day, leaving many of us in summer limbo. It feels like summer, it looks like summer, but is it summer?

Whether the first day is a month away or only a week off, there’s still time to soak up the last of the summer vibes with a special outing or experience that helps everyone slow down and appreciate the moment (us moms included). Many of these activities can be planned spontaneously, even for the night before school starts, and don’t require a lot of money.

So, get ready to soak up every last second of summer goodness with 25 end-of-summer-hurrah ideas that have been tested over the years by me and moms in my community.


Arrange a grand day out to get ice cream.

Get all dressed up and head to a local parlor. Frilly dresses, fancy hats, short sleeves, and ties, or just wild and mismatched outfits. Take a photo!


Take a hike.

If you have younger kids, create a nature scavenger hunt. Live in the city? Do an urban version: How many buildings can you spot over five stories high? A bus with the number 7 on it. You get the picture.

Heading for hikes with tweens and teens can help get out some of the anxiety about starting school without having to prod them about their feelings.


Head to a local drive-in.

Bring the family dog if you can. If there aren’t any drive-ins around, download something on your tablet or laptop, stock the car with snacks and blankets, and drive somewhere beautiful. Park the car, put the seats down, and watch a movie together.


Have a simple, spontaneous outdoor party.

Invite a few friends over, fill up the kiddie pool, and ask everyone to bring a snack. Don’t stress about how clean your house is! Let the kids wear whatever they want, relax, and just be.


Cook a meal together.

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A great one for the night before school, let kids decide what the meal should be and help shop for the ingredients.


Watch the sunset.

The upside of the days getting shorter is the sunset is a little earlier than in midsummer, so you can watch the sunset without having to stay up too late.


Paint the sunset.

Find a scenic spot to watch the sunset and bring along painting supplies. Watercolors, watercolor pencils, or quick-drying tempera paints work well. Have the kids capture the colors they see, whether it’s an abstract or a detailed landscape.


Throw a movie night at home.

Have the kids make little admission tickets to hand out. Pop some popcorn and buy movie-sized boxes of candy.


Have a candlelit breakfast.

Put out flowers, decorate the table, and light a candle before you pour a bowl of cereal.


Go camping somewhere you’ve never been.

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Have a Yes Day.

This is a day when the grown-ups say yes instead of no, but be sure to put down a few simple guidelines before the day comes, e.g., a budget, and not asking for anything that could cause harm to yourself or others.


Go chasing waterfalls.

Make a local waterfall list and see how many you can visit before school starts. Urban fountains count.


Have a game tournament.

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Set up board games, video games, and lawn games and play again and again to see who takes home the trophy for most games won.


Have a Mermaid Day.

Read a mermaid book over breakfast, head to a local swimming pool, and pretend you are mermaids. Print out some mermaid coloring pages to fill in during an aquatic lunch, then cap it all off with a mermaid movie.


Catch an outdoor movie in your area.

No films playing? Set up your own outdoor theater. If you don’t have a projector, you can use a laptop and a small pop-up tent with a bunch of pillows. Don’t forget the bug spray!


Plan an elaborate picnic (with cookies).

Whether this is in your garden or the local park, pack up all those delicious treats and head out to dine al fresco. Don’t just stick to lunch, though. A picnic breakfast or dinner can be unexpected and just as fun.


Throw a Wonderland-style tea party.

If you have any vintage teacups or plates, take the opportunity to use them. Buy a few tiny cakes, cut sandwiches up to finger-sized, and lay everything out with a tablecloth. Invite a friend or two, get dressed up (fancy hats and fedoras encouraged), and attend your party. Your kids can even make invitations. Read the Tea Party chapter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and toss a deck of cards in the air.


Rely on nature.

Find a local nature preserve, nature center, or nearby state park and time it with a ranger talk. Activities like bird demonstrations and herb or wildflower walks are often free.


Do a beach or park cleanup.

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End your summer on a high note by cleaning up a place you love. Bring a few garbage bags with you to the park, garden, or beach you’ve spent time in this summer and walk around and pick up trash. You can organize your neighbors to join in. Be sure to wear gloves.


Feed the birds.

Core an apple and fill the core with birdseed. Press sunflower seeds into the apple flesh and add a couple of sticks for birds to balance on. Make a hole for string and hang the apple bird feeder from a tree. Watch the birds and the feeder as the season changes.


Go night swimming.

If you live somewhere that has a lake or swimming hole, surprise everyone with an after-dinner twilight or night swim in the warm summer air. (Unless you live in the South — if so, stick to swimming pools for night swims and leave the freshwater to the alligators.)


Play some old-school games.


Take a last-minute road trip.

Get out the map, close your eyes, and point to somewhere random. Arm yourself with some playlists and a few road trip must-haves, then head out on the highway.


Build an epic pillow fort.

Let go and let the living room transform into an epic indoor party fort. Get some fun lights and lots of books, and let them spend all day (or all weekend) in the fort. When the time comes to take it down, insight a pillow fight to get the de-construction underway.

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