Not so long ago, taking young children to summer music festival was about as brilliant an idea as taking them to the Brixton Academy for a relaxing evening of Slipknot. Thankfully, things have changed dramatically in recently years, and many festivals are now extremely well equipped to provide a fun packed weekend for the whole family.
That said, parents who reckon they have been there, done that, should be aware that festivaling en famille is strictly for the hardcore. In this PAAM volunteer software blog, we take you through the dos and don’ts of surviving the course with the kids, what to pack, and our pick of the best family festivals in the UK.
Don’t be a Festival Loser
Festivals are busy, crowded places with distractions at every turn, and it only takes a second for a little one to wander off and disappear into the throng. Although some festivals provide kids with paper wrist bands on which you can scrawl your phone number, festivals are often wet, muddy and messy. A better idea is to brand your brood with something a bit more durable, such as waterproof stickers or badges. Alternately, simply write your name and number in permanent marker directly onto a piece of clothing – it’s only a t-shirt/tutu/Spiderman costume after all.
As festivals are usually held in the middle of the countryside with several thousand people trying to use the same tower, don’t rely on mobile phones. Walkie-talkies on the other hand can be a fun way to keep up with the kids, and these days even the cheap ones can operate within the perimeters of most festivals.
It is also essential to have a set strategy in the event of separation. For older children, the easiest course of action is to nominate a meeting point, or several, depending on how big the festival is. Choose somewhere central, as ‘back at the tent’could result in an epic trek that won’t make for a particularly happy reunion.
For younger children that don’t yet know their ears from their ankles, there are a few nifty child-locator gadgets on the market. Coming in two parts, the clever trackers will send a GPS signal from your child to your receiver, allowing you to hone in on your little runaway in no time.
Keeping tabs on the kids after sundown is even more of a challenge. Make like a 90s raver and get out the glow sticks or tie an LED balloon to their wrists. These are both fun for the kids and reassuring for mum and dad. A tall and colourful flag by your camp will also help those of all ages navigate their way back from weary night wees.
On a positive note, festivals are generally pretty safe places. As well as there being lots of other parents around with kids, there are stewards, security guards and police officers on hand to look after lost children and calm down anxious adults. In the unlikely event that a child does go walkabout for any significant period, contact festival welfare services. They are trained for precisely this eventuality and will do a better job than a pair of panicking parents asking everyone in the mosh-pit if they’ve seen anyone little and lost.
Another top tip is to take a photo of the kids before heading out from the tent in the morning. This will provide a picture-perfect description to the authorities if the worst occurs.
Pack like a Festival Pro
As well as obviously remembering any medication the kids need, it’s also important to pack a first aid kit stocked with antihistamine in case of a bought of hay fever, antiseptic cream for cuts and grazes, and paracetamol and rehydration sachets (for dad’s hangover).
Lots of juice and snacks are also essential, as keeping the kids hydrated and maintaining blood sugar levels will cost you a fortune if you’re not prepared. A few ’emergency grumpy sweets’ will also act as a nice treat and help ensure that Van Morrisson-esque tantrums are kept at bay.
Assuming the kids have spent most of their lives in Britain, three days out in the open in even the most benign weather is going to be unusual. Take more sun-block than you think is necessary, and don’t leave home without hats, waterproof clothing, waterproof boots, jumpers, scarves and copious amounts of socks. In fact, play it safe and pack for all seasons; don’t pay any attention to the weather forecast because it will be wrong!
Another thing that is often overlooked is the fact that your little angels still have the eardrums of little angels. Most festivals are loud 24/7, so invest in good quality, well-fitting ear-defenders and avoid going too close to the stage.
Be Festival Cool
However old the kids are, it’s a good idea to accept the fact – before booking the tickets – that you and they are going to be interested in completely different things. However much you tell an 11-year-old how legendry the Rolling Stones are, that enthusiasm is unlikely to be returned for anything other than Beiber or Beyoncé.
It is also vitally important if you’ve got young teenagers to remember your first festival experience. Afford freedom to the kids and accept that some of the rules that may apply back home are going to be a tad difficult to enforce. Worrying about bed times, teeth brushing or the fact they’re making new friends whose parents you’ve not yet had round for dinner is going to spoil the weekend for everyone. If this kind of thing is going to cause you stress, a villa in Spain might be a better idea. It’ll be about the same price!
Creature Comforts at the Festival
Although the whole idea of festivals is to leave the real world behind for a few days, it pays to remember that although your toddler may throw himself around like Bez for much of the day, when he’s finished losing it to dubstep he’ll only want to curl up with a teddy bear in a warm, dry sleeping bag. A few creature comforts will come as a godsend when the kids get tired and cranky, so don’t leave their favourite bunny or blankie at home in the interest of travelling light.
Even adults need some downtime, so it might be an idea to pack some games to keep the kids quiet while you slope off for a snooze. Think weight and space-friendly however, and go car games rather than full-sized board games.
Home Festival Schooling
It’s important to remember that it was you who chose the festival and that the kids probably didn’t pay for their tickets, so at least some of the weekend should be about what you want to do. Watching the band you’ve loved since your teens may be the highlight of your year, but may not necessarily impress your heirs.
A little bit of pre-planned light brainwashing goes a long way. In the weeks leading up to the big weekend, play the songs they are likely to hear at home or in the car on the school run, and encourage them to dance and sing along. If the kids associate your favourite bands with fun, they’re much less likely to banish your idols to the realms of “meh”.
Getting Around the Festival
Most modern baby buggies look like they were designed at NASA and come with a built-in four (or three) wheel drive that can tackle most terrain. However, a seriously muddy arena or a field full of guy-ropes and tent pegs will scupper even the most rugged of buggies.
If your kids are still diddy, it’s worth considering a backpack carrier, sling or hip-seat. As well as being more practical than a buggy, something a little higher up will allow the kids to see what’s going on and will therefore render them less likely to throw a fit. Some particularly child-friendly festivals even supply parents with shaded pulley karts or wheelbarrows that tend to be less cumbersome than pushchairs.
Toilets and Changing Nappies at Festivals
Loos at most festivals are fairly gross. Fact. And even the most pristine flushable portable loo is likely to be a disgrace if it resides by the main stage and is visited right after the headline act. If your kid is still in nappies then it’s fairly happy days, as with the general festival stench in the air, no-one will turn their nose up too much if you do a quick change while you’re out and about.
For potty-training toddlers however, it’s probably best to carry a lightweight plastic potty with you, unless you want to undo all your hard work or do your back in holding them up over gaping portable loo. Manufacturers have also not been lazy in coming up with bring-your-own-toilet designs including biodegradable waste systems, which are surprisingly less awful than they sound – definitely worth a quick Google. Remember to bring plenty of loo roll, wet wipes and hand sanitizer as well.
Family Friendly Festivals
We’ve included a shortlist of some of our favourite family festivals below – this is by no means a comprehensive list of the UK festivals that specifically cater to families, so again please make sure you have a search around – new festivals are set up all the time!
All of the below have pretty decent amenities, comfortable and quite (ish) family camping, and activities for the kids.
Latitude Festival – A super-chilled all-round family festival with a cool kids’ area, pulley karts for tinys, an “unaccompanied” wrist band for kids over 10 exploring on their own, and a safe community spirit.
Larmer Tree Festival – Fancy dress, circus workshops, a dedicated parent-free zone and live music, yoga and comedy acts for mum and dad.
Shambala Festival – Definitely a festival that looks after the needs of the parents, with a creche, wheelbarrows to push the little’uns around in, music and more than the odd bit of magic.
Sunrise Festival – Regularly scoops the Green Festival award, with live music and a heap of child-friendly attractions.
Beautiful Days Festival – Family festival league topper in 2011, with attractions for all ages, including fairground rides, workshops, storytelling, crafts and dressing-up.
Hay Festival – The place for studious kids to enjoy readings from their favourite authors, as well as tonnes for the adults.
Just So Festival – Families looking for a touch of magic should check out this family-focused event, which is also a hit with foodies.
Camp Bestival – This is a festival definitely aimed at families, with some big names in children’s entertainment filling out the bill. Mums and dads can also kick back with live bands and comedy acts.
But whatever festival you pick you’re sure to have a blast, as long as you remember pack wisely, take precautions and not to to sweat the small stuff!