Before you have children, it’s easy to romanticize the idea of doing the family festival thing. In your mind you’ll be one of those cool bohemian families, rolling up in a camper van decked with bunting, a peacefully sleeping new-born strapped to your bosom in a tie-dyed sling, your little fairy princess — all sparkly face paint and fairy wings—smiling down at you from daddy’s shoulders as you sway along together to your favourite band.
Then you have kids. Suddenly, a simple pub lunch down the road seems like an epic mission, let alone three days without washing facilities, CBeebies or a microwave.
But don’t let this put you off. After all, parenting is the perfect training ground for festival life: extreme sleep deprivation, strange toilet smells, dancing in the daytime—you’ve seen it all. That said, even if you’re heading to the most family-friendly of festivals, you can’t just rock up and expect your children to ditch their usual demands and immediately embrace the go-with-the-flow vibe — not without a little advanced preparation, anyway.
From adopting the right attitude to packing the right kit, a little forethought will reward you with a lot less fretting and a load more fun.
1. Staying Safe
Keep babies out of harm’s reach by holding them close in a carrier or sling. If you’re usually a pram- only parent, start practising a couple of weeks in advance to get them used to their new mode of transport. For adventurous toddlers, backpacks with reins are a handy safety measure. Older infants are more difficult to attach to your person, so eyes like a hawk are useful. In the unlikely event that your child does go missing in the throng, make sure you’re prepared. Brief them (repeatedly) to find the nearest steward or friendly looking mum and ask for help. Dress them in bright, easy-to-spot clothing and have them wear a wristband with your mobile number on. And don’t panic—it’ll all be fine.
2. Getting Around
Crowds, guy ropes and mud conspire to make prams and buggies a real pain at festivals. Those sturdy backpack carriers—and they give your kid a brilliant vantage point for taking in all the action. Carrying your child can be an exhausting business though so hiring a trolley or wagon (available at most kiddie-friendly events) will be money well spent. It also means you can wrap them up in blankets and let them sleep at nap times or in the evening without having to traipse back to base camp.
Nothing highlights the unpredictability of the British climate—or the unreliability of the weather forecast— quite like a festival. Trust nobody and pack everything: wellies, waterproof, warm fleece, snowsuit (for those chilly evenings), sun hat, sunglasses, sun cream and plenty of layers.
Play areas, craft workshops, circus shows, magicians, live bands, open space: the average family friendly festival is like a live version of all your children’s favourite TV shows rolled into one, so it’s a wonder any child could ever be bored. But we’ve all seen a mountain of pricey Christmas presents being passed over in favour of a cardboard box. Sensory overload can leave kids craving simple pleasures, so pack a few toys, books and games for quiet times.
5. Distribution of Fun
You want to stare at a bunch of sombre looking men with beards playing guitars on a stage, the kids want to make unidentifiable papier-mâché works of art in a tipi full of screaming children. This is where compromise comes in. If you want to keep serious meltdowns to a minimum (from you and your kids), try the ‘fun sandwich’ technique—something you want to do sandwiched between two things they want to do. For example, kids’ activity, followed by gloomy indie band, followed by ice-cream (yes, yes, your kids usually only eat organic rice cakes but do you want to see this band or not?)
6. Music Management
If you were once the kind of festival goer who would draw up a timetable before your backpack was even off, or arrive at a stage three hours early to get a good spot at the front, some mental adjustment is required here. If you’re there with a partner or with other families, you can always divvy up the best bands and take turns with the kids. If that’s not an option, choose a spot away from the front where there is enough space for children to make their own entertainment. And don’t forget to buy ear defenders to protect tiny ear-drums.
We hope these hints and tips stand you in good stead, and just remember to enjoy it while you’re there. If you weren’t doing that then you’d just be at home in front of the telly. Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad.
At the very least you wouldn’t have to wade through mud to get the remote.