and is a festival the right place for you?
There’s no denying that taking children to a music festival can be very hard work, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – but for those uber cool, let’s have it, this is how we roll type of parent (that’s you) you might take the plunge and hopefully find the rewards are well worth the effort. Accept that you won’t see everything you would see if you didn’t have children with you, get in the festival spirit of what will be will be, and let the adventures begin…
A festival is full of things to watch, learn, and do and if you’ve been an avid festival-goer before kids, you are now sure to see things you completely missed while you spent past years waving your arms in the dance tent! Taking your children to a good festival offers them such a rich opportunity to broaden their horizons and open their eyes to creativity and culture that they would be hard-pressed to experience in normal life. I personally feel that festival-going is so educational that it should almost be part of the National Curriculum, but maybe that’s taking a bit far! 😉
So how do you begin to choose a festival to go to? Well, a good place to start would be recommendations from your friends or from the Festival Kidz Facebook followers. Going with a group of friends can be a real bonus as you can usually share childcare ,meaning some of you may actually get to catch that band you’ve been wanting to see since before the kids were born!
Another good starting place would be our Family-Friendly Festivals Map so you can find one within a manageable traveling distance, which is better for the environment and means you don’t have to factor in a 5 hour journey before you’ve even got to the festival car park queues.
But what else should you consider when choosing a festival to take your kids to?
SIZE – When it comes to festivals, big is not always best. The capacity of a festival is not a measure of how crowded the festival might feel because this depends more on the number of stages and different areas and the overall size of the site, capacity does however give a reasonable indication of the size of the festival (and of how long it might take you to get into the carpark!). Festival organisers will never tell you how many tickets have actually been sold unless they have sold out, so you may expect 3,000 people and in the end only be sharing the site with a few hundred (sometimes this is an advantage, but other times too few people can kill the atmosphere off completely!)
In general smaller festivals are likely to be good for families even if there isn’t a great deal of children’s entertainment on offer purely because it feels small, safe and usually less crowded – often these are in one field so it’s easier to keep an eye on your children if they are having a bit of free-range time. You will be able to get closer to the bands at a small festival too.
I like to support local events too – you get a great community spirit, it’s arguably greener, and it supports the local economy and local talent. It’s usually cheaper, and if things are not going well then it’s not a huge problem to just go home.
However, if you want a superb range of workshops and a big name line up you probably going to have to splash out on a larger festival with a larger budget.
TICKET PRICE – prices can range from free to more than £200 so there are festivals to suit all budgets. Charity events can offer better value for money because the profits are not being creamed off by fat cats, but other festivals can be better organised and have far bigger names on the lineup and more choice in terms of entertainment and facilities because of their greater purchasing power.
CAMPING – Make sure the options you need are available. Not all festivals allow caravans. Some have fabulous glamping options and pre-erected tents. Some festivals don’t have any camping at all. You may also want to consider the distances between the car park / campsite / main stages / toilets / arena entrance. Some festivals offer trolley or wheelbarrow hire to help with carting your stuff to the campsite. And each festival has different rules about fires, barbeques and even cooking near your tent.
TERRAIN – It’s not the first thing you think of but the terrain of the festival site could make a big impact on your energy levels. If you have been walking huge distances, pushing buggies uphill, or battling through 10 inches of mud all day then you will all feel more tired. Festival sites with hardstanding and concrete paths are great for buggy and trolley users – but far less attractive. Hills are less comfortable to camp on because you roll downhill when you sleep. Natural shade from trees is a blessing in hot weather and sudden downpours. Even the soil type and contours of the earth are worth considering if there’s a risk of heavy rain and a resulting mud bath or flooding.
And if you need to just sit on a picnic blanket for a few hours, who wouldn’t find it more relaxing in a beautiful picturesque site?
LINE UP, WORKSHOPS, ENTERTAINMENT – You may be particularly keen on a certain headliner but let’s face it, when you have kids, you may find yourself foregoing that performance if the kids need to return to the tent early. So choosing a festival based solely on one band is never a good idea. Make sure that there is a good range of stuff going on at various times all day so that there is enough to keep the whole family reasonably happy for the majority of the time. Family festivals are all about compromise.
Check out the variety of workshops, whether there are talks, storytelling, dancing, discos, theatre, arts… and all the other things you and your family members will enjoy…
COVERED AREAS – We all want our festivals to be dry and sunny, but if it’s not and there is no shelter from the elements you may find your family becoming rapidly downbeat. If it’s really hot you may need some shade. Check that there is stuff to do indoors if you need it. And of course make sure you have sunhats, sunscreen, wellies, SnoozeShade and waterproofs. Check out our other post about wet weather at festivals and the Family Festival Survival Guide.
FACILITIES – You may want to find out what the toilet and shower arrangements are. Some festivals even have flushing loos (especially those on racecourses like Wychwood and BusFest) or compost loos, but most will have portable plastic toilet units. With the best will in the world, after several hundred people have used a chemical toilet unit, it will be smelly, dirty, and out of paper. If you have to accompany a young child, you will find them incredibly cramped, awkward and possibly disgusting. Some festivals have dedicated child toilets which are usually cleaner, roomier and with less queues (i.e. Camp Bestival and any festival where Angel Gardens provide the family space). But if not, and toilets are a concern for you, then something like a Bog In A Bag
is a useful emergency solution! Poonarnia are a pretty cool toilet facility to look out for too!
If a shower each day is important to you, find a festival with showers but also find out if you have to pay (so you can take the right change) and whether there are usually 3-mile queues to use them.
BABIES – For some with young babies you may want to find out if there is a baby tent with baby bathtime (e.g. Just So, Glastonbury), spare nappies and quiet breastfeeding and changing areas. Again, Angel Gardens provide nice areas for babycare.
FOOD – Most festivals have a good range of catering units on site, but at smaller festivals your choice may be quite limited if your children are very fussy. It is much cheaper to self-cater, but this inevitably entails packing and carrying a LOT more gear… we have a blog about festival food if you want some camping meal ideas. Some festivals have a dedicated family cafe, such as the Kindred Cafe run by Lisa Igo (e.g. Penn Festival)
CURFEW – I don’t mean to be a killjoy here, but if you’re the type of person who cannot sleep with background noise then you would do well to choose a festival that has a curfew on amplified music after midnight. Ear plugs help, but if you don’t get on with them then noise levels at night may make the difference between a chilled happy weekend and an irritable sleep-deprived grumpzilla in your midst!
LOST CHILDREN – Any festival that welcomes families should have a procedure in place for reuniting lost children with their parents as quickly as possible with the minimum distress to the child (you of course are likely to be completely panicked – but as long as the child is well cared for and calm then that’s the main thing!). Locate the lost children points early on and familiarise yourself and your kids, if they are old enough, with the procedures. Read our other tips for keeping your children safe at a festival (spotting landmarks/rendezvous points, mobile phone numbers, etc).
For little explorers you might like to consider investing in a Child Locator device – they’re only around the £20 mark and could just give you that extra reassurance you need.
However, a final point I can’t stress strongly enough: not all festivals are good for children. A friend of mine took her toddler and young baby to Reading Festival… never again! It was fine in the day but when the sun went down the teenage crowd turned decidedly hostile towards festival-goers with young kiddies cramping their style… It was a scary experience for her and a good lesson: Some festivals are better saved for a different sort of crowd.
Chances are before you had kids you also enjoyed a far more debauched festival experience and wouldn’t have appreciated having some selfish dad with his toddler on his shoulders in the middle of the mosh pit either…
Everyone has a right to a great festival experience and this means different things for different people so it’s just as well that there is such a huge variety of festivals around – some welcome families with open arms, but please leave the ones that don’t to the domain of the childfree!