Can it be done? Should it be done?
If we can enjoy a festival with a five year old and twin toddlers then you can enjoy one with your toddlers too, if you want to!
I read the FestivalKidz website extensively last year to get some tips and it was extremely useful. Now with a few festivals under my belt, I’ve joined the Festival Kidz team myself and I’d like to share some more advice that we have learned ourselves through trial and error. So here are my best tips, starting with…
If you hate camping then maybe you shouldn’t be doing this!
I’ve been to festivals with people who hate camping. They are no fun at all. They think somehow being at a festival will make up for the fact that they are staying in a tent but that’s not true – camping is a large part (and a fun part) of the whole festival experience. And camping with toddlers can be brilliant but if you hate being in a tent it can also be awful.
Maybe have a look into the glamping options to make it a bit more comfortable, but go into it with open eyes – this is not a luxury resort holiday. It’s cheap and cheerful, you will get muddy and dirty and probably won’t get too much sleep!
Accept that a festival will be a very different experience with toddlers
Babies can be carried around and will fit in with what you are doing, and older children can be reasoned with (up to a point!). But toddlers will often not do what they are told, get bored easily and react badly to changes in routine and comfort. If you want your child to enjoy the festival you will have to centre the experience around them instead of around you. That doesn’t mean giving up everything you love (after all they will often enjoy a bit of dancing!) but you will have to accept that you will need to do less, at a slower pace, and base most of the activities around what your child will like to do, like the kids’ field. Which in my opinion is a lot of fun anyway!
Get them used to sleeping in the tent before you go
If you can, try to go camping for a night or two somewhere close to home before you buy tickets to your chosen festival. That way you can decide if you all like it before you’ve invested too much time and money. The camping side of a festival is by far the hardest part so if you can do that the rest should be easy! It’s also incredibly important to put a new tent up in the garden (or a nearby park if you don’t have a garden) before you go anywhere with it. This is especially important if you have toddlers – as you will need to get that tent up as quickly as possible when you arrive.
Find somewhere to stop on the journey
Service stations are not great places for toddlers – they are busy and usually only serve junk food. If you put ‘garden centre’ into google maps it will show you all the garden centres on the way – many garden centres have a child friendly cafe, some have a play area or animals to look at and they always have somewhere with plants and flowers so your children can get some exercise and stretch their legs properly.
Do a little planning
Read the information section of the festival website before you go. If there’s a map, print it out and make a note of where the family camping is so you can head straight there when you arrive. Have a look to see what options there are for food, water etc so you know roughly where to go when you’re there. And bring some food for when you arrive – sandwiches and fruit are good, plus a little ‘welcome to the festival’ treat such as a beer for you and a cake for the children. Always start as you mean to go on!
Bring some activities for when you are setting up or taking down the tent
We have a portable dvd player for the ‘boring’ part of setting up camp. It’s also useful if they won’t calm down at bedtime, although I can understand why many people don’t want any TV while camping. For any quiet moments we take books, colouring books and pens, a few small cars and puzzles and a couple of footballs.
Cheap lightweight fleece blankets are great for those cold evenings, both out of the tent and for snuggling up at night. We bought little inflatable beds for our toddlers – it’s good to get ones with slightly raised edges to stop them falling out. You can also get toddler sleeping bags very cheaply – it’s worth going for the brightly coloured ones to make it more exciting for them. If you have space it’s good to bring a few of their cuddly toys or a blanket they like sleeping with – this gives them comfort and makes it a little home from home.
Don’t use the separate bedrooms in your tent
Tents can be scary places for a small child. We made the mistake of using the separate bedrooms on the first night in our tent to try to get some privacy and although they went to bed happily they woke up crying in the night, unused to their surroundings. When we zipped the bedrooms together they slept much better as they could see us when they woke up and felt safe. My youngest child spent many of the festival nights last year sleeping snuggled up against me, which is a memory I will treasure (and it kept us both warm when the nights were cold!)
Don’t expect them to go to bed at their usual bedtime
A toddler at a festival is so far out of their comfort zone that it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to do your normal bedtime routine. We made that mistake the first night and tried to get them all into bed for eight o’clock – all that resulted was several hours of laughing as they jumped from bed to bed followed by screaming later from very overtired children. The next night we took them out to the communal bonfire and we watched people spinning fire hoops. They fell asleep quietly in the buggy and at 10pm we took them back to the tent and moved them gently into bed and they slept through until 8am!
Toddlers are ruled by their stomachs, and they are usually fussy eaters. So they will be happier if they are eating the food they are used to (and like!). We take a stove and a cool box with us so we can cook pasta and rice, and we take cereal and milk for breakfast. One thing we found worked really well was to cook lots of pasta each morning with tinned veg in it and put it into a sandwich bag so that they could snack on it when they were hungry out and about. It’s good to have lots of cereal bars and fruit too, then you can buy toast or chips to make it up to a meal. The other thing they loved was noodles in a pot which is such an easy meal to make and a camping treat!
Take some special festival toys
Children love to associate certain toys with certain events, so if you want to you can have special toys just for festivals. We always pack 2 fancy dress outfits for each child – toddlers love to dress up and there’s nowhere better than a festival to do this! You can always pack fairy wings, wands or pirate hats if you don’t want to carry the full outfit. We bought them a cheap torch each, as again toddlers love torches. We also pack bubbles (very expensive to buy on site), kites, glow sticks, windmills and fairy lights for the tent.
Have somewhere they can sleep in the day
And most important of all – enjoy yourself!
It sounds obvious but toddlers pick up on other people’s stress very quickly. If something happens that they don’t understand they look to you for an example, so if the mud is upsetting you it will upset them too. If, however, you get your wellies on and jump around in it laughing, they will too!
With small children it’s best to go with the flow instead of make plans to see particular bands or acts. If there’s something you really want to see, maybe ask your partner or friend to watch the kids while you sneak off for half an hour! If you can’t do that, then just relax and enjoy whatever bits of the festival you get to see. For me, just getting to a festival and sharing the experience with my children is magical. I do far more climbing about in the woods and playing parachute games than watching bands these days, but we all have a wonderful time and we talk about our experiences for months after we come home.
Some of you may have noticed, I haven’t covered the hugely important topics of toilets and safety. These topics are too big to be covered here, so for safety tips I recommend you read the advice of an expert.
Have a look at our recommended festivals for toddlers in 2013.
And please watch this space for my next post – Toilets and Children at Festivals!
Naomi Jones (contributor profile)