Magical fairgrounds, open fields to run and play, the chance to dress up and mess up all day long without a bath in sight! No wonder children love the new breed of family festivals.
Woodstock 1969 might have been dubbed “Three Days of Peace & Music”, but there was also a hazy mist of marijuana and zonked-out grown-ups to add to the legendary experience. Fast forward almost half a century, and the new breed of festivals offer far more civilised celebrations that give all the family a chance to shake off the rigours and rigidity of routines in favour of something a little more freeform and spontaneous.
There are wide, open spaces (yes – a glorified field), abundant opportunities to wander and mingle, to sit and ponder, to wave flags and blow bubbles, to laugh, and dance, and sing… all things that come so naturally to the youngest of bon viveurs
Add to this the joy of a weekend in a tent, and you have all the makings of a great family bonding experience. However, it’s a celebration that is not necessarily without its stressful moments. Borrowing our mantra from the boy scouts, being prepared is one of the best ways to minimise stress… so here’s a quick action plan for family festival fun at one of the brilliant music festivals running this year (click on any of the Festival images, left, to read our previews and pin to your travel planners for 2014).
Be Prepared! If you’re camping, print off our 12 Essentials for Camping so you know you’ve packed all the basics. Add to that a few festival essentials, such as plasters for those “brand-new wellies blisters”, and the feel-good kit your kids are bound to demand when you get there: bubbles, glowsticks, battery-operated flashing wands and light-sabre style batons. It’s up to you how many home comforts you want to bring – but check the distance you’ll be walking from car park to camp pitch. To make the ground journey easier, you might be able to hire a wheelbarrow on site (along with a strapping youth to lug it all for you).
Paint Your Wagon For festival aficionados, the flamboyant festival wagon is a must (and a possible alternative to the wheelbarrow). A gloriously customized retro Radio Flyer or pull-along truck to transport slumbering babies and flagging toddlers, nestled alongside bottles of wine, is a regular favourite. You’ll see some brilliant ones bedecked with kitsch gingham or fur-lined interiors, festooned with flags, ribbons and fairy lights – just perfect to give children a psychedelic experience too. At some festivals you can hire these on site (book well in advance).
Whatever The Weather It’s at festivals that the saying There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing truly comes into its own. Endless downpours definitely put a dampener on the festival spirit, but at least if you’re dry and warm, it’s more bearable. Pack for every climactic variation – from torrential downpours (wellies that don’t leak, umbrellas, foldaway macs and waterproofs) to bursts of blazing sunshine (wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunshades, plenty of sunscreen). Also, take clothes that can be worn in layers: cardigans, jumpers, leggings, even woolly tights to wear under jeans, for when chilly evenings set in (even for boys, too). Finally, an essential piece of kit for kids is a pair of ear protectors to shield those delicate eardrums from thumping bass drums. Besides, they perfect the little rock ‘n’ roller look!
Dress Up Fancy dress is a big part of the fun for children (and quite a few grown-ups, too). Expect to see whacky families dressed as the Three Little Pigs or Elvis and his entourage; one of my favourites was a family of six bumble bees in all shapes and sizes from a tubby daddy to a babe-in-arms. Not only is it fun, it makes spotting one another amongst the crowd ever so much easier. Festivals often have dressing-up areas where children can borrow, hire – even buy – outfits and accessories too (but beware the additional ‘festive spirit’ price tag).
(Don’t) Get Lost Strategies The aim is to stay together but, in all the crowds and excitement, families can sometimes get separated, so a contingency plan is a must. From experience, I can tell you that children are never lost for long; in fact, I’m not sure my son Joe even realized he was lost before he was found backstage with the production team at Cornbury, trying out the mixing desk. At Latitude, it was our car keys that got lost (again, a cartwheeling Joe had them in his pocket on the way to our tent, so of course that was my fault for giving them to him). It was one of those very wet, muddy weekends and it really was akin to looking for a needle in a haystack – except a kind individual had found them and handed them in. Phew! The good news is that all the family-orientated festivals have a Lost Child policy, so when you first arrive at the festival, take time to point out to your child where the Lost Child tent is, as well as the T-shirts worn by festival officials whom your child can turn to should they go astray. For peace of mind, most festival have special wrist bands for children with a space to write your mobile telephone number. The only trouble is that, depending on your network coverage and the festival location, mobile reception can be patchy, add to that the difficulties of keeping your phone charged over the entire weekend, and this is not necessarily a fool-proof plan. You can invest in a solar charger and hope for sunshine, visit one of the recharger stations on site (available at most festivals these days), and be doubly safe by investing in a child’s safety bracelet. Also play an ‘I-Spy’ game identifying festival site landmarks when you first arrive to help your child get orientated with the festival site. Another good strategy is to make your family tent stand out by designing a family flag and flying it high.
Play Station There are often craft activity stations where children can make flower garlands and masks, and of course, face painting and fake tattoos. There is plenty of fun to be had at each and every one of these stations, so be sure to visit them early on in the weekend. An added bonus to an early visit to these stations is that they can become another good spot for kids to to head should they get lost – especially if someone on the team at these stations has gotten to know your child.
Kids Versus Adults Now for the ground rules to make sure everyone gets the most out of the festival experience. Assuming you don’t want to spend all your time in the children’s tent watching Mr Tumble or rubbing shoulders with The Gruffalo, you might want to strike up a few deals that allow for a couple of hours of kiddy time, followed by an hour of dancing to one of the bands you really want to see. A good ploy is to turn your child into a mini fan in the weeks leading up to the event, playing CDs of favourite festival bands, so that she’s familiar with some of the songs she’s likely to hear. Another trick is to let your child run wild and free in one of the adventure playgrounds for an hour or so before the band’s appearance, so that she’ll have a snooze while you boogie (don’t forget to pack a fold-away plastic-backed blanket to keep her warm while you’re dancing). If you travel with other families you can work out a duty rota to allow everyone a mix of grown-up and kiddy time. Another alternative is to book boutique babysitting, available at most festivals – again, book well in advance if you are wanting them for the headline band time slot.
The most fun at a family festival, however, has to be the time you spend with your child just sitting, daydreaming, and watching the colourful festival world go by, or dancing barefoot in the fields with flowers in your hair, perfecting your circus skills, indulging in some arty crafts, or catching a bit of light comedy. So relinquish the usual rules, forget the nightly routine and just enjoy. It will only be a few days you take out of the regular family pattern, but your child will undoubtedly remember it forever!
*** Got the taste for a family-friendly festival? Check out our 12 We Love… Summer Festivals round-up of a dozen dazzling festivals for 2015 ***