Photo Credit: Charlie Raven
Taking Kids to Music Festivals
My wife and I took our first family festival trip in 2014 and since then we’ve taken our kids to further summer festivals, gradually allowing becoming more adventurous as they’ve got older. In this article I want to share a few of the lessons learned over the years both in terms of how to get the most of festival life and specifically in relation to taking kids to music festivals.
I’m something of a music festival enthusiast and can think of few better ways to spend a summers day than in a field, watching a band with a beer in my hand.
I didn’t go to my first festival until 2003, an at the age of 27 went to my first Glastonbury – I’ve been hooked on music festivals ever since.
The first time I thought about taking my kids to Festivals
I can’t recall why I was first drawn to the idea. Back then my eldest daughter was just 3-years-old so she remained at home with her mum that summer. The thought of a few days of rock music in a field, away from the demands of parenting a toddler was no doubt part of the appeal back then! I developed a taste for festival life that summer. I’d always been a music fan and have always loved camping too so that helped.
I relish the opportunity to live freely for a few summer days, to hopefully enjoy some sunny weather, to lower standards of personal hygiene and to eat, drink and be merry in the great outdoors. Even festivals that have been turned into mud-baths by torrential rain have been enjoyable in their way. Sharing that experience with my kids was always on my mind, but it always seemed a daunting prospect when they were very young. I regret not getting them involved sooner.
I’ve been to many different festivals over the years, but Glastonbury remains the favourite. I’ve attended about a dozen since that first outing in 2003, and this year will be the first time I’m taking my kids with me, for the 50th Anniversary Glastonbury Festival.
First time taking your kids to festivals
Some really happy memories that are indelibly linked with festival life. I’ve met and made new friends at festivals. My mind has opened to new ideas, cultures and ways of life that I wouldn’t have encountered in normal daily existence.
I’ve been blessed to enjoy performances by some of my musical heroes (James Brown, Metallica, Public Enemy, The Chemical Brothers and The White Stripes to name just a few). Also, I’ve delighted in performances by acts that I’d never have gone to see had they not been on the line-ups, including Adele, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Stormzy and BB King.
Choose your Festival Wisely
Some festivals are much more child-friendly than others. Some (like Glastonbury) have dedicated kid’s areas with entertainment that’s targeted towards them; adults without kids aren’t even allowed to enter.
Many also have family camping or quiet camping areas, often a little further from the central arena where the late-night noise and the hardcore partying masses gather.
Other festivals (such as Boomtown Fair, Reading and Leeds and Creamfields) are notoriously and decidedly not suitable for younger kids.
If you want to take your kids to festivals, it’s better to choose one where the entertainments and facilities are better suited to their needs. It gives you all a far better chance of enjoying the experience rather than suffering through it.
Photo Credit: Anna Barclay
Make use of family camping facilities and choose your spot accordingly
If family facilities are available, I strongly suggest using them. Chances are you’ll have access to toilets that are slightly cleaner, possibly showers too and a quieter environment for sleeping.
Camping near other families, prospectively with kids of a similar age to yours will make it easier to feel relaxed if yours are awake early. Your kids might make friends with neighbouring children too.
When you pitch your tent, it’s better to be some way up a slope than at the bottom of one (in case of rain so you don’t end up in a puddle). Don’t be tempted to pitch too near the toilets unless you want to be continually disturbed by the banging doors all night. It’s also good to be pitched a few metres off paths through campsites to avoid your tent being trampled by passers-by.
Take basic precautions for your kids’ safety
In my experience festivals are extremely safe places for adults and kids alike. Crime statistics tend to be lower than you’d expect based on the number of people there. This may also be down to most people there being focused on having a good time – the mood is usually one of celebration and community spirit.
Nonetheless, it pays to take a few basic precautions to ensure that if your kids get separated from you, they can find quickly find their way back.
- Write your mobile number in permanent marker on their wrist – it’ll wash off after a few days, but it makes sure they have the means of getting an adult to call you if they get separated
- Drill them in what to do if they’re lost, making sure they recognise police, stewards and security staff as the first point of contact
- Agree a default meeting point for the whole weekend by picking an obvious and prominent place that everyone can recognise (such as a landmark point such as a notable food stall in the arena)
- Some Festivals will also provide a secure wristband for kids that you can use to note your mobile number on as well.
When walking in large crowds, it’s worth the hassle of carrying your kids or hoisting them onto your shoulders to avoid the crush. Alternatively, why not simply wait it out and take things at a more leisurely pace rather than feeling you have to rush around as you might if you didn’t have kids with you?
Photo Credit: Charles Gervais
Consider allowing your kids to bring a friend with them
You may be already be hesitant about taking kids to festivals and wondering why I’m suggesting you take more than just your own… hear me out!
Consider seeing if your kids might want to bring a friend with them (subject to their parents’ agreement). It’s a means of giving your kids a companion for the festival and it will probably help to free up some time for you to enjoy yourself as well depending on the age of your kids!
The optimum arrangement we’ve found is to go in a group with another family with similar aged kids – that way you can take a turn looking after all the kids so they can go off for a couple of hours of adult time, and they can return the favour.
If you can find another family that’s interested, make a group adventure out of the experience!
Grant your kids some freedom
Festivals are a really good place to allow kids a bit of freedom to explore. They’re generally in a securely contained space, fully fenced-in and in my experience, really well organised and policed (thanks to the licencing requirements).
Depending on the age of your kids it can be a good place to give them a little more freedom and responsibility for themselves. Some things we’ve experimented with have included:
- Giving younger kids the money to go to a food stall to buy their own meal or snack (while watching over them from a distance) – it gives them a bit of responsibility and kindly stall owners will often make a fuss of them too!
- Allowing older kids to go and explore an area of the festival (under supervision of an older sibling) for a few minutes or an hour or so, under strict instruction to stick together and to be back within a specified time.
- Our teenage daughter and her friend can go and watch a different band on a separate stage and then meet us back at the tent at a prearranged time.
- Our 17-year-old daughter and her friend can camp in a separate tent, close to us but not next to us so as to grant them a little more freedom and responsibility.
Festivals are a great place for kids to learn to take a bit of responsibility for themselves in an environment where they’ll generally be safe. They can learn that not all strangers are dangerous. They may also get to experience music, culture and performing arts that they wouldn’t encounter in normal daily life. Finally, it gets them away from WIFI and renders their phones largely useless for a few days!
Give them a budget and when it’s gone, it’s gone
Just like in the real world, festivals provide unlimited opportunities for spending money. Merchandise, snacks, drinks, sweets, souvenirs and random festival ‘tat’ (novelty sunglasses, hats and so-on) can all appeal to kids as they trek around the site.
Rather than having to constantly say ‘no’ to every request or having to spend endlessly on top of the cost of being there in the first place, we’ve always set our kids a budget of spending money for festivals as well as encouraging them to save up from their pocket money or allowance in the run up to it.
They get given the money on day one with the clear instruction that when it’s spent, that’s it. If they decide to spend it all on the fairground in the first morning, it’s up to them. If they want to buy a souvenir hoodie that uses all their money – that’s their choice!
It’s another way of giving them some freedom and responsibility for themselves while saving you from further expense (provided you stick with it!)
Consider taking food, snacks and treats and keeping them with you throughout
Many festivals try and restrict people from bringing their own food and drink into the arena if one exists – they’d rather you buy from the on-site vendors. Such rules are seldom enforced rigorously or consistently in my experience. Even if they are, I invariably carry around a small rucksack containing a selection of snacks, sweets and treats that can be dispensed to the kids throughout the day.
It doesn’t take smuggler-like cunning to carry these wrapped up in a raincoat (which of course you’ll want to carry for each of your family members) and to have all these stowed deep within your rucksack.
Keep these treats on hand at all times to occupy your kids when they inevitably get bored while you’re trying to watch a band you’ve been looking forward to.
Photo Credit: Andrew Allcock
Carry the essentials
I guess it’s a dad thing, but I usually seem to end up laden-down like a pack-mule with supplies and equipment that any of the family might need.
In addition to the aforementioned rain-wear, snack foods and a few drinks (perhaps even a couple of beers for me!), I’ll make sure I have:
- A waterproof folding picnic blanket so we have somewhere to sit down
- Some basic first-aid equipment (plasters, painkillers, paracetamol suspension and so-on)
- A torch (for finding our way back to the tent late at night)
- Hand sanitiser (you don’t want an upset stomach at a festival)
- Numerous pocket packs of tissues (better than carrying a single toilet-roll)
- Sun cream (optimistically carried in case of a heatwave)
- Sun-hats (to double as rain hats in case of downpours)
Ideally each kid would carry their own stuff, but it depends on their age. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it!
Let the kids enjoy themselves and allow yourself to as well
Try not to stress if your kids get muddy or miss their usual meal or nap times. Allow them to eat junk food, have chips for breakfast and go to bed late. The odd ice cream or donut won’t ruin them and might give them a bit of energy to make it through the day – festivals can be tiring depending on how much walking you do.
If they end up not brushing their teeth before bed for a night or two, it’s not going to cause their teeth to rot out. Nor will they perish if they don’t shower for the duration of the weekend.
By relaxing standards, you stand a greater chance of your kids enjoying it, and in return of enjoying it yourself. You’ll get more out of the experience if you’re not constantly stressing about things or having to say no to every request.
As Alec Grant shares here on Music-Football-Fatherhood, spoiling our kids now and then is one of the privileges of being a parent. It doesn’t have to mean lavishing them with gifts but can take many forms – just spending time with them and doing something a little out of the ordinary can be enough to make memorable experiences for them. There’s plenty of opportunity for such memories to be made at summer festivals.
Festival life tends to find its own equilibrium when everyone adapts to the freedom. Once you’re home, normal routines can be adopted once again.
Forewarned is forearmed
Prepare the kids for the fact that the festival might be muddy, rainy, cold, uncomfortable and there might be noisy people around. They will undoubtedly see someone who has had too much to drink and is slumped in a heap. The music might be loud, the crowds overwhelming and the pace of life a little much for them at first.
If you prepare your kids for what it’s going to be like, they’re more likely to enjoy it and adapt to it. Agree that you’ll all tough it out no matter what, come rain or shine. If they hate it (or if you do!) then you’ll at least have made sure you gave it your all.
There’s a great sense of achievement when you’ve made it to the end of a festival and the same is true whether it was a scorcher or a washout – I’ve experienced both and each has its challenges but is fun nonetheless!
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
I’m a seasoned festival goer but I’m only just taking my kids to their first Glastonbury at ages 20 and 16. Our younger two (14 and 11) will join us for Glastonbury in future years if they wish to go when they’re older.
Some festivals represent a major investment, not just financially to get tickets, but of time, effort, emotion and commitment. It’s not just a couple of gigs and a few burgers in a field – it’s more like an outward-bound weekend where you’re living in the elements and completely out of your comfort zone.
There are plenty of good day festivals, and more family-oriented festivals that will cater for younger kids if you’re not ready for a weekender.
I believe strongly that we as parents have to be able to enjoy an event ourselves for our kids to enjoy it too. Make sure you’re not taking on something that’s going to be miserable for you all!
Festival life can be great fun. Hopefully by employing a few of my tips if you decide to go to one this summer, your enjoyment will be enhanced!
Toby Hazlewood is a writer, parent, husband, project manager and in his spare time, cycling enthusiast. He is passionate about helping others to overcome the challenges he’s overcome, by sharing the things he’s learned along the way. He specializes in topics including parenting and life after divorce. You can find out more about his latest projects or just say hello at tobyhazlewood.com.