It seems that more and more festivals are billing themselves as “family friendly,” but as a parent, the very idea of a weekend outdoors, away from home and unplugged, with small (or medium) children can be very daunting. But the truth is, festivals with kids aren’t challenging at all, especially with a bit of pre-festival planning. Our Front Porch Fest staff is seasoned at bringing kids to festivals, and we rounded up some of their best advice.
Planning and packing for the festival
- Pack fewer toys than you think you need – kids will find all sorts of interesting items (and friends) at festivals, and the more toys you bring, the more potentially get lost. Limit the packing to a small sack of toys, and any special item your child needs to sleep. We often buy some inexpensive small toys to take with us, so no one is too sad if something gets misplaced.
- Pack more clothes than you think you need – kids get FILTHY at festivals. Mud, dust, food – everything seems to stick to them more than it sticks to grown-ups. Pack a few pairs of lightweight shoes unless you are comfortable with a barefoot baby.
- Unless the festival is on level, paved ground, skip the stroller. Even the most rugged stroller will become cumbersome after a few hours of trying to navigate festival paths and crowds. Bring a carrier for your baby or toddler, and consider a garden wagon – but that can get tiresome pretty quickly too!
- Create a “panic plan” with your children and any adult care providers that will be with you. Children sometimes lose sight of their grown-ups at festivals, and it’s good to have a plan. For our family, that usually means if we can’t find each other, we head straight to the children’s area.
- Scope out the children’s schedule and policies on the festival website before you go. Some festivals will allow your child to be unattended in the kids’ area, some won’t. Plan your days around activities your kids will enjoy, and be prepared to spend a good portion of the day in the kids’ area. Compare the kid’s schedule with shows you know you don’t want to miss, so your family can take in everything the festival has to offer.
- Essentials for festivals with kids: hearing protection (there’s plenty of affordable options on Amazon), a lightweight blanket for sitting at stages, a small umbrella to use as a sun shade, a reusable water bottle, sun screen, bug spray, wet wipes (baby washcloths and a spray bottle of soapy water are an eco-friendly alternative), a head lamp for each person, extra socks
- Bonus items you might want to pack: bubbles (and more bubbles), glowsticks (great for keeping track of little ones in the dark), temporary tattoos, battery operated twinkle lights for your tent, walkie talkies for keeping in touch at camp and on the grounds
Arriving at the festival and set up
- Arrive during daylight hours so your child can see the lay of the land.
- At the front gate, ask for a kid’s wristband if you aren’t given one. Write YOUR name and contact info on the band before putting it on your child. If you get separated, your child’s wrist (or ankle) will carry the information needed to help reunite you.
- Consider packing a “landmark” to set up at your camp site. This can be a tall flag, a special banner or light, or even a tapestry over the side of your tent.
- Keep plenty of heat-stable snacks on hand (granola, bars, sandwiches, healthy crackers, fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds) – kids expend a lot of energy at festivals and need to refuel more frequently than at home.
- Plan plenty of rest times. It’s easy for kids to get overwhelmed at festivals, and there is almost nothing worse than trying to escort an overstimulated child back to camp.
- Have a bedtime plan before evening arrives, but be flexible. It can be difficult for kids to get to sleep easily, but if they know what the festival bed routine will be, it can make things much easier for everyone.
- Use glow sticks or bracelets to help keep track of your children in the dark, and to make them more visible to other adults. I’ve seen parents stick glow sticks into ponytails, attach them to baby carriers, even line the edges of blankets with them to help kids stay safe.
- Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself. Kids love to have fun at festivals, and other festival goers love to see them having fun. Let them be kids, and watch them grow with a love of music and festival fun.