FESTIVAL season is upon us and, for parents, the big question is: do we bring the children? You’re just getting into the swing of the gig, listening to a band you’ve heard of (on a comeback tour and dating from an era when you had the time and money to be interested in discovering new music), when your sleeve is tugged and child #2 is telling you they need to go make number-twos.
Wiping a mixture of snot and face paint off a struggling, screaming toddler just isn’t rock and roll, is it? And we’ve all witnessed those hushed negotiations between couples about who has to return to the campsite to put the children to bed.
But larger festivals have become more child-friendly. Their programmes are no longer just a way to keep the children distracted while the parents socialise, but have broadened into creative activities that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Sandra Pedersen is a secondary school art teacher. She has been running the kids areas at Body&Soul and Electric Picnic for many years. Her husband Gavin is the site manager and this year, their daughter, Annie, 5, will get her first taste of Soul Kids.
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Altering your own expectations is the key to enjoying festivals with children. Prepare yourself for a slower-paced event and enjoy the family-friendly activities. “If you go to a festival with children, you have a different kind of festival,” she says. “You’re not going to be up at main stage at two in the morning. You’re going to be tucked away in family camping.”
Sandra and Gavin expect 600 to 1,000 children, from toddlers to pre-teens, in their Soul Kids area at Body&Soul in Ballinlough Castle Co Westmeath, later this month. Soul Kids is a big production, with 160 staff. In response to demand, this year they’ll open on the Friday for the first time; previously, they opened on the Saturday and Sunday.
The walled gardens of Stradbally Hall in Co Laois will play host to the Pedersens’ Soul Kids area at Electric Picnic, in September, which is a much larger affair; last year, it attracted 41,000 people. The larger crowd means more children, probably as many as 3,500.
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Security is tight at Soul Kids. “If you’re not with a child, you’re not getting in. We have a very strict door policy,” Sandra says. Soul Kids isn’t a child-minding facility; parental supervision is expected. The Pedersens have had problems with parents leaving their children in the area over the years: “You do get the odd one who will try and slip off. We take it very seriously and report the child as lost. The parents get an awful fright when they come back and the gardaí are waiting with their child.”
At this year’s Soul Kids, Sandra recommends the Earth Force Education workshop, a forest school that teaches children to forage plants and learn about birds, woodland crafts and camp-fire making. There will be mask-making, relaxing ‘Sound Yoga’ with Tibetan singing bowls, and dancing, including ‘Funky Feet Danceworkshops’ and ‘Baby Bugs Disco’ for the under-fives. At the Soul Kids Disco, resident DJ, Will Softly, will play tunes to get parents and children dancing on both Saturday and Sunday nights.
At Body&Soul, there are family friendly activities outside of the confines of Soul Kids. “There are hot tubs for families, and family-friendly areas, like Greencrafts live craft village, are great. During the day, the main stage is also really good,” Sandra says.
Edie (10) and Joya (13) Hatchett, from Timoleague, Co Cork, are festival veterans. Their parents, Toby and Jess Hatchett, are keen festival-goers and have run the My House area at Body&Soul for two years. This year, they are incorporating My House into a new area, called Body Holidays, a 1970s-style holiday camp complete with activities such as egg-and-spoon races.
Joya created a stir at Body&Soul two years ago when she did her first DJ set at the My House venue, at the age of 11; Body&Soul’s youngest DJ cranked out classic rock’n’roll hits under the name of Little J.
What do the Hatchett girls enjoy most about festivals? “The fact that you can do whatever you want, and wear whatever you want,” Joya says. “It’s fun if there’s good bands playing, and if there’s a load of fun people there that you know,” Edie says.
Toby recommends enlisting the services of a responsible young adult to mind older children, so that they feel like they have a little bit more freedom. “We usually have an au pair or an older teenage friend of the family with us. Then, they can all hang out in a big gang. It is a festival, after all; the kids get to have a play, as well.”
Relaxing the rules and getting into the spirit of things is important for children as well as adults, Toby says: “Adults go to festivals and behave like kids; it’s an excuse to be child-like and play, and you’re just letting the kids in to our world. But there’s also a point at which you go, ‘Ok guys, you need to go to bed now, because it’s entering a more adult time’.”
Edie and Joya agree. “There have been times when we’ve been told to go to bed and there’s a band on we want to see, but we normally do, because it’s not going to be much fun with all the crazy adults around,” Edie says.
Crazy adults acting like kids, and kids acting like, well, kids... sounds like fun all round.
TOP TIPS FOR FESTIVALS
- Baby wipes! Even if your kids are past the toilet accident stage, they are useful for all kinds of mop-ups.
- Cereal bars, juice cartons and a refillable water bottle save money and stop you queuing at stalls every time hunger pangs loom.
- Rugs for sitting on and to wrap around kids when the evening chill sets in
- Clothes for all occasions: factor in changeable weather but also bring dress-up gear; with so many adults around dressed up for the occasion, kids will want to get into the spirit of things too.
- Ear protection: the noise levels can be uncomfortable for children. For the under 10s, ear plugs are damaging so invest in a pair of padded ear protectors.
- Transport for smallies: a buggy, wheelbarrow or trolley will stop fatigue from setting in at festivals on larger sites.
- Have a talk and make sure your children know a few ground rules. If they get lost, they should only accept help from stewards. Teach children to stay put and call for a parent until a steward arrives. Make sure they have your phone number on them. In your camping area, point out some landmarks close to your tent.
Joya and Edie’s top tips for older kids:
- Do and see as much as you possibly can
- Wear wellies
- Dress up! It’s the only real chance you get apart from Halloween, so plan your costumes.
- Haggle with the traders; they’ll often give kids a discount.