Festivals with kids: the good, the bad, the useful

We asked three seasoned festival goers – founder of BFLF family raves Hannah Saunders, music journalist Jude Rogers and festival headwear designer Emma Read – how to do festivals with kids in tow. Their tips are top notch…

You may have spent your teens and 20s raving it up at Glastonbury, Reading, Bestival… and the rest. But then you hit the 30s, start having babies and wonder if you should A) Call it a day and watch it on telly instead. B) Continue the party – but take the kids with you or C) Go to festivals but leave the kids at home.

If you’re considering option B and would like some dos, don’ts and handy how-to-manage festivals with kids – we’re here to help.

Festivals with kids #1

Hannah Saunders – founder of BFLF Events (family raves) and mum to Winter, six, and Atticus, four

festivals with kids - hannah saunders - theearlyhour.com

What was the first festival you took the kids to?
Winter went to the All Tomorrow’s Parties weekend when two-months-old but as that’s in chalets it feels like cheating. She went to Glastonbury at four-months-old. Atticus was two-weeks-old for the one-day Apple Cart Festival but his first big one was Latitude when he was nearly two.

How did it go?
Festivals with tiny babies is brilliant. They are completely portable, easy to feed (if breastfeeding) and you’re so sleep deprived anyway that the odd hours at festivals make no difference at all. All the colours, sounds and people make for a fantastic multi-sensory environment and you get to have a dance and receive all the admiring comments from strangers about your gorgeous babe. It gets harder as they get older but also more enjoyable for you both.

Three things you prepared/took with you that made life easier?
Transport: a pneumatic tyre buggy made the mud at Glastonbury much easier. Necessity: a pop-up travel cot that’s small and light and doubled as a sun shade during the day. Then a box of red wine decanted into water bottles and you’re good to go for the day.

Three things you wished you’d taken?
For the ones we took them to as babies we really couldn’t have been better prepared. I had spend the previous Glastonbury (when I was pregnant) going round and asking people with babies how they managed it – so I had been planning for a year. Once they were older, a spare pair of wellies. My son lost one and the wellie shop sold the only children’s pair they had to a man with a crutch and it took us a day to find some at the NCT tent in the children’s field – who were giving them away free!

What clothes did you dress them in?
I took fancy dress and practical, which means everything from sundress to all-in-one wet weather gear. Always remember long socks for welly/shorts combinations. Fluffy onesies important for evening/nightwear. We normally change them into sleep stuff in the evening before taking them out for the later bands – then they can fall asleep in the trolley and we can wheel them back and decant them into bed. I also take a lot of glitter hair spray as they like that.

Have you been to another one since?
We’ve been to: Glastonbury three times, Latitude, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camp Bestival twice, Apple Cart Festival.

Does it get easier each time?
In some ways it gets easier but in some ways harder. You get used to not being a self-centred hedonist (such is the parenting lot) but you need to structure their entertainment a bit more as they get older and lugging them about in a trolley gets more difficult the heavier they get. This year they will be walking everywhere during the day and the trolley will only be for the evening so I’m hoping that will make it easier. They love the food at festivals, which is much easier as they get older and even the loos are fine after a bit of practice!

What stops people from taking their kids to festivals?
Things that may put people off are: camping, loos, food, too busy, too loud, can’t clean etc etc. With the exception of loos my kids actually love the crowd, noise, dirt and camping. Last year my partner David was cleaning up the loos before taking our daughter in each time but once he didn’t and she bolted out of the door shouting “Noooooo!!!!” making the whole queue laugh and someone say “We all feel like that.” If you have a young baby I strongly recommend going to a festival – it’s really, really easy.

Why is it a great idea to take the kids along?
My children absolutely love festivals and speak about Glastonbury as if it’s a mythical place that happens by magic once a year (I know a lot of adults feel like that too). When they’re there, they dance, sing, make things and it’s like I can actually see their horizons expanding. It’s lovely to see but I also get to see the bands I love and dance about with my family.

Last year my daughter went mental dancing on her dad’s shoulders to Four Tet in a dance tent and we all got to see Underworld (a long term favourite) at Camp Bestival. It’s a terrific bonding experience and was very much what inspired me to set up Big Fish Little Fish family raves to capture some of the festival vibe all year round.

Any other comments?
BFLF will actually be performing at Glastonbury and Camp Bestival this year. I’ve been going to Glastonbury for 20 years but this is the first time “performing” – so I’m beyond excited! At both festivals, we’re running Fri/Sat/Sun Live DJs (including some VERY special guests) playing classic BFLF sets with bubbles, parachute dance PLUS craft tables, free transfer tattoos etc. BFLF will also be appearing at Manchester Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Beautiful Days – and more to be announced!

Festivals with kids #2

Jude Rogers – journalist, author of Pop! (a brilliant kids’ book about the history of pop music – perfect for pre-festival reading), DJ and mum to Evan

Evan - festivals with kids - theearlyhour.com

How old was Evan when he first attended a festival, and which one was it?
He was 16 months and it was Green Man Festival in Wales, August 2015.

How did it go?
Better than we thought! We’d spent the month before panicking and fretting, but it ended up being really lovely.

Three things you prepared/took with you that made life easier?
Puddle suit. This is an absolute essential. Baby carrier that stands up (yes, he might have had a snooze in that while mum and dad had a quick, much-needed, pint in the bar). Baby headphones. Yes, they’ll try and take them off but the music gets loud.

Three things you wished you’d taken?
A trailer would be handy to bring everything to the site in the first place. A baby chair like the adult camping chairs – but we borrowed one in the end. More gin.

What clothes did you dress him in?
Practical. Layers and wellies. August in Wales is always a mystery – we had boiling sunshine and apocalyptic rain (not at the same time) so we went sensible. He looked like Breaking Bad’s Walter White in his neon yellow Mothercare puddle suit though! (Tip: bright colours are a good idea once they start running off.)

Have you been to another one since?
No, but going to Sea Change in the summer…although staying in a friend’s house like a bunch of cheats!

Does it get easier each time?
I hope so.

What stops people from taking their kids to festivals?
Wanting to have some time for themselves. A festival with a toddler is quite different to a festival without one – but if you’re with other parents and little kids it helps a lot.

Why is it a great idea to take the kids along?
Because it’s so lovely seeing them running about in the haybales/ in front of bands/ with their pals having a lovely time. Once they get bigger there’s so much stuff for them to do, too.

Festivals with kids #3

Emma Read makes flower fascinators and sells them at festivals

Festivals with kids - Emma Read - theearlyhour.com

How old are your kids?
Our kids are 13 and five.

What was the first festival you took them to?
We took our boy Herbie to his first proper weekend festival when he was about seven, and baby Willow was in my tummy. I do recycled Hapitat flower fascinator workshops so we started with smaller ones: Bearded Theory and Shambala festival, then the following year we got into Glastonbury, and did Shambala again and we now do both every year. I do workshops in the Greencrafts field at Glasto so it’s really chilled out and quiet.

How was it?
The first time at Shambala while six months pregnant was interesting, while we were setting up the rain was just the worst ever, it was my first festival doing workshops and I couldn’t figure out how on earth we were going to manage to set up the workshop marquee and decorate it in the pouring rain and thick mud. I remember taking a little walk on my own away from everyone and sobbing my heart out. But the festival actually got postponed for an extra day due to the bad weather, so we had more time to get organised and the weather did brighten up.

But unfortunately that first year we were put right next to one of the late night venues, and the whole caravan rattled most the night from the base. My son slept through it (he wore his ear defenders in bed) but because I was pregnant and didn’t have the advantage of a relaxing few drinks in the evening (unlike my husband) I stayed awake most nights, even with ear plugs.

But to be honest, the excitement of the festival the next morning kept me going. And I discovered it wasn’t that bad not being able to drink, because I found a tea tent which had the most amazing homemade cakes. I decided that whatever my husband was spending on booze, I could spend on cakes and tea, ha haa!!

My boy spent the entire festival chalk carving, making kinetic wind machines and learning how to use spray paints in a graffiti workshop. We hardly saw him. It felt very safe around our craft area, and the rest of the festival, and during the night we explored the enchanted forest with its climbing ropes and random installations, which he just loved. I was shattered after that first year, but it was great fun.

Willow’s first festival was Glastonbury the following year and she was about six months. I had to buy jars of baby food for her, because it just wasn’t practical cooking fresh that first year, which was a new thing for us, but she didn’t seem to mind. These days I make meals fresh at home and freeze (see below).

Things you prepared/took with you that made life easier?
I discovered these nifty reusable plastic bottles with a teat, they have a disposable liner inside that you add the milk to, so you only have to wash the teat (I just boiled it in the saucepan)

A good off-road pushchair with big wheels to get through the mud, full of fluffy blankets (optional solar powered fairy lights) or a light weight trolley – we found a collapsible one from Costco.

Baby wipes (great for a freshen up or, as we call it: festival wash) and a washing up bowl to give the littlins a little wash, usually just the important bits (face, feet and bums).

We usually rock up the see bands with our extendable sofa chairs, basically collapsable camping chairs that seat four (again from Costco).

Not a nice topic, but an essential one, we use a bucket loo in our caravan which is easy to empty into any loo when full, but it’s for wees only! You can get a special loo tent, and we also used to take a folding potty which has disposable bags for when we’re out and about.

Food essentials
– Part bake bread (we have an oven in the caravan)
– Pasta and jars of sauces
– Long life milk
– Long life frankfurters
– Falafel mix
– Good quality instant noodles from Chinese supermarket (look for the ones without MSG)
– We also bake fresh pizzas on our gas BBQ (we use a pizza stone) which go down really well
– We use a giant cool box filled with about 30 bags of ice, it keeps milk, cheese and beer cold all week. We also freeze homemade food before coming away ie. Thai green curry, spaghetti sauce, chillis. We usually stick to veggi food because it keeps better. We keep the frozen food in the ice box with the ice and it stays frozen for about three days, and we eat it with rice, couscous or pasta.
– Strong coffee made in an espresso pot on the stove is also an essential. One year we took our soda stream and made our own fake champagne with boxed white wine, because you can’t take glass bottles in.

Have you been to another one since, and does it get easier each time?
We now do Shambala and Glastonbury every year with my workshops and yes, it gets easier every time. I usually keep a set of spare things like cutlery pans utensils etc in a box in the shed ready for the following year, and I also have a festival box inside the house that I fill throughout the year with fun things I find in charity shops and markets like glow sticks, fancy dress, silly glasses, hats etc. The kids love it and it saves a lot of money, as we then don’t need to buy expensive things on the stalls at festivals.

It’s definitely a different experience taking the kids. In the past we would stay up all night in the dance tents, blagging our way into the backstage areas, then sleeping all day in a hot sweaty tent. These days we’re much more civilised. When I’m not doing my workshops we dress up, try and see as much as possible in the day time, and it’s more about trying to get to the kids’ area before we miss Mr Tumble, and blagging it on to the helter skelter for free. And our 13-year-old son is the one who blags it in back stage. Last year he hand-delivered one of my flower headpieces to Paloma Faith back stage, and chatted to Burt Bacharach (although he had no idea who he was).

What clothes do you dress the kids in?
All-in-one waterproofs, bright fun wellies, warm fleeces, topped off with a tutu, anything glittery, sequins and animal print. Furry all-in-one costumes are great too – we have a tiger and a cat, which are good for keeping warm and are fun to wear. We always take facepaints and our kids usually end up doing our makeup, which they love. Also, pots of loose face glitter. I apply a little natural lip balm first so it sticks, but don’t use it too close to little eyes.

We did try and attach a harness and long retractable lead to our daughter once at Glastonbury when she was small, to stop her running off, but we got so many funny looks and comments we quickly took it off. She soon learnt that it wasn’t that much fun losing us in the crowds.

Write your mobile number on their arm with a permanent marker in case they get lost. We have lost them twice, but they were found within an hour. The first time was when Herbie was about 10, we found him with a friend in a sauna in the back of a travellers’ truck wearing only his pants, he was fine and just fancied a sauna.

We also lost our daughter once while she was playing hide and seek around the tents with her friends, and she lost her bearings (I think we’ve all done that at festivals. She was missing for about 45 mins, and we were going spare, but found her with a friendly steward… some other kids had seen she was lost and found help. People seem look out for each other at festivals – adults and kids too. We’ve never had a bad experience at a festival in the six years we’ve been going with the kids.

What stops people from taking their kids to festivals?
I think people think it’s going to be a nightmare bringing kids, but they absolutely love it, there’s so much to keep them amused and the shows and circus performances are fantastic for adults too. Our kids absolutely loved dancing to The Chemicals Brothers and Hot Chip at Glastonbury.

You find that you see a lot more when you have kids because you’re not just seeing bands, you’re finding different activities that you probably wouldn’t normally try and find – for instance, I can’t remember doing a workshop activity, or sitting through a whole acrobatic act, circus or fire show before I had kids, I just wanted to find the loudest sound system but we absolutely love it now.

We always have the trolley to pull them around when they’re flagging late at night. And when they’re tucked up in bed we usually sit round the camp fire outside our caravan with a bottle of something and get to know our neighbours or random passers by.

(And I’ve always got my trusty ear plugs on hand when I’m ready to hit the sack).

For your festival headpieces, visit Emma Read’s Etsy Shop.

Have you done festivals with the kids? We’d love to hear your tips so please don’t forget to leave them in the comment section below…

Picture credit: Cuddle Dry