Tips for Bringing Kids to Festivals
Taking kids to festivals can be a wonderful multi-sensory adventure, but let's not kid ourselves: It's not exactly relaxing. But you can minimize the stress and maximize the memories by taking some tips from those who have been there.
1. Know when to go.
Keep an eye on the weather for festival days and, if possible, plan to go when the temperature is the most pleasant and rain the least likely. If you're visiting with kids who have an afternoon nap, go in the morning. Seriously. Unless you know for sure they'll nap in the stroller. If you're looking to avoid crowds, though, the last three hours of a weekend festival are usually the quietest. That also gives you the opportunity to interact with the people behind the table when they're more relaxed... believe us, they'll appreciate having someone nice to talk with as things wind down rather than stare blankly into space hoping someone will talk with them so they won't be tempted to shut down early.
2. Plan for the weather.
Nothing kills the fun like heat exhaustion or a sunburn, so don't forget the hat and sunscreen. A sudden rain shower can dampen the spirits but it can be fun to be under the umbrella. Kids will not want to carry their own coats, but they'll be happy you brought that extra sweater for them if it's chillier than anticipated.
3. Bring supplies for kids who need to take a break.
There may not be ample seating (or it may all be taken), so bringing along something to sit on is essential; a couple of towels usually do the trick. Drinks and snacks you bring from home (if allowed) will be more healthful and will cost less than what you can purchase, but also designating time for treats (at the end! as a reward for good behavior!) can be a useful incentive.
4. Plan your visit around performances and scheduled events.
The festival website may include times for specific performances or presentations, and if there's something your family would like to see, it's likely to be popular with other festival goers, too. You can plan a rest or snack break near the performance and claim your spot early at the same time.
5. Prepare your kids for what they'll see and do.
A little preparation goes a long way. Visit the festival website in advance to learn the details to make your trip easier: Where is the parking? Is there a cost? How far from the festival IS the parking? Is there an entrance fee? Are pets welcome? Is there a section of the festival reserved for adults? You can often print a map right from the website, so you can plan in advance what tables you'll be visiting. Spend the drive to the festival reminding your child(ren) of all the rules because it will be difficult to focus once you arrive and jump right into the thick of the experience.
6. Prepare your kids with a plan if they get separated from you.
There's no need to scare kids, but when you arrive, you can point out the folks behind the tables or staff wearing festival t-shirts so that they know where to find nice people who are there to help if they need it. If your kids are too little to know your phone number by heart, make sure that they have it so that a helper can call if you get separated.
7. Be bathroom-savvy.
Guaranteed, nature will call while you're enjoying your day out and about. Knowing in advance from the festival's website what form those bathrooms take (port-a-potties? a park washroom? a school lavatory? are there changing tables?) will let you know whether to pack extra wipes or time your trip around potential bathroom needs.
8. The food lines will likely be long.
Keeping this in mind will help you time food purchases wisely, and possibly have snacks on hand for the most impatient. Another tip is to have games you can play on the go when queueing: Our family's favorite always was a form of "bocce" with small rocks: The parent tosses the main stone gently, and then everyone tosses theirs as close as possible. The closest rock wins that round.
9. Wagons (if allowed) can be lifesavers.
If your car has room for a wagon, this is the place to use it! A wagon frees up everyone's hands for what you bring and what you collect, and it gives small children a place to sit when they're tired, saving both your arms and your ears (from the whining).
10. Use the opportunity to connect your kids with their community.
The people behind the tables are there to talk. Some of them want to sell you something, sure, but regardless, they're all looking to have nice conversations with nice families like yours. There is something to be learned at every table, and this is one of your best opportunities to show your kids how people connect with each other, and help them practice looking people in the eye, smiling, and asking questions. An easy and delightful (trust us) thing to say is, "Tell me what this booth is all about!" Dedicate yourself to learning at least one new thing about what's available in your community and who is making it happen, and talk about it with your kids on the way home.
11. Model good citizenship.
Obviously festivals with so many people offer practice in basic skills like taking turns that young children need to learn. But there are also plenty of opportunities for kids to watch how you interact with others, and remembering that can help you be patient and conscientious. If picnic tables are in high demand, don't linger after you've finished your food. Point out that letting the shorter child in front will allow more kids see. Make space in your patch of shade for the elderly couple. Hold the doors for people.
12. Bring your own bags.
As you travel from table to table connecting with those behind it, they'll often have some printed information or freebie swag they'll invite you to take. You'll get tired of holding that stuff pretty quickly, so bring your own bag or backpack. It's even better if it's opaque and has sections; that way, you can secret some of the stuff that your kids collect that you may not want them having in the car or at home later (kazoos, anyone?); with festival swag, it's often (blessedly) out of sight, out of mind. That being said...
13. Don't be greedy.
If you're going to the festival to collect free swag at the tables, that's fine, we get it (and we supply it, too!). But remember, the lovely people behind the table paid for the swag, so if you don't want it, there's no need to take it. And if you do want it, please show your kids how to take just one, so there is enough for everyone. Pro tip: If you're really in it for the free stuff, then the last hour of the festival is a time when the vendors often want to unload before going home and will positively encourage you to take more.
Community festivals are usually free, so taking your kids to them is one of the best (and least expensive!) ways to help your kids how the people behind the scenes make great things happen out and about. Make the most of it!
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