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How to Enjoy Festivals With Babies, Toddlers & Kids

Heading to a festival with your little ones can be a wonderful way to enjoy the summer as a family. The question isn't should you or shouldn't you? (you should) it's just a case of making it great.
You've invested in the tickets and so it is important that the event is fun and enjoyable for everyone. Thats why we've picked the brains of festival mama veterans Emma Leaney and Lou Harris (co-founder of festivalkidz) to bring you these tips for happy festivals all summer long!
The secret to a great festival experience is.........

A) Forward Planning – There is no getting around the fact that when kids are involved, a LOT more planning is needed. Spontaneity isn't an option here folks!  
B) Attitude -  It seems obvious, but you really will have more fun if you don't base ANY of your expectations on festivals you went to before the mini mes arrived. You probably won't see as many bands and those days of traipsing from act to act are over. On the flip side,  being forced to slow down and take in aspects that you may have missed before can open your eyes to a new way of enjoying festivals and maybe even prove to be more fun!
So in a nutshell be militant about planning before you go, then switch into zen-like mode once you arrive! 
Do what works for you and your kid(s) and set your own pace. Relax, and so what if they eat ice cream for breakfast lunch and dinner for a few days. You'll get back to normal when you get back home.

1. Go with Friends.... (that would be friends with kids)

This will vastly increase your chances of having some grown up time (even just a bit), since a few kids will entertain one another!  They don't necessarily even have to be the same age, older kids will enjoy helping look out for little ones and somehow they'll all end up merging into a tribe and having fun together. 

Apart from that, there are all sorts of practical benefits - More eyes are always good when it comes to keeping tabs on excited kids and you'll have a built in wipe, nappy and sun-cream sharing community! 

2. Get the Timing Right 

If you are camping, then it is worth getting there early and letting little ones acclimatise and familiarise before the crowds appear. Also, getting a good pitch in the right sort of spot makes a big difference - you don't want to be next to the 'all night party crew' any more than they want to be next to the 'early morning kiddy crew'... so camp in a family area or near to friends and everyone will have a good time. 

3. The Loos!

If your little ones are at that stage, then there is no avoiding this one - you need solutions! 
Some of the larger festivals with dedicated kid's areas will be better equipped - with special children's toilets that are cleaner and more welcoming for little ones. However on the whole it does pay to go prepared to give any dodgy portaloos a swerve by taking a folding travel potty along. A good DIY hack is to line said potty with cheap sanitary pads (big ones) to avoid having to deal with liquid contents afterwards - simply tip the contents into a nappy or compost bag then pop it in the next bin you see. Alternatively, there are some truly genius 'portable toilet' solutions available nowadays, head to amazon and prepare to be amazed. 

4. Take a Good Carrier

Little ones will find being carried comforting in noisy and / or crowded environments – especially if they are feeling a little tired. 
A definite must for babies and little toddlers, but consider it as well for older toddlers or preschoolers who still tend to ask to be picked up if tired or the day is a long one. Your back will thank you. You can buy toddler specific carriers such as those by tula or patapum. 
There are lots of carriers on the market and the 'best' one to choose depends on the age of your child, although do choose an ergonomic one for the sake of your back. Generally you want to take one that you and your partner can wear comfortably, has sufficient ventilation and consider how you will
keep it dry (we've not found anything that tops a disposable poncho). 
Very little ones (and their parents) will love the extra security that comes from being carried and it it will boost both their view and your chance for a dance!

5. What to Wear 

Rule of thumb is to plan for kids to go through 2 changes per day and 1 for night. 
Consider fabrics that are comfortable, breathable, dry quickly and stand up to a bit of dirt. Merino wool clothing is an excellent option - thanks to its ability to regulate body temperature and humidity, so little ones will stay comfy across a wider range of weather conditions. Merino is also very quick drying, warm when wet, antibacterial and non stinky through days of continuous wear - a natural UPF of between 30-50 is an added bonus! For very hot days choose very light cotton (heavier cottons are slow to dry and chill the wearer if wet) or lightweight merino during the day and then switch to a thicker layer on cooler days or in the evenings. Layering is always the best (and most flexible) approach to keeping little ones at the right temperature.

6. Take an Off-Road Buggy.

The off-road bit is key here (i.e. leave the McLaren at home). If you don't own one already then beg, borrow or buy. If you do borrow, be sure to warn the lender that mud and a general trashing may be involved. Your best bet may be to check out ebay or local buy-and-sell facebook groups and snap up a cheap one there.  With one of these in place you can enjoy a bit of music while little ones nap or sleep. Invest in a sun shade like these and you are as well set up as is possible to be.

7. Four Seasons in One Day

This is Britain after all, so you need to plan for all possibilities :) 
Pack essentials such as sun-hats with ties, sun-cream (plus the kind that comes in a solid stick for easy top ups on little noses) sunglasses (with attachments to keep them on). For babies a pop up sun-shelter is a good idea as is a sunshade for the buggy - these will block the sun but they do let in heat, so a reflective foil blanket to put over the top is handy to have for very hot days. Do remember to check on little ones very regularly in hot weather.
Pack decent waterproof options for kids (by decent we mean truly & properly waterproof). A couple of cheap splashsuits or sets are also great to have along for light rain and the-day-after, but if the rain is heavier then you'll want the proper stuff or they'll be wet through pretty quickly . Disposable ponchos are very handy for keeping baby carrying setups dry (and for sitting on) and welly boots are essential for all ages. Another thing to consider is wearing waterproof pants yourself if it is damp or muddy, otherwise as soon as you pick junior up, your bottom half will be covered in mud (plus you can then sit anywhere!). For smaller babies / crawlers you can get waterproof booties and mitts for both feet and hands, so a bit of mud around camp isn't such an issue. 
Pack plenty of spare socks as wet feet aren't much fun. Again go for merino wool not cotton, as cotton once wet takes an age to dry and is cold. Synthetics dry faster but get uncomfortably sweaty. Socks can make or break a festival in many ways. We like Smartwool ones. 
Don't bother with an umbrella, it'll only get in the way - instead tog up and embrace the elements & the mud! (follow the lead of small children if you struggle with this one).
Make sure you pack in a few warm layers, just in case the weather throws a curveball. 
Pack a wool hat and some warm sock to keep extremities toasty if the temperature drops...

9. Sort Out a Safety Plan

Find out ahead of time what the process in place for first aid and lost children is and in the case of lost kids, consider precautions for identification and/or locating. Some festivals will issue paper wristbands that have the parent's number (avoid including your child's name) on them and these are a really good idea , however bear in mind that over several days the standard issue paper ones will probably wear down. Some more robust alternative ideas are:
Make your own (Love the brute simplicity of the duct tape option)
For those kids with particular wanderlust, parents may consider a locator device like these ones

For older children it is also a good idea to decide in advance on a meeting point to head to in the event of separation. Something that can be seen from far off is a good idea (it is always the helter skelter for us!)

If you do lose your little one, notify the officials immediately then follow their instructions, don't try to go it alone. 

Whilst we are not advocating paranoia, the safety of little ones is so paramount that we recommend all parents read this excellent and in-depth guide to festival safety from the team at festivalkidz.com. Being well informed in advance goes a long way to feeling reassured and well prepared for a positive experience. 

10. Essential Kit (extra things that make all the difference)

Battery Operated Fairy Lights / LED Balloons / Glow Sticks and Flags
Something that you may not think of but really IS an essential is fairy lights to wrap around your buggy or an LED balloon to attach so that you can see at night. 
Little kids will enjoy waving a glow stick and a flag is a great way to keep a group together (homemade is more distinctive!) 
Ear Defenders
Unless you want to hang at the fringes the whole time, good quality ear defenders are an absolute must. Little ears are very sensitive and prolonged exposure to loud music at festivals can cause permanent damage. Amazon is a good place to find these. 
Take some simple activities to keep little one entertained in the quiet periods around camp, stickers, colouring books, bubbles etc. Don't overdo the toys since most festivals will be entertaining enough (and you have enough to carry), but do be sure to pack any that little ones can't live without (maybe take a spare if the toy is 'critical') 
Dressing Up
Little ones love to dress up so take some extras like facepaint, glitter and outfits to help them get into the festival spirit. 
First Aid Kit
Although the larger festivals will have well set up medical coverage, take your own kit so you can deal quickly with minor mischief. Stock it with useful bits like antihistamine cream, tic removers (especially if the site is on a farm or near woods), tweezers, antibacterial cream/wipes, pain relief, plasters, blister pads…..
Having a supply of healthy-ish snacks (think raisins, fruit bars, bread sticks, vege crisps, rice cakes etc) reduces the junk loading (some is inevitable) and will keep blood sugar levels where they need to be. 
Take a refillable water bottle to save on plastic and keep littlies hydrated.
A Light Scarf... is a handy bit of kit to have on you as you can use it as a makeshift wrap, cover, blanket, sunshade, towel..... 
Duct tape. Ask a kiwi and they'll tell you they don't go anywhere without a roll of this as it can be used to fix or fashion just about anything at moments notice. Life changer :) 

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