For the unseasoned punter, there can be an assumption that festivals are all of the same ilk and that festival-goers unanimously see them as opportunities to get off their heads. This is not the full picture. Many have been there, done that and moved on. In this era of corporate festival saturation, festivals are marketed at a diverse range of people of all motivations, interests, cultures, music tastes and age groups (including children). There’s comedy, cinema, literature, theatre, alternative therapies, crafts, the arts, real ale and high-brow food as well as acts that by the nature of their own eccentricity are uncategorisable. I have been to festivals with friends and family for 20 years. It is what we do and have done every summer because we love everything about it. My five-year-old has been coming with us since she was a baby and taking the lead from us, she loves them too. As a parent, I believe that the opportunities for kids in terms of entertainment at festivals are infinite. As a teacher, I also see unlimited possibilities for learning and development. I reckon children can benefit from festivals in many ways but here are my top five:
1. ADVENTURE Fresh air, freedom, sunshine and space provides the perfect antidote to modern kids’ sedentary obsession with iPad technology and TV. There is limitless potential for exercise, unintentional and otherwise. Aside from walking for miles every day without realising it, there are new activities to try such as climbing walls, kids’ yoga, joining in with the antics of the circus, hula-hooping, juggling workshops or powering a nearby tea tent by peddling a bicycle. Opportunities for dance reveal themselves at every stage and even at the stalls, where spontaneous raves pop up. I have fond memories of the legendary Joe Bananas at Glastonbury in the 90s; a camping equipment stall with a monumental sound system and a reputation to match. Where else but a festival can you just drop everything and dance several times a day! Spontaneous parties are my daughter’s and my shared festival favourites; at the stalls, the kids’ disco, the adults’ gigs as well as at your own tent. I have never laughed my head off as much as at the sensational silent disco – terrific for children. Occasions for kids to experience awe and wonder present themselves everywhere. I remember watching jousting knights on horseback at Camp Bestival. Last year Green Man had an actual butterfly house where kids could hold the insects and talk facts with an expert. Another wonderful encounter involved us stumbling across a cryptic platform with a handle to turn in the trees; if you turned it for long enough you would eventually be blasted with Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love! One of my early Glastonbury memories involved watching in disbelief as a dancing woman allowed her feet to set in concrete! Children find the inexplicable captivating. Nowhere else could outdo a festival in terms of its ability to immerse children in the diversity of music culture, making musicians accessible as potential role-models as well as offering children chances to have a go themselves, at open mic talent contests and drumming workshops perhaps. Festivals also provide brilliant occasions for children to try new foods. The choices are mind-blowing.
2. CREATIVITY Opportunities for this are infinite, through dressing up, face-painting, team games, parades and den building for example. There are multiple things to model, make or do. You could fashion yourself out of clay, build a kite, weave a basket or design a hat. My daughter made mud pies last year in a fully equipped kitchen area created specifically for this purpose and spent an hour role-playing with similarly engaged pie chefs. Festivals are great places for kids to learn about themselves too; exposed to such diversity, they can experience how it feels to have more autonomy than usual, by establishing personal preferences and identity through choices of food, music, and activities.
3. CONFIDENCE Any place where children have so many new experiences at once is going to provide immeasurable potential for confidence-building. The atmosphere among the like-minded at festivals makes for a lovely dynamic. My daughter’s self-esteem soared last year through interacting with strangers; people danced and talked with her all the time. It is a liberating chance to experience kindness and interest from others in a relatively safe environment; randomly a woman at Green Man asked my permission to teach her how to teddy bear roll! She also got involved in an improvised theatrical performance run by actors. She played the part of a pop star (initiated by her), sporting something sparkly and a fetching pair of shades. I watched for an hour. She was so engrossed she didn’t look round once to check I was still there.
4. SOCIAL SKILLS It is well researched that today’s children lack sufficient opportunities for unsupervised play. The social-skills development that a festival provides is the finest in terms of problem-solving, decision-making and the development of initiative, empathy and compassion. At a festival, unsupervised play just works, as long as you set some boundaries; you can safely keep track of your child from a distance as they play with other kids or become immersed in an activity. As well as giving them the space to learn and be themselves, you simultaneously get to enjoy the festival; sit down, have a drink, watch a band and be with friends. They can chase bubbles in the sunshine with others or join in with a gang of haystack play fighters – a bit of controlled anarchy is so much fun! Festivals also provide rare opportunities for kids to see adults enjoy themselves (responsibly) and act as positive social role models. My daughter is fond of our adult friends, enjoying chances to socialise with them. At home, she mostly misses out on this; we socialise with friends when she is in bed or with a babysitter. Also, seeing her mum and dad relaxed and enjoying each other’s company away from the stresses of life is another unusual and beautiful opportunity.
5. ADAPTABILITY Having flexible and adaptable children opens the door to many possibilities in life. Just allowing kids to experience the freedom of a lack of routine is a novelty and increases their adaptability. Similarly, the pure enjoyment of extravagance and the bending of usual boundaries, like more ice-cream and treats than usual, is of itself an exciting new feeling. There will be times at festivals where kids must learn resilience – cold, noise, rain, mud, loss (perhaps a hat or jumper) and of course porta-loos! The immense scope of a festival enables learning about how to appropriately adapt behaviour according to surroundings; festivals are great for the changes of atmosphere - peace and space under a tree one minute, to unadulterated joy and chaos the next. Having control of a limited budget in the form of pocket money is an important learning experience and life skill. At a festival, children can go through the process of prioritising, to buy or not to buy. Another life skill is the importance of compromise and consideration for others. Festivals provide kids with the opportunity to learn how to tolerate other peoples’ ‘fun’. It can make for a great exercise in ensuring that everyone gets something they want; in the case of my husband (real ale and bleepy techno), me (tai chi and unlimited tea) and my daughter (funfair rides and sugary food). Learning how to negotiate can work to everyone’s advantage; if we can convince our daughter to have an afternoon nap, then she can stay up late and watch the headliners with us, which works like a dream! Having taken her to festivals since she was a baby, she is adaptable, knows what to expect and is able to sleep soundly in spite of constant noise. She certainly gets tired enough! Incidentally, after a festival, she often wakes at night disturbed by the silence at home! I wish I had experienced the freedom, creativity and joy of open-air music events as a child. I am not alone. At Green Man last year, I received an astonishing number of comments from friends and strangers to that effect. Many were retrospectively envious of the childhood they perceived in my daughter. Any parent knows – when the children are happy, we are happy. In my family, spending the summer at festivals with the people we love and their children, helps us reconnect with friends, music, nature, fun and freedom – this delivers the perfect adventure and antithesis to the stress and mundane routine of modern life. Inspired, stimulated children make for relaxed, contented parents. Now that’s a holiday!
Jennifer is a writer, a teacher and mum to Ivy, aged eight.