KIDS AT BURNING MAN
by Max Icon, with thanks to Veektoastia
Anybody under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult of 21 or older. Children 12 and under will be admitted for free. Children ages 13 and older require full-price tickets. Be prepared to show proof of age.
So, you've decided
to bring the kids to Burning Man? It's not an easy decision, but it may
prove to be one of the best field trips you could ever take them on. With
a little thought and care, the experience can be more fun for you, your
kids, and everyone around you. Many of these ideas apply to different
age ranges, so make your judgments based on your kids' ages and abilities.
If you've taken your kids camping, you're already halfway there.
Everything in the Burning Man Survival Guide applies double to kids. Water, food, shade, sunblock, comfortable clothes, and knowing their (and your) limits are all important to being able to enjoy the experience. Read the Guide and trust its suggestions. However, there are a few extra precautions to take with kids. Adults love the lack of structure at Burning Man, but most kids need some structure and security to be comfortable with their surroundings. The folks at Kidsville have created a great Kidsville Survival Guide, which is very helpful reading.
Food and Water Like everyone, kids need to drink lots of water and keep their energy up. If they dislike the taste of bottled water, mix in a little fruit juice, but don't give them juice or soda all the time. Bag or box juices are great, because the containers are easy to pack back to camp when they're empty. Remind them to drink water regularly, and get them to remind you, too. Bring energy snacks that they like. The heat can keep hunger down, so snack frequently, and get them to eat before they realize they're hungry.
Bring the things that make little discomforts easier to deal with, such as chewable acetaminophen, stuff for tummy upsets, aloe sunburn lotion with lidocaine, cough syrup, bandaids, moleskin for blisters, and so on.
Getting Lost (and How Not To)
There's no better way of putting both grownups and kids into a panic than getting separated in a chaotic environment. It happens to adults all the time at Burning Man, but most of them can find their own way back to camp. Here's how to keep your kids close at hand.
- Set up landmarks at camp for both day and night, such as banners, flags, and lightsticks on poles. Make note of major landmarks at nearby camps. Walk around with your kids, and stop every now and then to check out where you are, what you can see, and how to use it to get back to camp.
- Get to know your neighboring villages, particularly the large ones. Teach your kids the names, so that they can ask directions if they get lost.
- Younger kids should have an ID card with the name and location of your camp so Rangers and other friendly burners can help them get back home. Decorate and embellish these to go with your costumes or the theme of your camp.
- Get them distinctive whistles, and have everyone learn patterns that mean "Help! I'm Lost!," "Everybody Back to Camp," and whatever else makes sense for you. Give them breakaway lanyards, fanny packs, or belt clips for these, along with mini flashlights and whatever else they want or need. The new two-way family radios are also very handy, though they can be expensive. Remember cell phones don't work at Black Rock City.
- Older kids are going to want to stretch their limits and cruise around on their own, so make some guidelines that you both feel comfortable with, including how far to go and how often to check back in. It's really easy for them to get disoriented if they wander too far off.
- Identify an easy-to-find meeting place where you can go if you're separated, like the Center Camp bulletin board.
- Keep out of the crush. Stay back from the big events. Take along folding stools that they can stand on to see above the crowd. Don't feel bad about pulling back when the chaos starts to get overwhelming.
- Get to know your neighbors. The community is one of the great strengths of Burning Man. These folks will help look out for your kids, your bikes, and everything else at your camp, while you do the same for them.
Want to see everything at Burning Man? Everyone does, but it's not possible. Most kids don't have the stamina to keep up with adults in a challenging environment, so you'll come out ahead if you help them get around. Bikes are good for older kids and adults, and wagons or bike trailers are good for younger ones. Load up a wagon with drinks, snacks, fun stuff, and kids, so you can keep going when they've run out of steam. It can also be a mobile base for nighttime forays, such as going to the Burn.
When moving around at night, make sure everyone has lights for themselves and their vehicles, preferably ones that help you keep track of each other. Flashlights are OK, but they're a bit harsh on the playa at night, and break easily if dropped. Glowsticks are much better, particularly multi-colored necklaces and bracelets. The necklaces can be a lot of fun for playing night games, and are great on bikes and wagons to help keep other people from running into you. Remember, not everyone is keeping an eye out for 3-foot-high people while walking around in the dark.
The playa can get
very hot during the day, and quite chilly at night. Loose, breathable
clothes provide comfort and protection from the sun, and can be layered
with warmer things as the sun goes down. Some kids are comfortable with
going naked, but need to be protected from sunburn. Hats are a good idea,
as are sunglasses. The dry, alkaline playa dust can be hard on tender
feet, so socks are a good idea, even with sandals. Watch for blisters,
and always carry some moleskin to keep blisters from getting out of control.
This is one of the main points. Be sure you've got some things that are fun for the kids to do while you're hanging out at camp. Bring art projects, body paints, costumes, water guns, and anything that contributes to the function of the camp. Have the kids help with the theme camp art. Build them their own shade structure with little chairs and tables. They can help with food preparation, put up the camp, or whatever they like to do. Talk with them and with other Burning Man participants to come up with ideas before you leave.
- Be sure to bring their comfort icons along, such as favorite pillows,
blankets, toys, or anything that can help them settle in and rest when
- Break the day into chunks, with lots of breaks for resting, snacking,
and rejuvenating. Don't go into Disneyland mode, where you've got to
see all the sights before you go home.
- Parents need to have fun, too, so work up plans for how to get out and
do grown-up things while someone else watches the kids. If you camp
with friends or other families, try trading off nighttime watches.
- Above all, be patient. If you find yourself getting crabby and snapping at the kids, settle down, take a nap, have a break.
If you want your child to get a good night's sleep you should think carefully about where you are going to camp. The front edge of the city tends to be the loudest. You may want to camp back a bit. It is wise to consider who your neighbors are as well. Are they doing primarily late night activities? Pick a spot that is off the beaten track enough that you can expect less traffic. It is also smart to consider where you will want to hang out and what you may want to see. Find a site that will make distances the smallest. There is a camping area dedicated to families located close to the center circle. It is relatively quiet, close to "kid-friendly" camps, the Rangers and Medical facilities (in case of emergencies), the Burning Man himself, and access roads to and from the city. It is called "Kidsville" and can be located on the map given to you when you arrive at Burning Man. If you have any questions or are interested in finding out more about this camp contact kids(at)burningman(dot)com.
Hopefully, you already raise your kids to be open-minded and tolerant. This is an excellent time to reinforce that. Let them know in advance about the kind of things that they will see and hear, and you may be surprised at how quickly they become blasť about the things you worry most about. Steer them away from whatever you feel uncomfortable with, but be matter-of-fact about the stuff they are curious about.
Talk to them about common-sense safety, like not looking into the mouth of a fire-breathing dragon, or not standing under scaffolding that people are working on. Reinforce the "stop, drop, and roll" response to clothing on fire. Advise them to be cautious about getting too close to aggressive art, destructive robots, and moving vehicles. A little bit of care can go a long way in a chaotic environment.
If you have access to Burning Man info, such as web sites, videos, or other media, look it over with them. They still won't really know what to expect, but it gives more context to hang the experience on. Talk to them about the Survival Guide, about the leave-no-trace philosophy, and about what Burning Man means to you and to other people. Like everyone, they will develop their own interpretation of the experience while they are there.
Their trip to Burning Man should be an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives.