One of the highlights of last summer was watching my three-year-old son Krishan's rapt expression as the children's procession wound its way around the Womad festival site on the Sunday. The rainbow-coloured ribbon of smiling toddlers and teens, parents and helpers was accompanied on its twisting tour of the festival by a variety of musicians, oversized puppets and cheering crowds.
Every child who had made something in the myriad of free workshops over the weekend was invited to join in the parade with their artwork. And you couldn't help but get caught up in the moment. It's a real celebration of the festival – and childhood – and perfectly illustrates why a festival can be the ideal place for a family holiday.
Sadly, there are always going to be bitter naysayers and armchair critics out there who criticise parents for daring to take their family to a festival. Even a cursory internet search for "festivals and children" reveals a surprising amount of vitriol aimed at anyone who has the temerity to suggest that summer festivals and children can go together like strawberries and cream.
It all depends on the festival, of course, – and indeed the parents themselves. Cautionary tales of children being abandoned in the dance tent while their so-called guardians consume copious amounts of scrumpy (and worse) are legion. But surely this is a problem with the parents? If you are – let's face it – a bad parent for 362 days in the year, you're hardly likely to magically transform into Mary Poppins when you skip through those festival turnstiles.
Likewise, if you choose to take your brood along to a festival that's well-known for all-night hedonism rather than hula hoop classes, then really you've only yourself to blame.
With more than 20 years of festival experience, I've been on both sides of the children-festival fence. As a stumbling 20-something, I no doubt tutted at buggy-pushing parents who had the cheek to be in my way as I stormed off to catch another band. But now, with a toddler in tow and another on the way, I can appreciate a different, and in many ways much more rewarding, side to festival life. Of course you have to radically change your approach. The days of sticking to a rigid itinerary and catching as many hip acts as possible are long gone. But there's a lot to be found away from the main stages and in the kids' areas – not least an inspiring way to spend quality time with your family, free from the stresses of modern city life.
And if a few like-minded parents choose to join you, all the better. Unfortunately, all those big-hearted offers of babysitting from your single friends are likely to be quickly forgotten after a few hours soaking up the sun. And I don't blame them – it's their holiday too.
But don't despair – even if you end up camping on you own, the chances are you'll meet other families either in the family camping area or at the dedicated kids' play areas.
We were at a festival when it was Krishan's first birthday and met some warm and welcoming families. On the day of his birthday the four children who were camping with their father in the adjacent tent came over and gave him a present. We still have the juggling ball – and have bumped into them at other festivals since.
The secret is, like most things in life, preparation. Before you think about packing your car, make a list – and then another. Ensure sure you take everything you'd normally take on a weekend away to keep your children happy – from sterilisers to favourite toys, books and balls. Just don't forget to pack everyone's waterproofs, a sense of humour, and an open mind. I'll see you in a field somewhere soon.
Five family-friendly festivals
BEST FOR TINY TOTS
Lollibop, 5-7 August, Regent’s Park, London ( www.lollibopfestival.co.uk), is dedicated to the under-10s. Toddlers can bust their moves at Baby Loves Disco, take in a spot of theatre with Charlie & Lola - and then catch everyone’s favourite, crime-fighting rodent Rastamouse. Irie!
BEST FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Womad, 28-31 July, Charlton Park, Wiltshire ( womad.org), is a great place to start (if only for that Sunday procession). It’s very child-friendly, has a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere, stunning music (and food) from all over the globe - plus a well-stocked real ale bar and even a spa for mum to retire to for some deserved R&R.
BEST FOR GREEN PARENTS
Sunrise Celebration, 2-5 June, Bruton, Somerset ( www.sunrisecelebration.com), has just been awarded the Best Green Festival Award by The Green Parent magazine. With an emphasis on sustainability, families can feast on locally sourced organic food and drink while the little ’uns enjoy the LATE Club Kids area from 8am-7pm.
BEST FOR MUSIC
Camp Bestival, 28-31 July, Lulworth Castle, Dorset ( www.campbestival.net). Winner of the UK Awards Best Family Festival for the past two years, Rob da Bank’s baby gets better every year. Mr Tumble and ZingZillas for the little kids, Primal Scream andMark Ronson for the big kids.
BEST FOR TEENAGERS
The Underage Festival, 5 August, Victoria Park, London ( www.underagefestivals.com) is strictly for those aged 13 to 17. With parents banned and a line-up including Janelle Monae and Labrinth it makes me wish I was a teen too!