Festivals for children: It’s far from face painting in the forest we were reared

Science hubs, yoga and hot tubs – festivals for little ones have come a long way

There are plenty of reasons why a person might willingly want to bring a very small child to a music festival, where Portaloos, physical exertion and pints abound. Maybe they want their little one to experience the magic of a Nick Cave live set. Perhaps the child really, really likes listening to Arcade Fire on the school run and would probably appreciate them in their full-band glory. Maybe some people want to reassure themselves that life is just as it was before kids. Or it could be that all that fresh air and those falafel stands are too good to pass up. Shrug.

Whatever the reason, Irish event organisers spotted the trend some time back – these little festival-goers in their noise-cancelling headphones and papooses – and acted accordingly. Soon, the mainstream festivals were adding on amenities that would rival any creche in the country. All of which is offered, presumably, so that children don’t get bored while they’re being dragged from stage to stage.

For years, Body & Soul organisers have gone to great lengths to ensure that their Ballinlough Castle weekend (June 21st-23rd) is suitable for littlies. In addition to a dedicated family (read: quiet) campsite, attendees can expect kids' yoga, arts and crafts, circus and street performers, and lots of sports.

Kids Together, at All Together Now (Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co Waterford), is the festival's child-friendly hangout, with traditional games and all sorts of interactive goings on in their Game Zone. Shows from Funky Fi, Wobbly Circus, and the Curious Company make up the bill.


And down in Drogheda’s Beaulieu House and Gardens, Vantastival last May offered arts and crafts, and a slew of kids’ activities alongside its musical offerings.

These new festivals are aimed first and foremost at putting little ones at the centre of the action

But while several events have prided themselves on their inclusivity and children’s spaces, there’s been an interesting development this summer. Just when you think that the Irish festival calendar is full to bursting, there’s been not one, but three new festivals that have somehow found elbow-room in the scene. And far from offering amenities for kids as a distraction or appendage to the main action, these festivals are aimed first and foremost at putting little ones at the centre of the action.

The inaugural FunFest, taking place at Tayto Park in Meath (June 29th-30th, taytopark.ie), is a weekend with a hectic timetable of events aimed specifically at children. Expect dance workshops and puppet shows to juggling demos and fun food stalls. The Pirate Princess Kitty Snake Show will offer kids the chance to get up close and personal with snakes before dancing away with a brass band for the ultimate pirate grand finale.

Elsewhere in the lineup, families can catch a 30-minute show from 12-time Guinness World Record Bubbleologist, Samsam Bubbleman. Samsam will display bubble feats including square bubbles, bubble vortexes and even displaying people inside bubbles. John Talabot, it ain’t.

Playstival (Airfield House, Dundrum, Co Dublin, August 10th-11th, playstival.ie), meanwhile, has described itself as a "100 per cent screen-free environment" in a bid to attract families concerned about smartphones and Xboxes. Organisers have gone for a "back to basics" approach for kids aged 12 months to 14 years, to encourage families to get active, outdoors and back to nature.

For parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, the festival is a particularly welcome addition to the summer as Playstival is working with Ireland’s National Autism Charity AsIAm. There will be a dedicated sensory friendly chill-out zone in Airfield House, and this low-lit calm space will be open to those who would like to take time out from the busy festival atmosphere.

There's certainly plenty on hand to stir small imaginations

Elsewhere, Playstival’s bill of fare is designed to allow parents and guardians the opportunity to play with their children, or let them interact with other kids. From science hubs and Lego masters areas to craft villages and creative writing workshops, there’s certainly plenty on hand to stir small imaginations.

Add a world food court, vintage funfair, farm animals, Cool Food School, and a “kids’ architect office”, we’re really talking a utopia for kids.

Billed as Ireland's first dedicated family festival, Kaleidoscope (Russborough House, Blessington, Co Wicklow, June 28th-30th) was trialled at the Electric Picnic in Laois originally, but now finds a home in the garden of Ireland.

Kaleidoscope offers 16 stages of theatre, spoken word, visual art, circus, cinema, comedy and music, generally aimed at children. Also in the mix are family campsites and specific programmes for little ones (for 4-8, 8-12 and 12-16 year olds). Its organisers have clearly spotted a gap in the market and have opened the gate for 12-16 year-olds – an age group often not permitted to attend other music festivals.

At Kaleidoscope, families can enjoy a genuinely mind-boggling array of attractions including several Irish Times Summer of Family interactive podcasts on everything from science to joke telling: there’s a walled garden, a fairy fort, baby disco, adventure sports, water sports, morning runs, meditation, t’ai chi and yoga, woodland spa with massage treatments, hot tubs and seaweed baths on a site that measures 200 acres. What do you mean, way past their bedtime?

The comforts, preferences and excitement of kids are paramount, with those of their parents coming a none-too-distant second

Amid this trio of newcomers, there’s a running theme: the comforts, preferences and excitement of kids are paramount, with those of their parents coming a none-too-distant second. They are like the traditional camping trip that we’ve all known and loved, albeit given a 21st-century upgrade and turbocharged with bells and whistles.

It all begs the question though. If you’re a “festival native” who’s been au fait with Portaloos, noodle bars and quiet camping zones since birth, what then becomes of the festival as a rite of passage?

Decades ago, there was something thrilling and intoxicating about that distinctive muddy smell, the wristband, the stage timetable. All the ephemera of coming of age, of misadventure, and finding your feet as an adult. Will putting together your own tent and finding the forest rave hold as much lure for teenagers in years to come?

Probably not, and there’s likely something that will supplant it as the great post-Leaving Cert ritual. For now, though, little ones can count themselves extremely fortunate. It’s far from baby discos and forest face painting the rest of us were reared.