LET’S SAY you’ve been to Burning Man a few times; you have your camp, your friends, and your volunteer shifts sorted out…but you’re ready for a new challenge. Rather than leave your kid at home with their grandparents, why not bring them along this time? Here’s how you can do it.
A Parent’s Guide to Kids at Burning Man
Children of all ages are welcome at Burning Man. It’s awesome to see a new generation pounding rebar or helping out with Black Rock Scouts. But not every kid is happy everywhere. You need to know your kid well enough to answer some questions: can they handle heat and dust? How are they with unfamiliar situations, sudden loud noises, or strangers coming up to them? Can they sleep with a ruckus going on all night? Burning Man is seriously overstimulating; do you have plans for what to do if your kid loses the plot a little bit? If there is an emergency or you just need some alone time, do you have plans for this? Having kids with you drastically change the experience of your Burn. Consider whether or not it is a good idea before you move forward.
Kids under the age of 12 come in for free.
Kids can go to Burning Man for free until they’re twelve. This saves you almost $500 and hours of waiting in line for a ticket. Anyone under 18 must go with a parent or legal guardian, so don’t consider bringing someone else’s kid to the event: it’s big, and there’s a lot of potentially hazardous situations. If your kid is close to the ticket cutoff, you will likely be asked for proof of age.
Kids are adaptable and love new experiences.
There are so many reasons to bring your children to this fantastic event. You might just not consider the idea of taking separate vacations, but you might also want to intentionally introduce them to a creative, collaborative experiment in community. There are enormous, one-of-a-kind experiences to be had in the Black Rock Desert, and your kids can fill with wonder when they get to ride on a dragon art car or get invited to hula hoop in Center Camp. Kids don’t have expectations the way adults do, and they live in the moment — both skills we should likely cultivate more — so they will roll with the punches way more than you will. Most people adore seeing kids and babies on-playa, so you might be surprised how many new friends will entertain and engage your child.
Follow the survival guide.
Kids need lots of rest, especially if they’re overheated. They need comfortable clothes, and a way to get around. Don’t just plan your own playa bike: pimp their stroller or bike trailer (or bike, depending on age). Make sure they take some time every day to rest in the shade. It can be tempting to just run all over the place and get worn out; kids need to pace themselves as much as adults. Burning Man published a Family Survival Guide which will serve you well.
There is a whole village dedicated to parents with kids. It’s called Kidsville. Parents and their children are welcome to sign up to stay there and use the village infrastructure. There are regular daily events specifically for children, several trampolines, and a generally blasé attitude towards a toddler shrieking in the night. They are often placed near Hushville (the quiet village), so it tends to be relatively quiet nearby (at least, not close to the large-scale sound camps). Kidsville provides ID bracelets for every kid camping there, which ensures that if they get lost, they will be easily returned.
Prep your kids for playa-readiness.
You five-year-old not used to wearing face masks? Practice wearing dust masks or bandanas at home for a few weeks before leaving for the playa so they can adjust. Make sure they always know to bring food and water if they are going anywhere. Reinforce traffic safety: just because cars are moving slowly at Burning Man does not mean they can’t hurt and kill pedestrians. Kids need to know not to run into the street or into open playa (where art cars drive erratically), and that they must ALWAYS wear substantial amounts of light on their person if they are going out at night. Go over fire safety and safety around strangers. If your kids are old enough to wander without you, they need to know what to do if an errant poi swing catches their costume on fire.
Keep them fed and watered.
If you think you struggle to drink enough water because Burning Man is fun and distracting, your kid will struggle twice as hard. There are no refrigerators on playa unless you bring them yourself, so planning to keep breast milk frozen or heat up formula might be too much for you to handle; it’s probably best if your kid is either drinking straight from the tap or old enough to be weaned. If your kid is eating regular food, make sure you bring lots of things you know they will like, including even more snacks than you think (always have snacks with you). If your child doesn’t eat them, someone else might appreciate a handful of goldfish crackers. Make sure they always have water and drink it. If they don’t like regular water, mix it with a little Emergen-C or hydration powder to add flavor and electrolytes.
Find a way to stay in touch.
If your kids are old enough to use a walkie-talkie, consider getting a pair and picking a channel to regularly check in throughout the day. The whole city goes on lockdown when a lost child is reported: nobody may enter or exit until the child is found. This means even 16-year-olds who wander off with their new 22-year-old crush. This is a huge burden on Burning Man operations, so do not maliciously report your child lost to prove a point, and try to keep an eye on them at all times. Consider implementing a meeting point for if you get separated: if you cannot find each other within a set amount of time, go to the designated location and wait.
Set up a schedule.
While adults love to get loopy and play things by ear while on vacation, most kids function best with a fairly rigid routine. Teenagers are a different story, but generally, try and keep to a simple schedule where possible. Your kid can run around and do whatever they like but must be back in time for lunch and a lie-down. Bedtime should be the same every night. This will help keep everybody sane.
Let your kid calls the shots.
Always adapt to the least comfortable person’s comfort level. This doesn’t mean you have to be at the mercy of a toddler’s whims (although if you have a toddler, you kind of are anyway), but it does mean that you should be spending a lot of time planning things to help your kids feel comfortable, happy, and healthy. They cannot stay out long hours like you can; they cannot just wait to go pee or snack when they get home. Consider them a friend who has some extra needs that you are responsible for.
Read what other people have to say.
Check out the kids’ page of the Burning Man Journal and read firsthand accounts from parents and kids. Many other people have experienced this and come through it just fine; you will not be the first and you won’t be the last. Burning Man welcomes you and your children, and we hope to see pictures of dusty kids with big smiles when you get back.