I know that summer is properly over when I start searching through the cupboards in the baby girl’s room for the pram gloves. I’ve got terrible circulation and really feel the cold in my hands so this piece of baby travel kit is a winner for me. Particularly in the early days (if you have a winter baby), when you might be spending lots of time walking around with your new baby trying to get her to nap, you really want to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Sure, you can just wear an ordinary pair of gloves when out with your baby in her pushchair but there are a benefits to having them attached to the buggy itself. One, they’re easy to take off and put on again, something you’ll find yourself doing a lot: pushchair clips are fiddly with gloves on. Two, because they stay attached to the pushchair you’re very unlikely to lose them. Three, you get to keep your own gloves nice, free from the detritus of mucky, on-the-move snacks, baby snot and so on.
How to choose a pair of pram gloves
There are a couple of different styles available. Which one you go for will depend on personal taste and the model of pushchair you own. We’ve got a single muff that fits both hands but separate gloves are popular too. Something to check before you buy is whether the pram gloves you’re considering are machine washable. It’s amazing how grubby your hands get when baby or toddler wrangling.
The only downside of such a convenient bit of kit is getting so used to having the pram muff that I forget to bring my gloves out with me when I’m not pushing the pushchair. But that’s more to do with me than the muff.
Chances are, you’re either the sort of person that likes holiday resorts or you’re not. But even if you wouldn’t ever have considered staying at a resort pre-parenthood, now might be a moment to give a family holiday resort a spin. A resort won’t give you the sense of adventure and exploration that comes with independent travel but they certainly tick a lot of boxes in terms of convenience. Even for parents whose ultimate aim is to travel independently as a family, a stay at a resort can be a confidence booster, getting used to this whole new world of travelling with baby on board.
Amenities at family holiday resorts
One of the major benefits of a family holiday resort is knowing that all your most immediate baby travel requirements will be met. The resort will have enough high chairs and cots to go around, for example, as well as well designed baby change facilities, and staff used to dealing with new parents. It’s still important to book a cot in advance though, and double check any other baby amenities before you travel, for your peace of mind if nothing else.
Babies and toddlers don’t tend to be terribly fussy about beaches – as long as it’s got sand to dig in or rocks to pile up, they’re happy. As a new parent however there are certainly benefits to the sorts of amenities and services on hand that come as standard at family holiday resorts.
Umbrellas, sun loungers and boardwalks across the sand (useful for pushchair access), for example, all make hanging out with a baby on a beach that bit easier. In addition there’s the fact that a lot of family holiday resorts boast beaches that are particularly suitable for small children, with gentle surf and soft sand that slopes gently down to the water.
For those moments when a trip to the beach feels like too much effort, a resort swimming pool can be a tempting proposition. The water in an unheated, outdoor pool may not be warm enough for very small babies, but you can bring a inflatable baby paddling pool to fill and leave in the sunshine to warm up.
Kids’ clubs and babysitting at family holiday resorts
Kids’ clubs used to be limited to older children but increasing numbers of family holiday resorts now offer childcare for the under-2s too. Some even throw it in for free if you travel in the off-season. Provision varies a lot depending where you’re travelling to – resorts in Europe and the Caribbean are much more likely to run creches for under-2s. Elsewhere, kids’ club for children aged 4-and-up is more usual. Even if there’s no dedicated creche for under-2s at your resort, you might be able to hire a babysitter to look after your baby at their kids’ club for older children.
Childcare on tap means you’ll have the time not just to catch up on your reading, but to try some of the pursuits laid on at holiday resorts, from scuba diving to spa treatments.
Meals at family holiday resorts
As discussed in my post on baby hotel room hacks, self-catering accommodation is almost always going to be easier than staying somewhere without a kitchen if you’re travelling with a baby or toddler. That said, it’s not difficult to find resorts — particularly those marketing themselves as family-friendly — where a kettle, fridge and even a microwave come as standard in-room amenities. You might not be able to make a gourmet feast for your little one with just these tools on hand, but she’s certainly not going to starve. You, meanwhile, can enjoy having someone else cook for you at the resort’s various restaurants – meals your baby will also be able to sample, if she’s weaned.
Hotel buffet restaurants are particularly handy for new parents because you can take turns holding the baby and eating, one of getting a plate of food while the other one takes over. It may not be the romantic holiday meal you’ve ever eaten, but at least no one is left with a plate of food getting cold in front of them. Hotel buffets are also quite exciting environments for little ones – bright lights, piles of fruit and chefs in tall hats entertaining in themselves if your baby needs a break away from the table.
Potential downsides of family holiday resorts
The privacy that comes with a remote location is often one of the selling points of a resort but being in an entirely self-contained environment can have its downsides too. Does your chosen resort have any reasonably priced shops nearby, where you can pick up essentials like formula, nappies and ready-made baby food? If not, you’ll need to pack absolutely everything you might need for the duration of your stay, or be prepared to spend a fortune on overpriced supplies.
While your resort itself might be easily accessible with a pushchair, you can’t assume the same of the area around it, particularly in destinations in the developing world. If you’re happy to stay in the resort for the duration of your holiday, that’s not an issue, but parents who think they might like to do some exploring will need to factor that into their planning.
Packing a sling or backpack carrier is an easy workaround, allowing you to leave the pushchair in the resort while you venture further afield on foot. If you’ll be doing any journeys by taxi, a child car seat is another essential. (A family holiday resort should be able to provide one for airport transfers or recommend a cab company that can do so but you’ll need to check in advance.)
As a keen cyclist, I couldn’t wait until my daughter was big enough for her first baby bike seat. I longed for the days when I could ditch public transport with the pushchair and get back to the speed and convenience of getting around the local area by bike. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I anticipated, but now I know what I’m doing the baby girl is almost a big of fan of cycling as I am.
When you can start using a baby bike seat
Most baby bike seats have a recommended minimum age of nine months but more important than her age is your baby’s ability to sit up unaided. To cycle with a younger baby you’ll need a cargo bike with a child car seat mount. It’s a set up that’s fairly common in Scandinavia but is still relatively rare in the UK. Don’t be tempted to cycle with your baby in a sling, as in the event of an accident you risk falling onto her.
You can safely use a baby bike seat until your little one weighs around 15-20kg (upper weight limits vary between brands and models). After that point your best bets are a tag-a-long bike or, if your little one isn’t yet a confident cyclist, a cargo bike.
Choosing a baby bike seat
Once you’ve opted for a baby bike seat rather than a cargo bike, you need to decide between a front or rear-mounted model.
A front-mounted baby bike seat means you can see your little one at all times, making communication easier. Handling takes a bit of getting used (similar to riding with a heavily laden bike basket) but ultimately you might feel more in control than with a rear-mounted seat.
The downsides are that your bike’s steering will be slightly restricted and you might find yourself having to pedal in an awkward wide-kneed stance. Your baby will also be exposed to the wind more than she would be in a rear-mounted seat, though you can buy front seats with windshields that offer some protection. In addition, weight limits for front seats tend to be lower than rear seats so it’s a shorter term solution.
Rear-mounted baby bike seats, while a bit destabilising because of the way they are suspended over the back wheel, affect handling less and therefore tend to be safer. Larger than their front-mounted counterparts, rear seats offer more support for little heads and necks, making them more comfortable to fall asleep in. You can even get models that recline if you know you’ll be doing a lot of long cycling trips with your baby. They’re safer in the event of an accident too, offering wraparound support in case of a fall.
The other benefit of a rear seat is that you can attach additional brackets to any number of adult bikes, then switch the baby bike seat between them depending on who will be cycling with your child that day. A rear seat also means there’s space on the front of your bike for a basket.
How to cycle with a baby bike seat
Actually cycling with a baby in a bike seat isn’t very different from cycling with a heavy basket or pannier rack. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to go for a test ride with a heavy weight in your baby bike seat before taking your little one out for a spin for the first time.
I tend to cycle more slowly than I would without the baby girl, taking back routes rather than main roads (to avoid both traffic and air pollution) and being particularly careful over bumpy ground. The baby girl’s rear-mounted bike seat offers pretty good natural suspension so small bumps are quite fun, but even a large speed hump can cause an unpleasant jolt if taken too fast.
Getting on and off a bike with a baby bike seat
The tricky thing is getting you and your baby on and off the bike, locking it up and storing it. Everyone will find their own workarounds but the most practical way I found when the baby girl was little was to wear her in a sling on my front while I manoeuvred my bike out of the shed and out to the pavement in front of our house. With the bike leaning against a wall I would then strap her into her seat, put on both our helmets (she was happier to wear hers if she saw me putting mine on first) and walk the bike onto the road.
I recommend a bike with a step-through frame, as they’re easier to get your leg over. If yours has a crossbar, just be careful to step over rather than swinging your leg round, as you’ll just end up kicking the baby bike seat (I write from experience).
Locking up a bike with a baby bike seat
Locking up a bike with your baby on board can be challenging, as the added weight makes the bike very unstable, so it’s always best to take her out first. Before the girl was walking I would wear a sling while cycling so as to be able to transfer her back into it when we reached our destination. Since she’s been steady on her feet I simply stand her on the ground next to me while I lock up the bike or put it back in our shed. And I have to say, cycling with the baby girl got much easier once she was walking.
The final element to consider is that while you might be enjoying yourself, your baby might not be, whether due to cold, discomfort or some other unfathomable infant unhappiness. If that’s the case, abandon the exercise and try again another day.
Essential kit for cycling with a baby bike seat
Helmets for both you and your baby are a must, as are lights if you’ll be cycling after dark. To draw attention to the fact that you’ve got a passenger, a reflective ‘baby on board’ sticker on the back of the bike seat is a good idea too.
It can get very chilly as a passenger on a bike, so you’ll need to wrap your baby up warm. At least one layer more than what you’re wearing, ideally something windproof. Warm mittens are essential come winter – if your baby won’t keep hers on (something I had to deal with my first winter cycling with the baby girl), you might prefer to wait until warmer weather to give cycling a go. A light but warm balaclava under your baby’s helmet offers protection for ears and cheeks.
One of the challenges of travelling with a baby is getting the room where your little one is sleeping dark enough for her. While at home you might have excellent blackout curtains or blinds in your baby’s nursery, hotels and holiday rental properties are an unknown. Which is why is makes sense to always travel with a baby blackout blind if your little one is sensitive to light, particularly when travelling in the summer, when the days are long. Spending hours coaxing your little one to nap in a light-filled room or being woken at the crack of dawn probably isn’t your idea of a relaxing break.
Why the Magic Blackout Blind is the best baby blackout blind
I’ve tried a couple of styles of travel baby blackout blind and my favourite is the Magic Blackout Blind, which affixes to any window using the power of static. The blackout sheets weigh almost nothing so are convenient to pack and can be cut to fit any window shape. If fitted correctly (very easy to do) they block out virtually all the light, and I’ve never had them fall off while in use. When you’re not using them, you simply peel them away from the glass (they leave no marks) and affix to a wall until you need them again. The sheets can be reused, lasting 6-8 weeks, and can be recharged with static by placing near a TV. You can even use them in the car.
The Gro Anywhere Blind, the other baby blackout blind I’ve tried, is the more environmentally friendly option because the fabric can be reused indefinitely but is less convenient than the Magic Blackout Blind. If you know you need to cover a very large window, the Gro Anywhere Blind makes sense to use, but for smaller or oddly shaped windows, it’s a pain to fold up and can be difficult to attach. It’s also bulky to travel with and the suction cups you use to attach it to windows sometimes come unstuck.
Car journeys with your little one can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly if you’re by yourself. But they’re an inevitable element of life for most parents, whether driving is something you only do in a rental car on holiday or part of your daily routine. So attach that ‘Baby on Board’ sticker – I thought they were just cutesy but actually they’re to alert first responders to the presence of a baby in the case of an accident – buckle up and away you go.
Driving with a baby
Time your departure for as soon as possible after a feed, but be prepared to stop frequently if your baby needs to. Infants under the age of six months shouldn’t be in a car seat for more than two hours anyway as the angle of the seat can restrict their airway. So if you’re driving a long way, factor in regular stops to give your baby some time out of the seat.
You can alleviate the worry of not being able to see your baby while you’re driving by attaching a mirror to the headrest of the seat. Easy to set up kits are widely available.
A rear window shade will come in handy keeping the sun off your little one’s face. Models that go around the top of the car door, rather than just sticking to the window, are impossible for your little one to remove, and have the added benefit of letting you have the windows open.
A couple of toys or squishy books that you can attach to your little one’s car seat might keep her entertained for a little while. Anything that isn’t attached will end up on the floor almost immediately.
Keep essentials like wipes, your nappy changing wallet and a blanket close to hand so that you can get hold of them quickly if need be during a stop.
Driving with a toddler
Car journeys with the baby girl massively improved once she was big enough for a forward-facing car seat (see below) and could see both the person driving and the world rushing by outside. She still gets bored after a while but is much happier than in the rear-facing seat.
Our other chief defences against boredom and the grumpiness that inevitably comes in its wake are snacks and screens (playing ‘what can you see out of the window?’ and singing nursery rhymes will only take you so far). We try and go for soft snacks on car journeys to minimise the risk of choking – oat bars, bananas, baby food pouches, that sort of thing – though we tend to be a bit more relaxed about what we give the girl if someone is sitting next to her in the back.
The screens we resisted for a long time, but a recent 9-hour drive down to nearly the south of France broke us. We try to play learning games like Smart Baby Shapes and Tozzle and interactive music apps like Nursery Rhymes but sometimes we give in and let the girl watch a couple of episodes of Hey Duggee or Sarah and Duck.
Choosing a car seat
Safety is obviously of paramount concern, with cost probably the next biggest factor for most parents when it comes to buying a child car seat. But don’t underestimate the importance of finding one in which your toddler will sleep comfortably. Because a sleeping toddler is the best kind of toddler when it comes to long car journeys.
After research using the consumer website Which? (you can join for £1 and then cancel your membership) and lots of parent review sites we went for the Cybex Pallas, which has a ‘shield’ rather than a five-point harness, which the baby girl rests her head and arms on when she’s napping in the van. The shield is more of a faff to fit than a harness, but the baby girl seems to like it.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the safest option is to use a rear-facing child car seat for as long as possible. ‘Group 0 and 1+’ seats can be used until your child is 18kg (around four years old). They’re bulkier than their forward-facing equivalents and still relatively rare in the UK but offer better impact protection in the event of an accident.
Tips for driving with your little one abroad
If you’ll be driving on holiday – or even just taking taxis – check the local regulations around child car seats well in advance of your trip. Which? has a very helpful list of the rules in lots of popular holiday destinations. You might find that your car seat doesn’t meet local laws, so be prepared to hire one that does.
Most car hire companies should be able to supply a car seat, given enough notice, though quality can be variable and staff unhelpful when it comes to fitting an unfamiliar seat. You might feel more confident booking with a specialist baby equipment hire company.
Published by The Stage, 29 August 2018. The show is for children aged 0–3.
Early years company La Petita Malumaluga have performed this tribute to the Fab Four all over the world and it’s not hard to see why this nearly wordless show has gone down such a storm internationally. These dates at the Boing Children’s Festival in Kent marks the British premiere.
The concept is simple: four musicians (Alba Haro on cello, Laura Marín on violin, Nil Villà on alto saxophone, Albert Vilà on percussion) playing stripped back, jazz-influenced interpretations of Beatles tunes in the round. Jordi Bello’s arrangements are charming to listen to, but what makes the show so effective for its audience of under-3s is the dynamic staging (by Vilà and Eva Vilamitjana). All four musicians are in near constant motion, with Vilamitjana providing additional vibrancy as the show’s only non-musical performer.
The all-white design (by Paula Bosch in collaboration with La Petita Malumaluga) means that the focus stays on the music and the music-makers, with the few choice bits of inventive percussion thrown in as the show progresses ensuring that there’s always something new and interesting to look at and listen to. Special mention goes to the section where Vilà conducts audience members playing dozens of colourful Boomwhacker tubes, and to the lovely suspended drums that also serve as little projector screens for Anna Carreras’s fun projections. Claudi Palomino’s lighting design is also instrumental in creating drama, helping to raise this sweet performance from mere tribute act to a real theatre experience for young audiences.
Published in the September 2018 issue of Baby Magazine, with the title ‘Take Flight’.
One of the best things about no longer being pregnant (aside from the wonderful new addition to your family, of course) is that there’s no need to worry about zika anymore. Which means you’re free to explore far-flung destinations again, taking your little one on their first proper adventure.
While the routine NHS infant vaccinations your baby receives at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks and 12 months will protect them for travel within Europe and to other developed nations, more exotic destinations may require additional vaccines.
Some of these vaccines – such as those for typhoid and hepatitis, as well as common anti-malarial medications – can only be given above a certain age or weight, so if you’re thinking of travelling to a high-risk area, you should talk to your GP or practice nurse before booking your trip.
Even if a destination you’re hoping to visit qualifies as high risk for a particular disease, you might still be able to take your baby depending on the type of trip you’re planning. If you’re staying in an upmarket resort and unlikely to be spending lots of time with the local population, for example, your risks are greatly reduced, to the point when you might not need vaccinations at all.
Even in destinations where malaria isn’t a risk, you’ll need plenty of baby-safe insect repellent and a mosquito net to cover your baby’s cot (and pram if you’ll be going out in the evening). There are plenty of universal-fit ones available online.
Surviving a long-haul flight
Try to book the bulkhead row and a carrycot or child seat (depending on the age of your baby). This is sometimes more straightforward to do over the phone rather than online, and you should reconfirm the booking before you fly.
If these seats aren’t available, and there are two of you travelling with your baby, book a window and aisle, in the hope that the middle seat will be left empty. This tactic often works, and even when it doesn’t, your neighbour is very likely to be willing to swap their middle seat for one of yours, so you end up sitting together anyway.
If money is no object, you might consider paying for a seat for your baby – you won’t regret having the extra space. Children under 12 usually pay around 75 per cent of full fare.
As with short-haul flights, pack a large supply of baby food, milk and snacks. You’ll be covered in case of delays and will have reserves to hand for the moments when nothing else is working to calm your baby down. Pack all your food into one bag and all your baby toys and books into another within your carry-on luggage so everything is easy to find exactly when you need it.
Hope for the best but expect the worse: if you prepare yourself for your baby not sleeping for the entire flight, any naps they do take will feel like you’ve won the lottery.
Once you get to your destination, you might find that your baby sleeps really well the first night because they’re exhausted from the journey but is wakeful at night and grumpy in the daytime after that. Don’t worry, it will pass in three or four days. Being easy on yourself during this period is crucial, so avoid attempting any ambitious adventures while you’re all exhausted.
Nap when your baby does so you’ve got some back up energy to cope with additional nighttime wake ups. Being outdoors in the day time is a good idea, as the day light helps kick the body clock into line. Try to keep your baby’s bed time routine as close to what it is at home so she knows on some level that it’s time to sleep even if her body is telling her the opposite.
When to go
December to April is the best time to visit the Caribbean, with hurricane season over and the wet season yet to start. Expect temperatures of around 30°C year-round.
Temperatures in Indian Ocean destinations stay fairly constant too – think lows of 26°C and highs of 30°C – but the Maldives get their best weather between December and April. Any later in the year and you risk running into the monsoon.
The situation is similar in Thailand. Bali’s dry season coincides with British spring and summer, so head there in May, June or September to avoid the crowds. Temperatures in Bali dip to around 22°C at night all year, making it a more comfortable option for restless sleeping. In May you can expect daytime highs of 28°C.
To keep your baby cool, make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids. Not all toddlers are big water-drinkers, so offer snacks like cucumber and watermelon. Air conditioning is a good idea, if available, as hot weather can make napping more difficult.
Where to go…
Top travel spots that little ones will love
Dajuma Beach Eco-Resort and Spa, Bali.
This family-run resort is very popular with families with young children, especially as it provides cots and high chairs. Garden view cottages look out onto delectable shady lawn for those moments when you’ve had enough of hanging out on the volcanic beach or splashing in the pools. Rooms from £76 per night. dajuma.com
Niyama Private Islands, Maldives.
The Explorers Kids Club at this luxury private island resort is the only one in the Maldives open to babies from 12 months. There’s an extensive programme of activities on offer, leaving you to hop from white sand beach to spa, or why not give watersports a try? Rooms from £383 per night. Niyama.com
Beaches Turks & Caicos, Caribbean.
The all-day creche accepts even the very youngest guests, or take your baby along for the ride as you explore this huge all-inclusive resort, with its seven swimming pools (including a dedicated toddler pool), mini train and miles of beach. Rooms from £210 per night. beachesresort.co.uk
The baby girl came and visited me at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where I’ve been working this month, and we saw a few shows together. Here are the reviews I wrote about them, all originally published in Fest Magazine.
Playing at Stockbridge Church until 25 Aug, times vary
Wriggle Around the World is a mighty civilized way to start your day at the Fringe. Even the presence of a dozen or so under-fives—this show’s target audience, to be fair—does little to mar the enjoyment of listening to two talented musicians playing a selection of short classical works in an informal environment.
Cellist Clea Friend and violinist Louise Bevan clearly know their audience, their programme mainly comprising upbeat numbers—a Scottish reel, Brahms’s ‘Hungarian Dance No. 6’—that keep the little ones entertained. Introductions to the pieces presents the show as a journey, including travel by boat, horse and train to the various countries represented, but this narrative is loose enough for the chitchat not to feel laboured. The story of The Gingerbread Man—broken up with extracts of Bach and Bevan—offers some pleasing variety to proceedings.
Circulating photographs of the various composers doesn’t add much, given the age of the majority of the audience, but the appearance of a suitcase full of rattles and noise-makers towards the end of the concert is a hit. Recitals for Wrigglers—Wriggle Around the World is one of two shows from these performers, alongside The Lion and the Mouse—won’t be changing anyone’s world this Fringe. But that’s not what this type of show is about – Wriggle Around the World is a simple format, done well. It’s no surprise it’s doing well at the box office – so it should be.
Playing at Pleasance at EICC until 17 Aug, times vary
There’s as much for the parents as for the babies in MamaBabaMe. This beautiful show by Scottish dance companies Starcatchers and Curious Seed presents everyday moments in the lives of mothers and babies, Nerea Gurrutxaga and Hayley Earlam rolling, toddling, gurgling and cuddling to an atmospheric live sound track performed by cellist Robin Mason.
The set, by visual artist Yvonne Buskie, is immediately calming—an important quality for a show aimed at the under-threes and performed smack in the middle of both morning and afternoon naptimes—its colours, textures and shapes easy on the eye and pleasing to the touch.
Christine Devaney’s choreography evokes the mother-child relationship with real heart yet never falls into sentimentality. Gurrutxaga and Earlam portray both mother and baby, switching back and forth again and again in a way that suggests theories of child development that describe how babies ultimately come to mentally separate from their mothers and develop their own sense of self – or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.
Interaction with the babies in the audience is limited, which is a shame, because the little there is—including the balloon free-for-all at the end—goes down a storm. Each time the dancers reach out to us over the low cloud-like barrier that delineates their playing space, it feels like we’re being invited in to play, rather than just witness this jewel of a performance from the outside. It’s a feeling that bears repeating.
Playing at Assembly George Square Gardens until 26 Aug, 1:30pm
Slapstick is hard to get right, but amiable clown Tom Flanagan makes it look easy. A hapless projectionist attempting to screen a movie, he’s a hit with both grownups and little ones (the show is suitable for children age three and upwards) at this afternoon performance. So realistic is his tomfoolery, in fact, that my little girl bursts into tears every time he breaks something, falls down or bumps his head, and I spend a lot of the show reassuring her that’s he’s only pretending.
Flanagan has a lovely way with the audience, his amiable manner garnering no shortage of volunteers for the various fun bits of interaction, and a near constant rumble of chuckles that frequently breaks out into raucous applause.
A few impressive acrobatic tricks punctuate the performance but the main draw here is classic clowning with a silent movie vibe, including an inspired nod to one of Buster Keaton’s most famous stunts.
The only bit that strikes a bum note is when Flanagan romances a woman from the crowd, forced to recreate the plot of the film he’s failed to screen because the projector is belching smoke and the screen is lying in tatters on the floor. It’s all very mild-mannered but demanding physical affection from an unwilling participant feels like the wrong message to be giving young audiences, even in jest.
The other problem with this section is that it’s anticlimactic after the wonderful chaos of the preceding 40 minutes, slowing the action right down when Flanagan would do better to build to a glorious finish. Some aspects of clowning tradition are better left in the past.
Playing at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – John Hope Gateway until 26 Aug, times vary
Scottish early years theatre company Ipdip are back at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with another gently interactive show for the youngest audiences. This year they’re performing inside the visitors’ centre rather than in the gardens themselves which, while a sensible move given the unpredictably of Edinburgh’s weather, loses some of the uniqueness of their previous offerings.
Shhh… The Elves Are Very Shy takes the form of a lesson in “elfology” from mild-mannered “elfologist” Dr Faye Greenwood, the aim being to put Greenwood’s titular tiny friends sufficiently at their ease so they’ll come out and play. Writer and performer Charlotte Allan is approachable and engaging as Dr Greenwood, making sure that every young audience member feels included as she cooks up sweet-smelling bubbles to tempt the elves out of their hiding place, leads some music making and supervises a stickering session. The little poems that act as introductions to each of these sections, however, are overly twee and not always clearly articulated.
The kids are having fun during all this sensory shenanigans but the show’s pièce de résistance is the eventual appearance of the elves themselves via a clever bit of video in a box made by Paul Kozinski. It’s such an effective trick that my toddler spends the walk back to the bus stop through the gardens genuinely hunting for Greenwood’s little buddies. We don’t find them – I want my money back.
When it comes to travelling with a toddler – or even just going out and about near where you live – a non-spill trainer cup is a real necessity. Even if your toddler is perfectly happy and able to drink from an open cup, chances are that plenty gets spilled in the process, whether as a result of poor coordination, mischievousness, getting distracted, or a combination of all three. That’s fine at home, where you can be on hand to wipe up any spills, but it’s not ideal in a restaurant, on public transport or wherever else you happen to be. A cup with a lid keeps things nicely contained.
As well as keeping the liquid in, a good toddler cup also serves to keep anything else out, from backwash to grubby fingers. If you’ve ever let a toddler drink from your glass and instantly regretted it, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Make sure that any cup you take out with you has a non-spill spout so it doesn’t leak in your bag. I’ve tried various kinds and have had most success with the Tommee Tippee Trainer Sippee Cup – no leaks at all. This model also has the benefit of handles that you can hook over the handle of a pushchair or the seat pocket of a car. It’s dishwasher safe too. An all-round winner.
Family-friendly music festivals offer a brilliant opportunity to hang out with your little one in a totally different way than you do at home, throwing the routine out the window and taking the days as they come. For parents of babes-in-arms that might mean revisiting your pre-child life, strapping your baby into a sling so you can stay up late and have a dance to your favourite bands. For toddlers, a festival is a (relatively) safe, contained, outdoor environment with thousands of exciting new sights, sounds, tastes and smells to experience. Watching festival gigs with the baby girl and seeing her dance along are some of my all-time favourite moments as a parent.
Of course, being at a music festival with a baby or toddler isn’t always easy. Make no mistake: it’s a very different experience from doing a festival child-free. There will be times where the lack of routine causes problems and times where you wish you’d left your little one at home altogether. But with a bit of pre-planning and a willingness to go with the flow, the good far outweighs the bad and everyone ends up having a lovely time.
Here are my tips for a successful festival with a little one, split into seven sections: how to choose a festival; camping; getting around; sleeping and napping; feeding and snacks; what to pack; and the importance of a getaway plan.
How to choose a festival
If it’s your first time taking your little one to a music festival, opt for a smaller, family-focused one, such as Latitude or Just So Festival. Or if there’s one you’ve been to before and know well, that works too – just make sure you’ve done your research about family camping and other facilities for babies and small children. I’d steer clear of any festival that doesn’t have a family camping area or advice for families on its website, unless you’ve been before or have had a personal recommendation from someone you trust.
Some family-friendly festivals run a shuttle service from the carpark to the family camping area so you’re not having to lug all your gear – and your baby – by yourself, while others provide the facilities for baby bath time. Most offer a wide range of fun activities for even the littlest kids.
If your baby isn’t crawling yet, you don’t need to worry too much about activities however. Various festivals have baby areas, which are handy if you fancy a quiet sit down, and really come into their own in bad weather. More likely though, you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s portability to make the most of the festival’s offerings for grownup punters.
It makes sense to pick a festival not too far from home for your first go with your little one, unless there’s a particularly good reason to opt for somewhere further afield. Picking up wristbands, parking and setting up camp can be time-consuming and tedious, so cutting down on your travel time will make the whole process that bit easier.
I’ve confessed my personal bias for campervans elsewhere on the blog, but that doesn’t make what I’m about to write any less true. When it comes to festival camping, more than any other camping trip, a campervan is your friend: quieter, warmer, more secure, easier to keep tidy and better for making a quick getaway if you need to. If I didn’t own one I would seriously consider hiring one for festivals. While an awning is an excellent addition for a standard camping trip, it’s not really necessary for festival camping, as you’ll mostly be hanging out away from where you’re camped. If you need extra storage space, a small pop-up tent works well.
In my post on camping with babies and toddlers I advise buying the largest tent you can afford, and that holds here too. A lot of festival camp sites will feel safe enough to leave your buggy outside at night, but you can’t guarantee that until you get there, so make sure your tent has enough room to bring your buggy inside (and bring a piece of tarpaulin to put it on so you don’t get the rest of the tent grubby).
A tent with a separate interior room means you can sleep separately from your child, and a blackout tent is an ideal solution for little ones (or their parents!) who are sensitive to light. If that’s not an option, a pop-up tent travel cot is an effective way of creating a bit of a cocoon around your sleeping baby – it doesn’t block out all the light but is better than nothing, and will keep her safe from biting insects too.
There’s lots more practical advice about camping with babies and toddlers in my dedicated post on the subject. Lots of it is relevant for camping at festivals – using pillowcases rather than suitcases for clothes, for example, and ideas for baby bedding – but don’t worry about the section on bath time as it’s unlikely you’ll have the facilities to do it properly at a festival. Baby wipes are your friend here.
A pushchair – ideally one with big wheels – is essential festival kit, as far as I’m concerned. I did Glastonbury last year with the baby girl (aged 9 months) in just a sling and it was exhausting. The combination of her weight and a backpack full of baby paraphernalia was just too much, a situation made worse by the fact that she would only sleep in the sling if I was standing up. At festivals this summer I’ve been able to put her to bed in the pushchair (see below), wearing ear defenders, and stay out late, whereas at Glastonbury last year I had to put her to bed in the van each night and miss out on the fun.
You could probably do a festival with just a sling with a smaller baby, and someone to help lug the baby stuff, if you really wanted to, but I don’t see why you would. By all means bring a sling, because it will definitely come in handy at some stage, but a pushchair just makes everything a lot easier (and doubles as a means of transporting your camping gear from the car park to the campsite). Just don’t forget the rain cover. And if you’re taking a pushchair with pneumatic tyres (which I highly recommend as they offer a much smoother ride over bumpy ground), remember to bring a bicycle pump and puncture repair kit.
Feeding and snacks
Jars and pouches of readymade baby food come in very handy at festivals, along with non-perishable healthy snacks such as oat bars, rice cakes, baby crisps, nuts and dried fruit. You don’t want to be queuing up and paying over the odds for food every time your little one gets peckish. And while it’s unlikely you’ll be doing much cooking, it makes sense to bring muesli or cereal for breakfast so you’re not having to leave the campsite before you’re ready to start the day proper.
For bottle-fed babies, pre-sterilised bottles, while wasteful, are the easiest and most hygienic way to go, given that you probably won’t have access to hot water for washing up. The other option is to use cold water sterilising tablets, which I’ve written about how to use elsewhere on this blog. Bottles of ready-mixed formula are much more convenient than messing around with powder with a grubby festival happening all around you.
Sleeping and naps
Part of the fun of being at a festival is the freedom from the usual routines, so it makes sense to come with a more relaxed attitude to napping and bed time. That said, foregoing naps altogether is a recipe for disaster for most small children – it’s a matter of finding the right balance for your family.
In any case, a festival is such a stimulating environment that your little one will probably just conk out of her own accord in the pushchair or sling at some point. If you can anticipate that happening, try to put on her ear defenders before she does so that you’re free to explore without worrying about noisy gigs waking her up or damaging her hearing. A pushchair sleep shade is handy for keeping the sun off her while she’s napping during the day and for blocking out bright lights at night time.
When it comes to bed time, we tend to do our usual bedtime routines at the campsite (pyjamas, teeth brushing, sleeping bag, story) then take the baby girl out with us in the pushchair. She doesn’t normally fall asleep until long after her usual 7pm bedtime, and sometimes we even get her out of the pushchair for a run around if she wants to, but eventually tiredness gets the better of her.
What to pack
These days you can buy almost anything at a festival, so it’s not the end of the world if you forget something essential. But in an ideal world, on top of all the usual festival essentials (cash, phone booster battery, etc), you’ll need:
For toddlers only
Waterproof jacket and trousers
Non-toxic permanent marker for writing your phone number on your toddler in case she wanders off
In all likelihood it’ll all go smoothly and you’ll have an awesome time but when you’re travelling with a little one it’s reassuring to have a getaway plan in case unforeseen circumstances (torrential rain, for example) make you wish you were elsewhere.
Write a list of important phone numbers and keep it in your wallet so you’ve got them handy in case your phone dies. Have a look to see where the nearest hospital with an A&E department is, and write that down too. On arrival, make sure wherever you’ve left your car will be accessible throughout the festival in case you need to drive off early. Or if you’re going by public transport, do some research as to how you would reach the nearest station or bus stop in a hurry. Finally, in the event that you needed to leave late at night or just couldn’t face camping for some reason, what’s the accommodation situation like nearby?