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Burning Man With Kids: Guide to the Playa

Labor Day weekend is creeping up on us, which can mean only one thing (besides the start of the school year): Burning Man! While it’s clear that the majority of Burners opt for a week of adult playtime, there are actually quite a few Burner parents who wouldn’t have it any other way even citing that “kids thrive out on the playa”. As we have a few veterans on staff here, we honestly think the annual pilgrimage to Black Rock City, where nature, creativity, and culture all merge, can be a fantastic place for little ones to experience first-hand self-expression.

Long-time Burner Mom Harley K. Dubois and newbie mom Cory Mervis (Lady Merv) graciously gave us their advice and insights on life on the playa with kids. So read on Burning Moms and Dads, in honor of this years fertility theme, we’ve updated our list of 10 Insider Tips to make your Burning Man 2013 a fun-filled success with your Burner Babes.

1. The Family Experience
Bringing along the kids will lend an entirely different experience. This is the reality, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t have an amazing time! When deciding what mode of transportation to bring consider that the distances in the desert are great and can be too much for little legs to walk or pedal on their own. Get crafty and decorate your bike trailer but don’t forget to rig up plenty of shade for them to ride in style. When considering your outings, early mornings and late afternoons are best to beat the heat and the larger crowds. Nighttime noise can be an issue for light sleepers, so consider camping further back. The airport can also be a great base camp for kids. It’s quiet at night and can be a source of endless daytime entertainment for aviation loving kids.

photo courtesy of Siberfi via Flickr

2.  Repeat After Me: No Lost Children
Lights, sound, big art, so much to see! Adventurous ones may have a tendency to wander off so be sure to affix a wristband (the kind they can’t pull off) with your name, kids name, camp name, and location. Check out My Precious Kid for a good selection of inexpensive ID bracelets. Cell phone service is unreliable at best so if you do become separated, be sure to contact a Black Rock City Ranger immediately. Misplaced children are taken very seriously and once a child is reported misplaced all enforcement staff are put on alert until the child is located. For the older kids, identify an easy meeting spot in case you get separated. Choose somewhere central and well know so others can help your child locate it as well. Playa Info (6 o’clock and Center Camp) can be a great place to meet since they are trained to help in situations like these.

photo “Mini Man” in Kidsvile courtesy of Mickey Sattler (his daughter is in the heart-shaped tie-dyed shirt!) 

3.  So Much More Than Halloween
Just because it’s not Halloween doesn’t mean that you can’t dress up. Have a little fun and get them into the moop-free costume spirit, people will love it! Just remember that kids in costumes (whether you’re in the desert or not) are always a hit so people will want to photograph your sweetheart and give them treats – be prepared! Official media photographers can be identified by their laminates and if you are uncomfortable with anyone taking a picture of your child, be vocal.

A special thanks to Coyote and his fam for this photo (and the one at top)

4. Dust Storm Diligence
Ski or swim masks are the best and cheapest dust protection for the eyes. Consider “goggle training,” meaning get the kiddos used to the goggles by wearing them a few minutes each day. Bandannas make good air filters but the best place to be during a storm is inside. Carry the What, Where, When with you and if you find yourself stranded away from your camp during an extended one, find a kid-friendly activity (marked with the kids symbol) with a shade structure to hang out in until it passes.

photo of “Story time” courtesy of Mickey Sattler

5. Skip the Kiddie Pools
Kid pools are a mess! If you are prepared to drain and wash the pools daily you will be all set, but the first dust storm makes the mini pools brown and unappealing.  If you must, bring the kiddie pools out as treat and be mentally prepared to have it as a one time special moment.

6. Pack Familiar Toys and Bedding
Whether it’s a stuffed animal, special blanket, or sippy cup, be sure to pack a familiar object from home to make your kid more comfortable out in this unfamiliar territory. It gets cold in the high desert at night so you may want to pick up a cozy sleeping bag and let them get used to it in the weeks leading up to the event.

photo courtesy of Siberfi via Flickr

7. Combat the Dry Desert Sun and Heat
It’s the desert and with that comes plenty of sun, dust, sand, dry heat, and cracking skin galore. Little ones can be especially prone to playa foot so try and keep thin socks on their feet and be sure to clean off every night with Vinegar wash, which neutralizes the alkaline dust and restores Ph balance. (Bring a spray bottle for easy access and portability.) Pharmaceutical almond oil and Olive oil are great natural moisturizers. If your baby has super sensitive skin pack some Bag Balm for diaper rash – it’s the stuff bicycle riders use for long trips. Also a must are wide brimmed hats, sunglasses with a strap, plenty of bandanas (dust mask and cool rag), leggings, vented hat, and tons of sunscreen. Pint sized sun umbrellas can also be a fun way for little ones to keep cool and in the shade.

Other tips: Pack clear fragrance-free moisturizer and some q-tips. If your kid gets a nose bleed or the dreaded “playa-taters” (nose buggers), blow their noses in a moist fragrance-free towelette and then run the moisturizer inside the nostril before sleep.

8. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
This may be a no-brainer but be sure to keep you and your kids hydrated. Water is always good but the high altitude can also wreck havoc on the electrolyte balance of tiny systems. Consider mixing up the hydration routine with low sugar sports drinks or unflavored Pedialyte. The occasional salty snack or the favorite Burning Man staple, bacon (for the meat-eaters) can also help with salt loss. The first sign of dehydration is actually crankiness, so be aware and catch it early. Squirt guns and small hydration packs can be fun for older kids.

photo courtesy of The_WB via Creative Commons

9. Get Connected With Others
Black Rocks Kids (Kidsville), Burning Moms, Alternative Energy Zone, and the official Kids Survival Guide – there are lots of support groups and community resources out there to educate and support families on the playa. Kidsville also has it’s own early burn which lets the little ones have their own fun if you opt to skip the main event. Consider going with another like minded family. You will have in-camp entertainment for your kids as well as options for trading off night time duty so you can still get out and have some adult fun.

10. Enjoy the Moment
Your kiddos are going to get dirty, dusty, cranky, and everything in between – there’s no way around that so give up your “perfect picture” and try to enjoy the family experience. Harley comments, “I was much more stressed about my child being out there than she was. She did great! I had bags under my eyes. Just relax and enjoy the moment. You are creating an experience for your child that will validate their imagination, inspire creativity, and give them confidence.”

Jade and Cake at Burning Man, photo courtesy of playapixie

Here’s some more advice for Burner parents with older/school-aged kids from Burning Man veteran Dawn:

- Instill basic safety/well-being skills religiously. Our three biggest rules: never leave camp or us without checking in with parents first, never leave camp without your camelback with water, goggles, & dust mask, and never ever enter any enclosed space without an adult we know & trust. Obviously also teach them your camp address, landmarks to get home, and what Rangers look like.

- Have a secret code for checking out their level of comfort with strange situations. We used green/yellow/red (where green is “no problem at all,” yellow is “I’m uncomfortable or uncertain, but willing to see how it pans out; keep checking in,” and red is “get me out of here”). For example, ask your kiddo “what do you think of that yellow art car?” “What yellow art car? I only see a green one.” Having a code means you can check in on them in a group without having to potentially embarrass them, but following up with them after the fact is always a good idea too.

We want to hear from you Burner parents! What are your experiences bringing your kids out on the Playa and are there any insider tips that we’ve missed?

- Erin Lem and Drea Lester

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