Surviving a Christian Festival with Small Children
So, somebody persuaded you it’d be a great idea to sign up to a Christian camp or festival with your young family. It’s fast approaching and you’re excited… but also a little bit nervous about what that’s going to look like. Here are a few practical ideas to smooth the way:
1) Be prepared
Try to think through in advance anything that might make your life easier. Ask for tips from anyone who’s been before. Here are a few ideas that might be useful if you’re camping:
Good morning sunshine Once kids see the light, they are up! Black weed control fabric, is light, cheap and great at making a section of the tent darker, which might buy you a bit more time in the morning. Don’t worry about an exact fit and use some clothes pegs to keep it in place. If they’re old enough and happy to wear an eye mask that’s an even easier way of doing it. Have a trial run at home to see if this is a goer. Have a plan for if your children do wake early. Many camps now have venues for parents and children that are available from 5.30am or you might want to have the buggy or car ready for a journey to try and get them back to sleep and away from other sleeping campers. You could also create a fun box of different toys and snacks for them to explore first thing.
Toilet trips Stuff a warm coat inside your pillow case. That way you have a nice, squishy pillow and can easily find an extra layer for those middle-of-the-night toilet runs. Keep a torch close at hand. Maybe one by your bed and one that stays tied to the tent so it can’t go walkabout. Even if the potty is a thing of the past at home, it can be a great standby to keep in your tent. You probably want a spare loo roll or some wipes in your pocket, just in case too.
A place to play If you have a tent with multiple pods, turn one into a playroom, so they always have a place to play and fun things to do, even if it's wet. If you’ve got room, you could also take an extra little play tent to serve the same purpose. Save on car space by comparing notes with any friends with children of a similar age. Share the play space and toys or bring different things and can swap midweek. Outdoor toys are also great - some bubbles and a ball always go down well, though be aware that bubbles destroy the waterproof coating on tents so only use them well away from the camping areas.
Bathtime with no bath Have a washing plan that doesn’t involve queuing for showers. Water wipes or a small paddling pool or washing up bowl can make life a lot easier. If they’re really filthy you could always make a midweek trip to a swimming pool and use their facilities!
Clean clothes Plenty of plastic bags can be a lifesaver for keeping things dry if the weather’s wet. I pack my kids’ clothes in one of those hanging shoe organisers - one outfit for each day. That way you don’t have to dig around trying to find something clean(ish!) that matches. Unless it’s baking hot, you can put an all-in-one waterproof and wellies on your child everyday. They’ll be free to have fun wherever they like and you’ll know they have warm, dry clothes underneath.
Getting to grips with groups If you plan to send your child to a group whilst you're there, it can help to explain this to them well in advance. Show them where they will be and introduce them to their leaders. You can get some more ideas about helping them with being apart from you from this article on transitions.
2) Be flexible
Be open to doing things differently. Consider keeping your children up past their normal bedtime to go to some of an evening meeting. Ear defenders are a good idea for babies or children who are sensitive to loud noises. Have them all ready for bed with teeth brushed and in their pyjamas.
Let them enjoy the atmosphere and frame for them what is happening. You could try saying things like ‘look how that person is connecting with God by singing really loudly and that person’s doing it by sitting down and closing their eyes’ or ‘this song is all about how great God is, would you like me to tell you the words the grown ups are singing or make up your own?’. Try to be relaxed enough to surf the wave of whatever they pick up on and are interested in. You may even find that they fall asleep and you’re able to continue learning and worshipping.
It can also be really helpful if you are able to be relaxed about your normal routines and expectations while you are away. Naptime and mealtime schedules may go out of the window, and undoubtedly any child old enough to walk will be pretty grubby most of the time!
3) Team up
Have a think in advance and communicate to the people around you as you go along. Try to see if there are any ways you can team up and pool resources. If you’re going with your church or a group maybe you could take turns collecting children, buying food or cooking meals. If you’re with a partner, perhaps you could take turns to have an afternoon nap and restore your energy levels a bit.
Be honest if you’re struggling. You’ll often find people around you are willing to help and that it’s a novelty for them - in fact, they'd love to spend time with your kids! I was recently finding it really tough, a couple of days into a Christian camp with my two children under three. I was totally rescued by a 12-year-old from our church who loves playing with them and a friend who could see I needed a break. They took a child each and had a great time whilst I was able to engage and connect with God through the worship time. The next day, a friend who has grown up children, followed my youngest around, allowing me to listen to the talk. It can feel embarrassing to ask for help, but it’s all part of being a community together. Your children can also learn and watch how to connect with God from people other than you, so don’t feel guilty about taking some time without them and letting them learn and be loved by your church community.
4) Connect with God
One of your reasons for coming was probably because you wanted to connect with God more yourself. Don’t lose sight of this goal! But be aware that it might look a bit different to the people around you who don’t have little ones. If you’re stuck on babysitting duty, is there a way that you can still listen to the talks via radio or a livestream? Have a flick through the programme and choose one or two seminars (don’t be too ambitious and pick ten) that you’d really like to go to and see if you can share childcare to make that possible.
You could also use the time to connect with God without directly engaging with the sessions at the event. Buy an interesting-looking book and get stuck into reading it; journal with God whilst your child is napping; or sing along to some worship music whilst you’re getting the dinner ready. You could watch the Parenting for Faith course sessions. You can register to download them for free, so you don’t even need to have internet access.
What would you add? Let us know any tips or ideas that have helped you, so we can share them with others.
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