Should I take my children to Burning Man?

Posted: March 28, 2011 in Burning man
Tags: , , , , , ,

Recently a friend of a friend asked on Facebook whether or not she should bring her children to Burning Man this year?  First of course we should quickly address, for those who don’t know, what Burning Man is.  An absolutely overly simplistic definition would be that it is an art festival held in the Black Rock Desert outside of Gerlach, Nevada a week-long creation of an idealistic place called Black Rock City.  Of course the last week in August is far much more than that, and if you want to know no more take a look at the following links or the Burning Man category on the left side of the blog:

In answering the question of children on the Playa there are a few things to consider.  First the Playa, as the ancient lakebed is referred to, is a harsh camping environment.  There are often significant wind storms with winds in excess of 50 mph, it is regularly very hot and of course very dry, and finally temperature extremes can occur making it very cold at night.  I have personally seen a nearly 80 degree swing in a 24 hour period.  It is a no trace camping event, so anything that comes in must go out and the only thing provided are porta-potties.   If you are thinking of bringing your children to Burning Man, you really should have taken them camping first.  If they can’t handle a weekend in a park they will not do well on the playa.

Secondly, have you been to Burning Man before?  Before you bring children to Burning Man, you really should have been to Burning Man yourself.  When I first decided to attend the festival I did a ton of research, talked to lots of people who’d been to Burning Man and even then, the experience was nothing like I expected.  You can’t intellectually work out what Burning Man is, you have to experience it, become part of it before you can understand it.  Additionally, after having been on the Playa for several years, what I have come to understand is that the Playa is a unique and individual experience for every person that attends.

Finally, socially who are you and your family?  If you are a very typical suburban household, particularly living in a conservative community, you probably don’t want to go to Burning Man with your children.  Your children will almost be certainly exposed to nudity and alternative lifestyles.  They will want to talk about the things they see, they will want to tell their friends all about it when they get home.  Their friends will want to tell their parents about it and we know kids they exaggerate a bit, so if you don’t want to explain Burning Man to your friends and neighbors, don’t take your kids to the Playa.

So you’ve decided to take them, what do you need to know?  First I’d say you need to know about Kidsville, it’s a theme camp that focuses on having as kid friendly an environment as you can create on the Playa.  They are also typically located near Hushville, a camp that creates a quiet area within Black Rock City.  You can get some more information about this camp at the following link:

Second, I think you need to really prepare your children for the experience as best as you can.  Show them pictures and videos, explain the event to them, possibly start a year before by attending a regional or decompression event.  Finally, connect with others in the community who will taking children, talk with them, let your kids spend time together so that they will have some familiar faces to encounter when they reach the Playa.  It’s important when you’re on the Playa to still be a parent, don’t let your kids run wild and be brats and for God sake keep an eye on them.  Remember you brought your kids to the Playa, the rest of us aren’t there to entertain or take care of them.  If you do bring your kids I hope they have a wonderful experience, I’ve met some incredibly cool kids on the Playa and remember, the Playa changes us all.

Below are some links to resources that I think will help you with this decision, the first is from the Burning Man website and is especially good:

  1. Tuba says:

    Well, that is a really good question. You should check out our post “Burning Man with kids” written by a burner mom:)

  2. With only two Burns under my belt I can certainly say that the playa has made a lasting and loving impression on me. Both times I camped at Hushville. It’s as quiet as it possibly can be with several hundred (maybe thousand) people dancing at all hours of the day and night to deafening techo music. Earplugs are necessary and not entirely effective. I visited Kidsville several times. There were beautiful, alternative families there who seemed to have a secure grasp on life at Burning Man. That said, I couldn’t help but feel a tightness in my chest when an eight-month old baby clutching her Mama ducked out of a terrible dust storm into the bar I’d been partying at all day. That dust is not meant for tiny lungs. To say the environment is harsh is truly an understatement. It can be dangerous. But the reason I won’t take our four kids to burning man has more to do with unpredictable sights. While children are virtually guaranteed to see extraordinary art and meet an entire community of mind-bogglingly generous people, they also stand a good chance of seeing something that would require a discussion. I’m not interested in explaining why “that man put a toothbrush up his butt.” This sight isn’t the norm, but one never knows what one might find at Burning Man.

    I did meet an insightful and articulate teen who’d been coming to the burn for years upon years with his parents and he was fine with the whole thing. I second the recommendation of doing as much research as possible so you can make a well-informed decision. You can read about my Burning Man experiences on my (long-neglected) blog. Best of luck to you. I hope you make it to the burn this year. xxoo

  3. Benita says:

    myself and my huband was at BM for the 1st time in 1995, we went last yr after a break of 11 yrs and after having 4 kids. I woudn’t really recommend bringing kids to the playa, I think it’s really an adult affair, howerever I did see about 10 kids there last yr. That’s great if you really want to bring them but for us we wanted some alone time together, our kids are with us (me) basically 24/7 so to leave them with a relative for a few days, I thought they would be fine. We did bring them to the SF demcompression party, and they had alot of fun.(BTW our kids are 9, 7, 5 and 2)
    The playa is a very harsh invironment, it’s hard enough looking after yourself, I wouldn’t fancy having to take care of little ones…..

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