Black Rock City, USA :

Taking the Kids to Burning Man

Full disclosure: I have never taken my kids to Burning Man, mostly because of logistical issues (their being too young, or in another country). I myself have been twice, and thought I would translate those experiences into a Momaboard context for my readers.

For those of you not in the know, Burning Man is an art festival that takes place in the desert of Nevada in the week leading to and including the Labor Day holiday every year. A temporary city is created, complete with streets and citizens, although there are two big differences: no money and no laws. The rules of behavior, which are very effectively and informally enforced by the community, believe that un-policed, people treat each other with respect and dignity.

Burning Man was started in 1986, with a mere 20 participants. Today it welcomes over 40,000 people from all over the world, coming together to celebrate art, life and a common philosophy. For those with the stomach and right attitude, Burning Man can be a life-changing experience, but it's certainly not for everyone.

Should you take your kids to Burning Man?

burning man I don't know, should you? To outsiders, Burning Man is a cult-like meeting of hippies and drug-users engaging in orgies and effigy-burning. True, you will find elements of all these at Burning Man. But it's far from its essence. Are you the kind of parent who is comfortable exposing your children to an environment that encourages pushing boundaries and shunning norms (not to mention clothing)? Many are, and for them, the experience can be very rewarding. For others though, wearing outrageous costumes and dancing around a fire may not be the best way to spend a long weekend. And for those with an aversion to public nudity, this is definitely not the place for you. (Neither is San Francisco, for that matter).

Age matters too. I would personally take my kids till they were about 5, while they can enjoy the colors and the creation without reading to much into them, and after they are 13, when they can truly start to understand them. The years in between where they might be confused or freaked out, I would skip.

Read this testimonial of a high schooler who has been going since she was 1. Her (very insightful) descriptions of how Burning Man has shaped her may help inform your decisions.

If you've indeed decided Burning Man is going to be a family event, here are some things to think about:

1. The cost: 

Burning Man is not cheap. If you plan on renting an RV, it can be downright expensive. This point is not meant to be a deterrent, just a fact. You may sacrifice a trip to Hawaii to take your family to the playa this year and it may well be worth it. For what it's worth, kids under 13 go free.

2. Paving the way: 

I would definitely not take my kids to Burning Man without going there first. There's a lot to know about thriving on the playa that's learned only first hand.

3. Where to camp:

If you've been camping with your kids, you're half way there. Renting an RV may be also be a good option with the family. (Warning: RVs in the Bay Area start getting booked out a year in advance).

Burning Man is truly an inclusive environment, which means your kids have a home too. Enter Kidsville, a special camp for children, for which you can register separately. Wherever you do decide to set up your temporary home in Black Rock, make sure it's far from the big dance camps, so your little ones can get some rest at night.


4. What to wear: 

Since Burning Man is all about self-expression, it's great to let the kids choose and make their own costumes, but make sure that they are weather-appropriate and suited to the harsh conditions on the playa.

Black Rock City is in the middle of the desert, which means that highs can be up to 100 degrees fahrenheit (37 celsius)  and nights can be cold. There are also dust storms to weather so masks and googles are a good idea.


5. Staying safe:

Aside from the obvious threats: sunburns, dehydration, and exhaustion, making sure your kids don't get lost is the important thing at Burning Man. Get them identity bracelets at the Black Rock Ranger Station at Center Camp, practice dust storm drills,  identify landmarks on your way back to your camp and agreed upon places to meet if you get split up (Center Camp for instance). If you alert the Black Rock authorities that a child is missing, there will be a city-wide lockdown, which means that no one will be able to enter or leave BRC until your child is reunited with you. This is a wonderful thing, except that it really strains the system and resources. Be smart and keep your kids close by.

6. Use the experience: 

Burning Man is the ultimate playground. Fancy costumes, flying cupcakes, sky-high robots, and fire-dancers will make memories your children will cherish forever (if they are old enough to remember). But it's more than that. If you brave the elements (and the anti-kid burners) to take your children to Burning Man, do everything you can to help them embrace the magic of its ethos and the guiding principles on which this community was built. I am pretty sure there is no better education out there.

Have a blast on the playa! Tell us your experiences when you get back with your dusty, exhausted, wonderfully fulfilled children.