A Day at the Festival – but where were all the kids?

Yesterday, at a bit of a loose end I went to the Thames Festival on the South Bank. In the last two years I have probably walked along the South Bank 3 or 4 times and here I am doing it twice in one week and not only that but my new blog could now seemingly be named ‘South Bank Stories’.

That aside it was good to be there and I have many happy memories of festivals and concerts along the river going back many years to the free concerts in Jubilee Gardens some 25 years ago (can it really be so long?)

The festival, for those who’ve never been is very big with several bases between Tower Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. There are several sound stages, masses of stalls for buying gorgeous things, bars, food stalls of every description and a whole raft of special events for all including some excellent, innovative and enthralling ones for the kids. Which brings me to my key observation from the event, where were all the kids? Now of course there were plenty around but nothing like the number of adults. In some areas there were more than others, the play areas were well populated but really I would have expected a free major London event to bring in a lot more families so why didn’t it?The riverside Helter Skelter

One reason would seem to be the cost. Whilst the festival was free and most of the staged events were too the food, stalls and ‘extras’ were really quite expensive. Take the lovely old fashioned Helter Skelter for instance. I understand that whoever owns this thing has considerable costs in transporting it, insuring it, maintaining it etc. But £2.50 for something that lasts a few seconds is a lot of money especially if you have more than one child and in the nature of children one or other of them wants you to go with them.

Add in the now near obligatory face painting, some snacks, water, or juice and a cup or glass or two for the adults and suddenly this free festival is really quite a lot of money. Now of course none of the above have to be purchased. An old fashioned picnic would be a fraction of the cost but who does that anymore? Not many people it would seem. And as so many parents find it hard to say no to their kids for many it seems easier to stay away.

Now I can’t be sure, because I haven’t asked, but for some families perhaps its all just a bit too much effort to get everybody up to London and then deal with the different wants and needs, enthusiasms and disdains of kids used to being highly stimulated by games and machines whilst not being expected to expend any energy. When I walk down my local High Street on a Saturday the majority of the children I see are overweight. Yesterday at the festival I saw no clearly overweight kids at all. I know from taking children on trips with schools how many of them complain bitterly at being asked to walk even a short distance, so many parents probably didn’t even consider a day of walking around as a possibility for their families and perhaps for themselves too.

The third reason that occurs to me why parents don’t go with their children is anxiety. It was pretty crowded in parts and there were a lot of people about. At no point did it feel at all alarming to me but I can imagine that keeping a few energetic kids in sight in such a crowd might be hard. Even harder for those parents who are unable to allow their kids to run about and have fun when there are strangers about. In actual fact the event was very well managed and there were plenty of helpful folk in yellow jackets around to keep an eye on things and keep everyone safe and happy. In such a crowd I think it would be hard for anyone to approach a child in any way that the child didn’t like  without being seen by a lot of people. Well supported, caring crowds are the safest places in the world for kids, far safer than open parks or empty streets, what a shame if some parents let their media driven fears of lurking predators keep their families away.

Finally I imagine just not having time is a good reason. Trying to fit all the maintenance and care of a family in around a heavy work schedule must be a nightmare. I read an article the other day by a Mother who had returned to work only 3 days after giving birth with her child in tow. Thankfully this is pretty extreme but it serves as an illustration of how little time many people have to devote solely to their own and their child’s well-being. I meet kids all the time that have a far busier social calendar than me, some as young as 5 or 6. A Mum recently asked me if I thought her 3 year old was old enough for play dates yet! In many highly organised and time poor families a whole day together is a rare luxury.

One of the things that modern kids are not learning as well as other generations is how to behave in social settings around strangers as well as peers. Only today I had to endure two loudly shrieking children chasing each other around and around the coffee house where I had my breakfast without any word from their Mother about appropriate behaviour. Being part of large groups of people teaches children a lot about their world and how to behave within it – as well as being really good fun. So here’s to more festivals and to more families having days out together. Now if we could only have the weather sorted!


One comment

  1. Hi Gill, Delighted to hear about and see your new venture – hope it will be a place to stimulate thinking about the way we are raising our children – there will certainly be lots to cover, as every day brings something new – don’t get me started on the new Ofsted review of SEN….

    I’ve been struck this week by the story about the 7year child in Lincolnshire whose parents received a stiff letter from Social Services because she was allowed to travel on the bus alone. As with all news stories, there’s almost always more to it than is reported – but I was glad to hear the bus driver and inspector were concerned enough to intervene if they thought the child was in danger crossing the road ( though the parents seemed to have assessed the situation differently) – it just seems a shame their only recourse was to the authorities, rather than a direct and informal approach to the parents to express their concerns.
    On the news, I heard a commentator on this case say that in Finland, if a child is late being picked up from school, the staff are duty bound to report it to Social Services. Those of us who teach know what distress it can cause a child to be waiting after all the others have gone, especially if it happens often – but I can’t believe this is the best way, even if it would be practical in a country with a population our size.
    I think what I’m groping towards saying, is that all adults should feel confident to intervene to help and support a child , and to approach parent when they have a concern – even God helps us, to comment about children who are behaving unacceptably and unchecked in public and interfering with our our right to a relaxed cup of coffee in Starbucks – – but we don’t, we either say nothing or, we turn to the authorirites to do it for us.
    What stops us?

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