Camping With Baby Burners: Kids at Burning Man

[Judes is the Burner mom of an 11-year old baby-Burner, and founder of Black Rock Scouts.]

Burning Man has been a family affair from the very beginning. When Jerry James and Larry Harvey burned the first Man in 1986, their 5-year old sons Robin and Trey built a Burning Dog alongside their dads.

PHOTO: A baby-Burner art car. Photo Georgie.

Because the playa is a colossal day-glow playground, children feel right at home. Kids already live in make-believe worlds, so when they experience the magic of Black Rock City, it feels natural to the way they view the world. Tots know how to play and have fun without inhibition, hesitation or fear of judgment. Follow that Art car! As a parent, I know it’s really my reaction that colors my kid’s reaction to something. Us grownups can learn a few things from tiny folk and how they embrace the art and culture of Black Rock City.

Black Rock Scouts were trained by Animal control on how to humanely catch critters at the Billion Bunny March. Photo by Beta Girl


Burning Man enthusiastically welcomes children of all ages to Black Rock City, and kids 12 and younger don’t require a ticket. BRC’s infrastructure supports the presence of families, and has an excellent record in regard to the welfare of children. There have been no incidents of child abuse, abductions, molestations or serious injuries. Should a child be reported as missing, Black Rock Rangers initiate a Lost Child shutdown — an all-hands alert goes out to all law enforcement and infrastructural staff, citizen alerts are broadcast on BMIR, and the Gates are closed for all traffic until the child is located – usually, within minutes. A parent or guardian with a lost child should go to a Ranger right away. There are Ranger stations in Center Camp and at 3 and 9 o’clock Plazas, and Rangers rove the streets in their distinctive khaki costumes – they are there to help.


In 2001, Kidscamp (a family village) was established as a supportive haven for parents.  Now known as Kidsville, the village has evolved into a space where families can happily live and play with other crusty little Burners. The village makes wristband ID’s for all their child campers, creates mini-theme camps with kid activities, and has its own in-house Ranger liaison. It is a place for families to support one another and share resources and kid-friendly good times. By 2011, the population of Kidsville swelled to over 600. Any family can camp at Kidsville so long as they have children with them. Contact TK to join the group or get advice about camping with kids. The entire radial area from 5:30-5:30 is designated “Family Friendly.”


Even with safety precautions and family areas in place, the ultimate responsibility is on parents to keep their children safe (it’s printed right on the ticket). Burner parents don’t plan to let their children wander freely on their own any more than they do back home — just because we are Burners, it doesn’t mean we take a week off from being responsible parents.

Communication is key – parenting is hard on the playa. Don’t kid yourself – we all become tired and cranky out there in the harsh desert. Think through your childcare choices – do you have an alternate for when you need a break, a nap, or a respite? Will your kid be able to sleep in a city where sound never really does? Not every child’s personality is suited for Burning Man, and parenting on the playa is not for every parent.


Make sure you have read the survival guide and are ready to take on camping in the desert. Dust is one of the biggest challenges of parenting on the playa.  You need to make sure you and your little ones have goggles, wet naps, lip balm, face masks/bandanas, hats, sunscreen, water and heat-resistant snacks – every time you leave your camp, even for a trip to the bathroom.  Dust will get into your tent, into your luggage, into every thing you bring.

Plan costumes as survival gear in a harsh place. Zippers may break (tip: lube them with a chapstick!) and feathers will definitely fly away (so don’t bring them!). Prepare for the dust and wind. Dust will dry up noses and crack your hands and bare feet.  Skin care is important on the playa, so wipe your kid’s skin down every night with wet naps and apply healthy oils/moisturizers to the dry bits. White vinegar mixed with water will also cut the dust.  Most Burners bring vinegar with them to clean – everything—before, during and after the event.


While survival skills are key, playa-cation doesn’t end with sunscreen and water bottles. As parents, we can teach our offspring about the Burning Man culture, compassion, responsibility, respect, self-reliance, courtesy and generosity. Although it’s fun to dress them in pink fur, children are not playa accessories. They are part of the community, and have the same responsibilities that adults do. At the same time, kids are citizens of Black Rock City; they bring freshness and diversity to the playa, and they deserve the same respect and radical inclusion as any adult Burner.


A word on gifts – your kid will likely get more gifts than you do! This can be one of the fun parts of being a child at Burning Man – many people appreciate seeing young people in our culture and may go out of their way to reach out to your family as you walk the streets, sometimes offering gifts or treats to express welcome. Black Rock City is a place where strangers are encouraged to meet, interact, and share openly with one another, but it’s important to acknowledge that it is still the real world, and to talk about personal safety. Kids should be reminded that in any gathering of this size, there can be people present who do not have our best interests in mind, and that just because gifting is one of our tenets that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to “candy from strangers” or stay in situations that don’t feel right.


There are some Burners who believe children do not belong on the playa. As a parent, I absolutely respect those opinions. Those I’ve spoken to have their reasons; some come to Burning Man to get away from their kids, some have grown kids and don’t want to deal with somebody else’s snotty-nose toddler and some simply don’t want to have to curb their behavior in front of children. It’s totally understandable.

The good news is, BRC is a big place. Respect goes both ways. There is plenty of room for every kind of experience, and for the most part, a parent can steer clear of adult activities with only a little planning and awareness. Over the years, when I’ve bumped into something I felt was inappropriate for my son, I simply went the other way. For me, those moments are opportunities to talk openly with my kid about taboo topics that might not otherwise come up between us. It has kept communication open between me and my son, in a really positive way.


The baby-Burner population continues to grow every year — and not just because babies are conceived on the playa. Even newbies are bringing their young. Still, the math is simple: Burners + Burners = homegrown organic free-range baby Burners. Burners naturally want to share their experience with their offspring, and have the rare opportunity to grow model-Burners from the ground up. What better way to assure our culture, integrity and principals will be instilled in the next generation?

A child-free Burner recently told me that she appreciates the difficult job that parents do. Kids are the future for us all… so breeders are not just raising their own kids, they are raising her kids too.

Below are some resources for families. We’d love to hear about yours!

Newsletter from Larry Harvey, on children

Advice for Burning Man with Kids




About the author: Judi Morales Gibson

Judi Morales Gibson

Judes has been a Bay Area burner since 1999 and an advocate for playa families since 2002. She first brought her son Dexter to BRC when he was 16-months-old, he's been burning ever since. Judes hosted Hot Monkey Sox, a sock monkey workshop camp in Kidsville from to 2007-10. In 2010, she founded the Black Rock Scouts, a playacational program for kids to volunteer with BRC Departments and learn to give back to the BRC community. With Scouts, Judes worked shifts with Greeters and Lamplighters. She was an Earth Guardians from 2011-13, and on Gate/Perimeter from 2012-13. Judes is now on the crew of the Neverwas Haul, mobile art installation based in Vallejo. Off-playa, Judes is a freelance writer, artist, art instructor (kids & adult), designer and maker of upcycled Steampunk fashion and playa-wear. "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

26 Comments on “Camping With Baby Burners: Kids at Burning Man

  • G says:

    SHHH don’t let the BLM know kids get in without a ticket. I hear they are already concerned that more tickets than the currently allowable population cap are being sold.

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  • Peace says:

    Granted I sometimes worry kids will be scared by some of the more extreme examples of radical self-expression happening on the playa, but I figure their parents know the score and know how to mitigate those issues. Other than that, having kids out there just reminds us how to behave with an non-cynical heart.

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  • Tom says:

    Last year, after witnessing a battalion of children slay a dragon art-car, they, looking for evil to fight, turned their sites on me (I had giant light-up eyeballs on each side of my head). A couple of dozen kids vanquished me with light sabers, flanking and surrounding me, all under the supervision of a chaperone. After many wounds, I fell, lifeless to the playa and turned off my eye lights. They cheered their victory and moved on. I, however, sat there and wept. I was going to be a dad soon and it was just too much awesome for me to handle. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life and I hope I never forget it.

    I love this post. My wife was told the burn was no place for a pregnant woman or child. After some research, these naysayers were easy to ignore. We had an amazing first burn last year and we’re planning on bringing the little one in the future.

    Here’s a post with a time lapse video my pregnant wife and I made and some photos of our burn:

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  • lilly says:


    “the more extreme examples of radical self-expression happening on the playa”

    implying there’s any example of extreme expression of self-expression happening on the playa anymore.

    oh my god – a woman with electrical tape covering her nipples! cover johnny’s eyes, sweetheart!!

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  • Sandie says:

    My children are 7 and 9 years of age and have been to Burning Man the last three years. I am very mindful of where my children are at all times and they are given guildlines and borders that they cannot go without an adult with them. We point out the people and places to go if they get lost and what to do if they do get lost ie: never leave the Playa with anyone etc. They love the gifting and are they already have plans for this years burn with all new presents. There is a lot of things to see on the Playa and somethings might be too much for some children. I just explain things as we go and anwser all the questions that come up. I look at it as a natural experience and an educational experience. In todays world there are far worse things to see from the evening news to the voilent bloody video games….

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  • lilly says:


    “to the voilent bloody video games….”

    I agree. It’s the violent bloody video games that are ruining society. They should be banned. All video games should be banned. Anything men like should be banned. Men should be banned. When women rule the world, we won’t have such problems… we also won’t have much of anything else. But who cares?! SISTERHOOD! SISTERHOOD! SISTERHOOD!

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  • Andie Grace says:

    @Lilly – Keep it civil and productive, please.

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  • G says:

    OFF TOPIC ALERT Just hoping Andie Grace reads this!

    Andie, you are out there!

    I tried to find an email addy for you because I wanted to see if you might offer an elaboration of something you said on the “Andie Grace to Leave Burning Man Organization” thread. That would be . . . “This isn’t about any particular experience, nor am I leaving for another job….and no, it’s not about the ticket experience this year (which I see as a birth process, which explains why it’s been painful – buy me a beer sometime and I’ll expand on that!).

    Can’t easily buy you a beer. Well, come to the Colorado Mountains I’ll buy you a six pack :). Anyway, seriously want to hear you “expand” on that birth process idea. I’ll bet it would be a good thing for the community to hear too.


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    • Andie Grace says:

      @G – Yup, reading! I’ll definitely write something, sometime – deal?

      To bring it back on track: I bring my Burning Kid to this and other related events. I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to introduce this person I’m supposed to be raising well to the place where my most important formative experiences have happened. Of course, it must be done in a child-oriented, responsible-parent way, but that’s how we do everything when she’s involved. Our Burner kid is four and has camped on the playa seven times. She really took to the desert, and thrives there. If she didn’t, I’d have to reconsider taking her.

      These days we let her stay half the week at her grandparents’ house, and then grandpa, himself a seven time Burner and desert artist, drives her to BRC for our family time at the Burn. Best of both worlds. I don’t believe in long separations — especially from BOTH parents — so a few days is all I will take without her, but more importantly…I know she is taking this experience into the future with her, and that matters to me.

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  • Buff says:

    Burner kids rule. I thank Kidsville and the Black Rock Scouts for their contributions of burner awesomness to our community (drink!). Seeing our junior citizens lamplighting and working the greeters station warms my heart with hope and pride.

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  • Laura says:

    I’ve taken my 7 year old to the playa and camped in Kidsville and will do it again. He can’t wait to go next year. My son was WAY more interested in the art cars than in naked people and “weird grownup things.” I agree with Judes that it’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids stay away from things that the parents think are not age-appropriate. Yay Kidsville!

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  • Peace says:


    I really want to understand the anger and bitterness of some. Can you help? I’m serious.

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  • Leori says:

    My kid is 11 and has been to Burning Man 6 times so far. It’s wonderful to have this alternate reality to show her in light of the mall-tv-pop culture that she is immersed in in the default world. Parenting is challenging on the playa so a responsible parent must pace themselves with their kids and not the other way around. I love the values of community and gifting, self-reliance, and leave no trace that she gets from coming out to the desert with me. To the Burner kid haters I say “do your thing, we’ll walk away from you if we don’t like it, and you do the same.”

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  • harinama says:

    I love seeing kids on the playa. With good guidance, it is an incredible experience for them.

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  • Jennifer says:

    We get a group of Young Burners (and their parents) from Kidsville every year to light lamps with the Lamplighters…..and I always make sure I get on their route. These kids are always awesome. They listen carefully to the instructions their Luminary gives, and they are very serious about the work we do. Normally I get relegated to a support position because they want to take on the more challenging roles. Give a kid a job at Burning Man and they will do it well. Right on youngsters!

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  • Bevin says:

    Any advice on finding kid-sized goggles? We brought our little booger when he was just 1 year old– he learned to walk on the playa!– and we’re bringing him back this year as an 8 year old. Other than goggles, we’re probably set.

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  • etcetera says:

    I feel chastised reading that Larry’s and Jerry James’s five year olds were at the first baker beach burn. Kids were there intentionally and by invitation of their parents, the initiators of Burning Man, long before I ever made it out to the Playa.

    I’ve always wished there weren’t kids at BRC because, come on, isn’t there any place cool left that isn’t familified? I change my behavior and language around children because I think it’s the right thing to do. Little Junior doesn’t need to see me get loaded, have sex, scream obscenities, or burn a brand into my arm. I suppose it’s my fault and if I don’t like it I should stop, but I feel protective rather than just celebratory when I’m watching the Burn near the front lines and some Burner parents are milling near their small children but not actively protecting them from crowd surges (my friends and I did the protecting that time). I think it’s important to acknowledge that when we bring kids, we are asking the community to change gears. Maybe say “Thanks, guys!” instead of complaining about people who question having kids out there, calling them “haters,” etc.

    Now I’m considering bringing my child out there. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? And for some reason it does matter to me that kids have been involved since 1986. I’ve only been going for a dozen years or so.

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  • Honeybee says:


    How was your experience bringing your 1 year old baby? Granted it was several years ago and I’m sure lots have changed on the playa, but wondering how long you stayed and what yours and your baby’s experience was like. I’m considering bringing my son who will be a year old for this year’s burn, definitely renting an rv or camper, but just want to hear others experiences before making the decision. Thanks so much!!! Also any other parents out there with a similar situation, your input is much appreciated. Muah!

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  • Beth says:

    My first experience on playa was with a family who brought me along as their nanny. The experience was amazing – the little girl (7) loved getting dressed up and interacting with all the art, and the little boy (5) was super excited to transform into a dragon (he wore the outfit and acted like one pretty much the entire time). The biggest challenge was getting them to understand *why* they needed to make sure to clean the dust off at least once a day. Once there was a little dry skin, the understood pretty quickly ;)

    Anyway, they played and laughed during the day, and then at night passed the you-know-what out! It was a perfect balance between family time and grown-up only play time. Worked for me and my host family. Not to mention, the magic experienced by the kids totally rubbed off on me. Couldn’t imagine a better first burn :)

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  • Peace says:

    On the one hand, kids are in for a transformative experience. On the other, part of that transformation will be seeing my knobby, erect 7 inch penis flopping out of my rainbow underpants. A nuanced issue indeed.

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  • Rutger says:


    >implying you have a penis.

    envy is a terrible thing.

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  • I saw some children on the playa and I was jealous I didn’t get to go when I was a kid (but I did go to BMX camp! and pedo-free Boy Scout Camp, which was dope).

    Black Rock City is a great example to show that nudity isn’t porn, that being weird isn’t wrong, that having fun and building crazy things is good. What a great environment for a kid to see the good side of what humanity can be, instead of some corporate, for-profit think like Six Flags or Disney.

    Children see things differently — through the high definition lenses of innocence and often profound rationalization. It’s a beautiful thing.

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  • Buttercup says:

    Human scale trains and tractors, giant golden dragons, dress-up everyday – young children enjoy these things with unfettered delight. Every time I asked myself last year, could I do this with my son (then 3) a happy family would roll by.

    I believe that Black Rock City is a place of innovation and experimentation in ways of living, organizing, creating, and relating that will become the idea bank we draw from as the old ways fail. Its the best education I can imagine for thriving in the world our children will inherit. How to manage in a world of limited water, complete management of resources, rapidly changing weather conditions, and accelerated human development, seems like really important skills for the ones who will see 2090.

    There is nothing on the playa that compares to the violence and turmoil of the world our children are coming into. I say, lets show them how to rock it in a rapidly changing world and lets learn from them unfettered delight!

    Full disclosure – my son gets to choose his own adventure and right now he thinks a week a grandma’s looks better. Rock on Hanuman, we will bring you when you are ready.

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  • Shimmer Coolcats says:

    We brought our twins (2.5 years old the first year) two years in a row, and now that we are taking this year off, they are super sad to miss it! Having our kids with us was an amazing family bonding experience, and I think now if we were to try to go without them, the experience would feel empty. Being able to view the playa through their wondrous eyes was such a gift – one I hope to repeat soon!

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  • Bam bam says:

    My wife and I were blessed to have seen our son for the first time on an ultrasound while in black rock. Words aren’t enough!
    Thank you

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  • Umoris says:

    Right here is the perfect blog for everyone who would like to find out about this topic.
    You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a brand new spin on a topic that’s been discussed for many years.
    Great stuff, just wonderful!

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