Involving and Engaging Kids at Burning Man

Zebra riders (Photo by Omer Sehayek)
Zebra riders (Photo by Omer Sehayek)

Black Rock City relies on the efforts, diligence and ethics of the Burners that build the city, run departments and set the stage to make Burning Man possible, and kids are some of the most enthusiastic volunteers who love contributing their time, and have fun doing it.

From the very beginning, playa kids learn survival skills, playa ethics like Leave No Trace, and ultimately how to contribute to their community. When taught the Burning Man principles on playa, kids get it right away. They learn it, live it and incorporate it into their core values as they grow up.

Through programs like Black Rock Scouts, kids get to volunteer and train with departments like Lamplighters, Gate, Greeters, ESD, Media Mecca and DMV. This kind of behind-the-scenes exposure teaches them invaluable skills and often inspires kids (and their parents) to join a crew, which some Scouts have gone on to do.

What are the Risks?

Adult content is concern for some — mostly to those without kids — but exposure to such things challenges parents to talk about tough subjects. Kids are not shy about asking questions, so most parents look at it as an opportunity to talk openly with their children about sexuality, drug use and human nature.

Mobile classroom (Photo by Roth Hall)
Mobile classroom (Photo by Roth Hall)

As far as nudity goes, kids love being naked so when adults don’t react negatively, it’s no big deal. In the end, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide what their child should see or not, so Burners should simply be themselves around kids. If your behavior seems unsuitable for kids, it’s up the parents to remove their children from the situation. No biggie.

How About the Rewards?

Interacting with kids on playa can be a rewarding experience for child-free Burners. Do you remember having that ‘aha!’ moment during your first Burn? You relearned how to play, how to be generous and how it feels to be unconditionally accepted. Children who come to the playa are already there. They see the world as one big playground. Their open minds are not tainted with prejudice or judgment.

Playing with children helps us experience the magic of the playa through their fresh perspective. Playa kids raised at Burning Man have the advantage of on-the-playa training with inspiring Burners (like you) as role models. When you encounter a baby Burner this year, take a moment to have a conversation, share your wisdom or simply play with them.

Playa-raised kids are the next generation of Burners and they’ll be the ones keeping the flame alive at Burning Man.

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."

10 Comments on “Involving and Engaging Kids at Burning Man

  • Ken Mitchell says:

    Great blog post, thanks. My experiences with my 12 year old young son were similar to what you described. I am looking forward to bringing him back along with my 10 year old daughter.

    “In the end, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide what their child should see or not, so Burners should simply be themselves around kids. ” sums it up very well!

    Kids are treated great at Burning Man. We camped with Kids Camp and plan on doing it again. The Black Rock Scouts program is a lot of fun for the kids!

    Regarding Toot’s comments. They don’t match with anything or anyone I’ve ever talked to in my many years as a Burner. All the parents I saw were doing a good job monitoring their own children.

    If you do find a lost child, ask someone to find a BRC Ranger. There are protocols in place for this sort of issue both at Kids Camp and at Burning Man.

    Report comment

  • momma bear says:

    Thank you for this blog and shedding light on kids at BM. This will be me and my now 6 year old sons time at BM and we will be camping at Kids Camp again as well. When we were there in 2012, we had nothing but amazingly wonderful experiences with the people of kids camp and even out on the playa my child was received with love and open arms. My experience too was very attentive and responsible parents.

    Report comment

  • Andrew Jonasp says:

    This will be my wife and my 14th burn and our kids’ 4th. We would not have considered bringing our kids to burning man in the OLD days of no roads, no rules about cars not driving around, everything about as wild and spread out as it could be. Yeah that was fun. Glad most of us escaped relatively unscathed. Sorry for those who did not. But now that things are generally much safer and more tame for all ages of humans, in the last 5 years our experience has been that our kids have a great time and many burners enjoy seeing kids at burning man for reasons similar to why it turned out to be surprisingly great to have kids in the first place: kids often enjoy life more than many adults, and seeing the art, and the event, through their eyes has been a great joy to us.

    Report comment

  • Anne Landers says:

    Toot’s perspective is quite obviously colored by his general disdain for children in general. I have been to BM with my children from the age of 2 up to 15. BM is a wonderful place for kids and kids have always been a part of the Burn. Parents who bring their children generally consider the playa a safe place for kids to explore; they aren’t looking for perverts around every tent. Radical inclusion, dude.

    Report comment

  • Manky says:

    Kidsville is wonderful!
    We’ve never lost a kid…
    Sad that there are trolls out there, like “Toot”, who serve only to propagate ignorance; kinda like Fox “News”. There are no lost children wondering around asking ‘Where is mommy’. Instead, Kidsville is a well run camp that is organised with wholseome activities that engage families together. That Kidsville is the largest camp on the playa is testament to the popular notion that enjoying camping with your children is okay.

    Report comment

  • BambuMama says:

    Hooray for Burning Man! We love bringing our girl! Big art. Big hearts. Radical self-reliance. The parents I have met at burning man are among the most loving, guarded, careful, attached, parents I have ever encountered. I have a degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development. I have worked with humans and their children for over 20 years. Burner families are indeed unique- they love their children so much they can’t imagine not sharing the wonder of Burning Man with those closest to soon as possible. We are raising up the next generation. You’re welcome!

    Report comment

  • Jeff Lapierre says:

    Toot is being crass but not totally crazy, but in what way is Burning Man different than any other place in America? As always: if you find a lost child do the decent thing of helping to connect them to a trusted authority (in this case a Ranger or Sheriff) without behaving suspiciously or criminally. Unless absolutely necessary don’t bring them into your structure or vehicle. This is no different than anywhere in America. If find a lost child on the street and they can’t tell me where they live, I would have them sit on my front steps, then I would get my phone and call 911, because, bringing them into my house might seem suspicious. On the other hand, if I find a child in the middle of the woods and there is no cell service, I would drive them to town because it wouldn’t be safe to leave them in the woods while I drive to town to alert the search party. Pretty simple stuff, don’t freak out folks.

    Report comment

  • Ritsa McLerran says:

    While I understand and acknowledge Toot’s concern…..the situation is no different from a child getting lost at a mall/store, etc. as for adult content….I believe it’s a parents responsibility to discuss what a child may see at BM BEFORE they get there. Nudity is only taboo if parents make it that way. Drugs, sex acts, etc…talk to kids about it openly with them. If children know and understand what to expect and what your expectations are as a parent they are less likely to try anything.
    First time we took our daughter Zoe to burning man, we were setting up camp. A man, completely naked, except for a large pair of stilts on his feet and a piercing in a place I would consider extremely painful, walked by us and waved. Zoe said “mom, did you see what that guy had on?” My first thought, oh crap, here it comes. My response “yes Zoe, he was naked.” “No, mom. Did you see those stilts? That was cool!!!”
    That just about sums it up for me!!!

    Report comment

  • ericka says:

    “There are no lost children wondering around asking ‘Where is mommy’”

    Actually, there have been, and that’s the problem. I remember one little kid in some dinosaur costume wandering around, no water, middle of the day, scared out of his mind. The reaction from others? Oh wow dude that is so awesome.. he’s so independent and mature. (iirc, the kid was actually autistic and was freaking out with everything. his parents were nowhere to be seen until later.)

    Then there’s the missing kids that caused a couple gate closures, one of which made the outside world media.

    If they’re all contained within Kidsville (which used to have a blackout fence, didn’t it?) then ehhhhh i guess.. but i think that quietly the growing numbers of little kids are changing the face of the event to be more “family friendly.” And a lot of us come to Burning Man to be anything BUT “family friendly.” That’s what Disneyland or Ren Faires are for. “Family friendly” ruined a couple awesome renfaires, too….

    Report comment

  • Mama G says:

    Sorry, but a big no on that blackout fence idea.

    Kids were at the first burn. Gate closures rarely last for long. Kids are people. People are welcome at Burning Man. And children were welcome at this community event before most of us ever heard about it. Gonna have to get used to it.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.