‘Twas the night before Camp Bestival and all through the field, not a creature was stirring, not even a child (pronounced “chiyeld”) or any of the other thousands of people camping out. Not a peep. Bliss. I didn’t need my ear plugs after all.
Last week I spent five days at the UK’s annual Camp Bestival site. What a family-friendly event. I highly recommend it. Truth be told, I was dreading sharing my space with so many.
One of the stewards told me that an estimated 30,000 people went along this year, half of them children. But I needn’t have worried. On that first night, as my son and I drifted into sleep, I realised that the children surrounding us must do quite a bit of this – camping out – judging by the kit their parents had brought along, and the ingenious tricks they had come up with to deal with things like “how do my children or I find our tent – ever” trick: plant a giant pole in the ground with a home-made flag atop to mark the spot, or attach a kite, or both. Fairy lights work a treat too, giant plastic flowers, you get the picture.
And then there were the trolleys. These served a multitude of purposes, including letting parents stay out late into the night; enjoying the likes of the silent disco with their children always under their beady eyes because the young ones could sleep in the trolleys (with their ear defenders on). During the day they served as couches and mobile food and clothes stores – not to mention marking turf for picnics while enjoying live music.
I need one for next year, and my vote goes for the only electric one I came across – made out of a mobility scooter bought on eBay and adorned with flowers, blue and green paint and a caravan top to keep the sun off the children. Perfect.
These children were very happy. Content with a ball, a stick, a patch of grass. Orderly and fair – queueing for various things including toilets, food from stalls if they weren’t helping to cook it at their tents, looking out for each other, dipping in and out of play with other children, making new, if momentary, friendships. All of these are life skills that many an adult struggles with. And let’s be honest – there is no comparison between this and the noise levels and behaviour that I have witnessed at venues in the UAE – where children do not queue or share, but demand and push in.
Not every child behaves like this, but not a single child I came across did anything like this at the festival. So it’s fair to think their parents must be doing something to bring about this harmonious group behaviour.
These parents certainly had their priorities right – they were keeping their family members together, fed, rested, appropriately clothed, able to participate in activities across age groups, and again, from what I could see, happy. And I’m sure that happy camper gene is passed down – if not through nature, then through living with imaginative, inventive parents who are aware of the needs of others. Key skills that are very lacking today, alas.
And that’s not all. These children don’t just have a whole load of fun and learn important life skills, they do better at school and are happier and healthier too. So say the findings of a recent study by the Institute of Education at Plymouth University and the Camping and Caravanning Club that looked into the relationship between education and camping, as well as the psychological and social benefits of camping.
From what I gather, the findings are based on participant perception, not actual school grades, but if we’re to think perception becomes reality, then it’s a great way to go.
It’s certainly a lot cheaper than extra tuition (that carries with it the pre-loaded stigma that the child isn’t “good enough” and needs help), or plush holidays. A great win-win: you get to keep more of your hard-earned cash, your progeny get to feel better about themselves, and, ergo, will perform better in various aspects of life and have mental well-being at the core of their existence.
Mental well-being, lots of laughter, bonding and togetherness – these are the things that really struck me while sharing those vast fields with the thousands who called it home for a few nights. The kindness and good-natured people that I met, heard and observed. The calm interactions between various generations and across different groups of people. These are things that cannot be bought, only taught through example. What a great gift. Not only for your life, but for the lives of your children’s future families.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org