The memories of how I prepared for summer festivals in my youth are hazy, but they didn’t include emptying the dishwasher or putting my toddler down for a pre-party nap.
As a mother to a one-year-old, my first instinct on hearing about TOTFest, a festival for toddlers, was “our daughter would love that”, followed by “that sounds like the tenth circle of hell, doused in glitter”.
My husband, my daughter and I attended the first of four TOTFests arranged across the country for this summer. We headed to Wetherby Racecourse on a baking Sunday in May. I wouldn’t be making it to Primavera, so I made the most of dressing up: I wore a rainbow sequin bum-bag over my comfiest all-in-one, paired with trainers.
Hitting crawling traffic just as the racecourse became visible in the distance, visions of eating our entire stash of Dairylea Dunkers and then having a family bout of diarrhoea faded in just 20 minutes as we made it to the entry point.
Parking and getting through the bag and ticket checks were swift. Once we were inside, it was busy, but not hectic.
This was the tone for the entire day as we took our daughter to the bouncy castles and slides, onto the merry-go-round, then to a meet-and-greet tent where she screamed as though on the front row at a Harry Styles gig, except the idol was Bluey.
I got chatting to Jack Whitaker, 32, from Blackpool, who attended with partner Chelsie and one-year-old daughter, Ivy Rose.
“It was worth every penny and more – it was everything Ivy Rose loves most all in one big open space,” he said.
My husband and I ushered our enthusiastic fan towards the Peekaboo stage, where Molly Kids TV was performing with exuberance, then for a live performance of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” from Adventure Babies.
TOTFest was created by two friends, Kerrie Goude and Maddy Griffiths, while they were both on maternity leave. The duo began with community centre events, then launched their first TOTFest in 2018, in Hertfordshire.
In 2021 and last year, they ran festivals in three locations, before creating four for this summer. Their Yorkshire event was attended by nearly 5,000 people, and there are further dates in Hertfordshire, Windsor and the Midlands.
TOTFest is part of a growing trend for toddler-centred festivals. Entertainment can range from Garage music (Artful Dodger is a Raver Tots regular, for example) to arts and crafts (at Starry Skies).
“One of our priorities is to minimise queues so children can roam free and get involved in whatever they want without pause,” Kerrie said of TOTfest.
With every 20 steps, we found something new: a soft-play area, sensory trays and tower building. Space hoppers appeared while bubbles whooshed overhead, and parents shouted their offspring’s name over and over. The longest queue was for the bar.
We took a break for our packed lunch (you can bring your own food). Half an hour later, we were ready for a final loop; our daughter was only mildly impressed by the princesses, though she went wild for a second high-five from Bluey.
Kerry Morton, 41, from Wakefield was also at the festival, with daughter Ava, three. Kerry had first seen TOTFest on social media and won tickets through an Instagram competition.
“We found it well-organised and spaced out. Despite it being a sell-out event, there was plenty of open space, so it didn’t feel overcrowded,” she said.
“Ava is currently princess mad, so she loved watching their show and meeting them afterwards, but she also loved the freedom to choose what she wanted to do, as everything was accessible to her.
“The only downside is it’s possibly a little too short to appreciate everything on offer. We could easily have spent another hour or two there.”
TOTFests run from 12–5pm, to allow for set-up and de-rigging. Kerrie said that a five-hour running time is key to keeping their costs down; tickets this year are priced at £20.25 for adults and children aged one to five, including booking fees. Everything on site, aside from food and drink, is included in the ticket price.
Other festivals for children have buckled under the pressure of growing costs: major player Geronimo has been postponed until 2024, for example.
“We’ve experienced rising costs ourselves, particularly with infrastructure like the staging, marquees and barrier,” Kerrie said. “But as organisers, we don’t want to pass these costs onto families and, as Northern women, we pride ourselves on being reasonable and good value for money.
“We also suspect that [making the days any] longer might be detrimental to everyone’s enjoyment, given the limited stamina of toddlers and how stimulating everything is.”
My family and I end the day as many do, at the Rainbow Parade.
It’s a spectacle that combines everything from the day into one finale, in case visitors feel they’ve missed anything.
“The kids get so swept up in the magic of it,” says Kerrie.
This worked for us too, our daughter staggering back to the car with a big smile. We had smiles on our faces too, tired but not, surprisingly, not exhausted. That night, our daughter fell asleep instantly. Probably to dream of Bluey.
Three other toddler-friendly festivals
Hosting one-day festivals from May through to September across the South of England and Wales, RaverTots is billed as a family rave suitable for all ages. You can expect appearances ranging from Peppa Pig to Artful Dodger, plus rides, inflatables, shows and games suitable for tots, ravertots.co.uk.
Taking quite the opposite tone to RaverTots, this four-day Herefordshire festival is all about connecting with the natural world and spending quality time with children through “ceremony, art, craft, performance, and play”, starry-skies.net.
This weekend festival in Cheshire takes place in mid-August. Families can camp or glamp, and nurturing children’s imagination in the outdoors is at the centre of the many activities and events on offer, justsofestival.org.uk.