UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 50! Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has brought her two children, now 24 and 27, to Pennsic every year since they were born. Here are some tips for making Pennsic fun for kids from babies to teens while avoiding making mom and dad crazy.
Note: Everyone has opinions about the “right” way to raise kids and/or deal with various things like diapering, feeding, sleeping, curfews, etc.. This article is not intended to promote any particular parenting choices. It’s simply a list of ideas for how to make Pennsic easier on you and more fun for your kids. Pick the ones that sound useful to you, ignore the ones that don’t. It’s all good.
Sending your kids to Camp Grandma for Pennsic? That’s great, if it’s an option, but not everyone can or wants to have a kid-free Pennsic. Here are some wa ys to have the best possible Pennsic experience with kids of various ages.
Know the Rules
Read the Pennsic Site Rules, especially the section on Troll Policies dealing with kids, before you go. Here are the highlights (but don’t take my word for it, go read them yourself!):
- This year kids under 18 are once again permitted to attend Pennsic in the company of someone who is not their parent or legal guardian IF you have the correct, notarized paperwork designating you as that child’s guardian. This is a change from the last several years. Make sure to read the requirements listed here and have the proper signed, notarized form with you.
- Kids under age 10 must be within sight/earshot of a parent or responsible adult or teen at all times. No exceptions. Parents, babysitters, teenage siblings, campmates, and friends are all acceptable supervision, but no wandering the site alone or being left in camp alone until age 10. And do not assume that your campmates will watch your kid unless they explicitly agree to do so.
- All kids under 18 must be in their own camp or with a parent/guardian after 11pm. You can have your own, more restrictive curfew if you like; from ages 12-15, my kids’ curfew was dark. But 11pm is the latest that 10-17 year olds can be out without parents or guardians – and NOT just another responsible adult.
- Parents or legal guardians must remain on site with their kids at all times. This means if you’re making a store run for beer or groceries, your child must go with you.
- Fighters/Fencers ages 16–17 who are authorized to fight as adults must have a yellow diamond with their parent/guardian’s cell phone number on it affixed to the fighter’s helm or fencer’s gloves. The parent must have their cell phone turned on during the battles/tourneys in which the minor participates. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that parents can be contacted immediately if the minor is injured, because First Aid responders won’t treat non-life-threatening injuries without a parent’s permission.
Babes in Arms
- Keep them cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold. Babies are extra sensitive to temperature extremes.
- On hot days, dress them in light natural fabrics, and keep an eye on their skin. If they start to look overheated, put a cool wet cloth on them. An inflatable kiddy pool, or even a basin with cool water that they can sit and splash in, will help keep them comfortable. Make sure to keep them out of direct sun; small babies shouldn’t have sunscreen applied to them, so a canopy on a stroller or cart is good protection. If you use a sling or backpack, put a lightweight hat on your baby to help shade their face and try to stay in the shade as much as possible.
- On cold nights, dress them in layers and make sure to include a warm hat. If you’re into co-sleeping, placing the baby on your bed between mom and dad is a great way to keep them warm. If not, bring a pack-n-play or similar place for them to sleep safely, and dress them in multiple layers. A light-weight long sleeve footed onesie under a heavier winter weight sleeper, plus a warm hat that ties so it stays on, are preferable to blankets that they’ll just kick off anyway. On especially cold nights you may want to bring them into your bed even if you don’t normally co-sleep with your baby, but never co-sleep if you have been drinking alcohol or are otherwise impaired.
- Transportation: You may think you want to bring a stroller, but unless it has extra-large wheels like a jogging stroller, it’s probably a bad bet for Pennsic. Pushing a stroller meant for sidewalks through mud or grass, up and down hills, and on gravel roads is no fun. A cart or wagon, backpack carrier, or a sling are better options. Some parents put cushions in a covered wagon so their kids can nap on the go while shaded from the sun.
- Prevent diaper rash. Pennsic is often hot. Hot baby bottoms get chafed. My eldest went from just fine to almost bleeding in only two hours at his first Pennsic. After that, I applied lots of Desitin proactively multiple times per day. I used so much, I should have bought stock in the company, but there were no more rashes.
- Put them in garb. Babies in garb are adorable, and baby garb is really, really easy to make. There’s honestly no excuse not to make your baby some tunics, given how little fabric and time they take to sew. Make sure they are made of natural breathable fabrics like linen or cotton. One easy source of cheap baby tunic fabric that’s comfy and great in the heat: cloth diapers. Two clean cloth diapers make one T-tunic in about half an hour. Another cute thing you can make for your baby is lightweight cloth hoods. These are especially good for babies who don’t like to wear hats, as they’re harder to pull off if you have them tie under the chin. Bonus: they cover the back of the neck and shoulders, too.
- Give your baby plenty of fluids. Babies will get dehydrated just like adults if they don’t get plenty to drink. Nursing is one of the easiest ways to do that, but bottles work fine, too.
- Disguise mundane kids’ stuff. Use cloth to cover modern baby carriers and strollers, and make a medieval-looking diaper bag from pretty brocade or even a large leather pouch.
- Aim for period-looking toys. Most modern baby toys are plastic, but there are merchants at Pennsic who sell wooden baby toys that are safe and help maintain a more medieval ambiance.
- Be considerate of others. If your baby starts crying during a court, class, or performance, take them out of the tent or building if possible so they won’t disturb others. Try not to change diapers in public places, and dispose of dirty diapers in appropriate receptacles. Understand that some people simply aren’t into kids, and hang out with the folks who do like your baby.
- Create a corral. A Pack n Play works great for a single kid. If your camp has multiple small kids, a rug with a baby gate “fence” that creates a safe zone can work well. Just don’t count on it to keep them safe (or even corralled!) without supervision.
- Put a hat on them. You can use sunscreen on toddlers, but a straw hat is a good idea to keep the sun off.
Give them a job. There’s nothing more dangerous and/or annoying than a bored toddler. Find something simple they can do to “help” while you’re setting up camp, making meals, or working on camp projects. They can sort small objects, fetch and carry light things, hold tools for adults, etc. Keep them busy and they will stay out of trouble. But keep an eye on them – sometimes they will “help’ in ways you don’t expect. One Pennsic when my eldest was two, we couldn’t figure out where all the screwdrivers had gone. Then at the end of the War we took down the pop-up canopy and discovered that he’d put the screwdrivers inside the hollow metal legs.
- Teach them the meaning of “Hold”. One of the most important safety things for small kids to know at events is to freeze when someone calls “Hold.” This can prevent kids from doing dangerous things in a wide array of situations. Every SCA kid should know what “Hold” means!
- Bring out “new” toys. We had special toys that only came out at Pennsic. They were the same toys every year, but when they were little, the kids didn’t remember them from the previous year, and when they were older, they looked forward to seeing their Pennsic toys again after a year’s hiatus. A Fisher-Price castle with toy knights and horses was a huge favorite, but there were also medieval-themed coloring books, bubbles, a wooden horse, and stuffed animals. When my kids outgrew their Pennsic toys, we passed them on to another family.
- Take them to the playground. Across from the bathhouse by the Cooper’s store, the playground has lots of fun equipment and a sandy surface suited to beach toys like cups for building sand castles. Just keep an eye out for older kids who may be a little too rough with toddlers.
- Go on walks around the site. There are frogs and fish to look at in the lake, birds and insects in the woods, musicians in the marketplace and performing arts venues, and battles and tournaments to watch.
- Make time for naps. Ideally, find a place outdoors in the shade, but any place that’s not too hot and fairly quiet will do. That said, accept that Pennsic is exciting and some kids just won’t want to nap. Tiring them out at the playground right before naptime can be a good strategy.
- Attend the Pre-School Playgroup at the Playground. Beginning Wednesday of Peace week through Thursday of War week, there are sessions either in the morning from 10am to noon or afternoons from 2 to 4pm on even numbered days. Check the Pennsic University’s Thing for each day’s session, filtering the name column on “Pre-School Playgroup.”
Older kids (ages 5 to 12)
- Give them an ID. Many people have their kids carry info that can help identify their home camp in case they accidentally get separated from you. A bracelet, favor, medallion, or tabard with your camp name, block, and a parent’s cell phone are great ideas. You can even write that info on the back of their Pennsic medallion or bracelet/anklet.
- Teach your kids safe places and people they can go to for help – other moms with kids, people on golf carts (who will generally be Pennsic staff, possibly members of The Watch), the First Aid station, and most Kingdom camps. At age 7, my younger son wandered off and got lost while I was in a portajohn, but after a brief moment of panic he recognized Æthelmearc Royal as one of the landmarks he’d been taught and parked himself there until someone he knew came along and helped reunite us (thanks, Master Michael!).
For a complete list of activities aimed at kids, check out the Pennsic website’s page on Family Activities.
- The Playground. Older kids can take full advantage of the climbing equipment.
- The Children’s Fete is on Wednesday of War week from 10am – 1pm in the Great Hall. Hosted by the Kingdom of Atlantia, each year it features activities ranging from face painting and crafts to hobby horse races and opportunities to whack real knights with pool noodles.
- The Children’s Choir rehearses from 1-2pm daily starting the middle Sunday in the Performing Arts Rehearsal tent behind the bathhouse, and performs at the Pennsic Choirs Concert on Thursday of War week at 6:30 in the Performing Arts Pavilion. It’s for children ages 3 or 4 to 11. A parent or responsible adult must attend rehearsals with the child.
- The Pennsic Intrumental Youth Consort is open to all kids who play an instrument, with no audition required. Rehearsals run from 9-11am daily starting on Friday, August 4th, culminating in a concert on Thursday of War Week, so if your kid loves music, bring those violins and clarinets with you to Pennsic!
- Children’s Dance classes are offered multiple times throughout Pennsic in the Dance tent at the corner of Dragon Trace and Chandler’s Road. Check the University class schedule for days and times. There’s even a Children’s Ball on Monday, August 7th from 9-11 am in the Dance Tent, with a rehearsal on Sunday at noon.
- Bedtime stories are offered every night at 7pm in AS13 in the University block on St. Lawrence Way starting Monday of Peace week.
- Youth Combat is held daily from 8:30 to 11am starting Thursday of War Week for kids ages 6-17. This year the Youth Combat List has moved to the south edge of the main battlefield. There are also special evening activities from 7-9 starting the middle Sunday. Kids don’t need to be authorized to fight at Pennsic, but there generally isn’t much loaner gear, so it’s best if you can arrange to bring your own armor and weapons. Parents must register their kids with the youth combat list the first time they visit. Kids under 10 must have a parent or responsible adult with them at all times; parents may designate other responsible adults when they register their kids for youth combat. In addition to the regular sessions, there are special tourneys and events throughout War week, including:
- Night with the Knights on Tuesday from 6-8pm
- Tarl’s Youth Polearm tourney on Monday from 6-8pm
- Known World Baronial Youth Champs Tourney on Tuesday at 12 noon
- Æthelmearc Youth/Adult Tag Team Tourney on Wednesday from 6-8pm
- Castle Battle on Thursday from 8am-noon. Youth Fighters must have attended at least one other fighting session to participate in the Castle Battle
- Youth Rapier combat is also available on the battlefield from 9am to 1pm daily starting on Wednesday, August 2nd. Check in with the Youth Rapier Marshal-in-Charge. Some loaner gear is available.
- The Archery Range has a special family range where kids ages 14 and under can shoot at age-appropriate targets and distances. Again, you need to bring your own equipment, or you can buy bows, arrows, etc. from merchants on site.
- Thrown Weapons allows participation by kids age 5 and up. Youth under 18 need to be registered at the range by a parent or legal guardian before they throw for the first time, and the parent or legal guardian must stay at the range with those under 12 at all times. Once registered, those 12 and older can be at the range without a parent or legal guardian. Throwers must wear footwear that covers the soles of their feet; closed-toe shoes are recommended. There is no loaner equipment. There’s a youth axe-throwing class on Friday August 3 from 10-11am and Tuesday at 4pm for kids ages 5-12, with a tournament later in the week.
- The Children’s Water Battle is on Wednesday from noon-2 at the fort – bring your own super soakers and water balloons, though water will be available at the battle. No balloon catapults – they hurt!
- Youth University classes are aimed specifically at kids, like the class on Secret Codes and Messages that’s being offered on Tuesday of Peace Week at 1pm at Family Point, or Medieval Doll-making on Monday of War week from 10-11am at Family Point by the Playground, while other classes are not specifically for kids but may appeal to kids with specific interests. You can view the University class list at Thing online by going to http://thing.pennsicuniversity.org/, clicking Schedules, and then selecting the format you like. If you download the schedule as an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file, you can filter it to show the Youth/Teen University options under the track column that are just for kids.
- Perform with the Youth Theater. Rehearsal is in the Amphitheatre below the bathhouse from 10-11am starting Sunday, August 5th, Friday of War week, with a dress rehearsal at noon on the last Friday of Pennsic and the performance at 5pm.
- Attend the Æthelmearc Youth Party. Held on Saturday, August 6 at 5pm in the Æthelmearc Royal encampment on Brewers near the First Aid pavilion, a block from Troll, it will feature drinks, food, games, and entertainment. Parents and guardians should attend with their young people.
- Work for the Pennsic Independent selling newspapers each day for a commission and tips. Their office is located on the Great Middle Highway across from Runestone Park. Kids under 10 need to have a parent with them.
- Review the “Mom I’m Bored!” column of the Pennsic Independent, which lists kids activities for each day.
Once kids turn 10, they become “free range,” which means they are permitted to walk around without a parent or other adult supervising them. But don’t just set them loose without a little education.
- Teach them to navigate the site. It’s easy for kids to get lost and panic their first few times out alone at Pennsic. Walk the site with them while they navigate, making sure they know how to find their way around. I recommend printing the site map, marking your camp on it, and having your kid keep it in a pouch so they can always get help finding their way home.
- Make sure they know where the safe spaces are. It’s helpful to know other places they can go: the Cooper’s store, your local group or Kingdom camp, other friends’ camps, and places like the University, First Aid, and the Watch with lots of helpful adults.
It’s also a good idea to make sure your tweens have money and/or a water bottle so they don’t get dehydrated while out on their own.
There are lots of activities that tweens can participate in. Some of the ones listed above for younger kids, like youth combat, youth rapier, archery, dancing, and the Water Battle, are all great for older kids, too. Some activities are aimed specifically at tweens and teens:
- Join the Known World Adventurers’ Guild. Starting Sunday July 31 and meeting every day from 10:3am to noon at Family Point, kids ages 10 and up will walk around Pennsic with Mistress Marian of Heatherdale, learning about people and places, alternating days with social gatherings to discuss what they’ve found.
- The Youth Choir rehearses daily from 2-3pm starting the middle Sunday in the University Battlefield tent, and performs at the Pennsic Choirs Concert on Thursday of War week at 6:30 in the Performing Arts Pavilion. It’s for kids ages 12-19.
- The Gaming tent is located next to the European Dance tent on Chandler Rd., and offers board games of all kinds for both kids and adults.
- Many Youth University classes may appeal to older kids. There are youth-oriented classes ranging from serious, like a D&D campaign for teens, to artsy like Fingerloop Braiding on Tuesday of Peace week at 10 am at Family Point, or Origami Dragons on . Check out the class list for more info.
- Make some money selling ice and/or picking up trash. Bring a cart or wagon and fetch ice from the Coopers’ store or pick up trash from camps and take it to the dumpsters. Some kids cry their services as they walk around the camp, but if you offer to supply specific camps and merchants with ice or trash pickup for the entire week, you’ll have guaranteed steady customers. The farther from the store, the more money you can charge for ice, but of course the farther you have to walk. It’s important to be reliable!
- Visit the Teen/Tween Lounge at Family Point. There are a variety of activities including Game Night on Thursday evening of Peace Week from 7-10 pm, a teen LGBTQ+ social on Sunday August 6 from 7-11pm, and a Bardic Circle on Tuesday, August 8 from 7-11pm.
- Busking – kids with musical or juggling talent often perform for coins from passers-by. Do not use the path along Troll Road from the Food Court to the store; busking is no longer allowed there. Look for signs saying “This is a Performance Area” which will be posted in various merchant areas.
Teenagers can sometimes end up spending their time a little aimlessly at Pennsic, often hanging out in groups not doing very much. While there’s safety in numbers, especially after dark, you probably want them to find more variety in their activities at Pennsic. In addition to encouraging them to continue participating in many of the activities above, parents can point them at additional opportunities not open to younger kids:
- Perform in the Youth Commedia del’Arte show, doing improv comedy. Rehearsals are held in the Amphitheatre from 9 to 10am starting August 6th, with a dress rehearsal at 1pm on the last Friday of Pennsic and the performance at 6pm.
- Play Capture the Flag. Head for Rapier List 1 on Thursday, Aug. 10 at 8:30 pm for Capture the Flag – with glowsticks! Ages 13-17.
- Attend concerts and plays in the Performing Arts tent. Every evening and many afternoons there are bards, choirs, instrumentalists, dancers, and plays with medieval themes. Check the performing arts info on the Pennsic website here.
- Work for pay at merchants or as a Pennsic Minion. Lots of teens earn good money working at Pennsic. Join the Pennsic Minions’ Union Facebook page or you can approach various merchants on your own, either before Pennsic or after you arrive. Merchants often need help with set up and tear down, and a few of the food merchants hire adults and teens to work shifts throughout the war. Master Bovi farmaðr, who runs Delights of Cathay, hires teens 17 years of age and up to work at his booth. You can also babysit for people with younger kids.
- Do some service for your group or the entire War. Teens can retain for their barons and/or royalty, help set up Pennsic venues like Performing Arts, assist at troll, or help staff the University Point, Lost and Found, or Information Point.