UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 45! Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has brought her two sons, now 17 and 20, 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 ways to have the best possible Pennsic experience with kids of various ages.
Know the Rules
Read the Pennsic Site Rules, especially section 11 dealing with kids, before you go. Here are the highlights (but don’t take my word for it, go read them yourself!):
- Kids are only permitted attend Pennsic in the company of their parent or legal guardian (i.e. signed by a judge). Your kid wants to bring their best buddy to Pennsic but the parents can’t go? Your shire has a 17-year-old fighter who wants to go to Pennsic but his parents think the SCA is kind of odd? You take your niece to every event back home, surely she can come to Pennsic with you? Sorry, no, no, and no. And please don’t try to sneak kids without their parents onto the site. People who do are subject to civil and criminal penalties.
- Kids under age 12 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 12. 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 12-17 year olds can be out without parents – and NOT just another responsible adult.
- 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 older son 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 older son 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 tent poles.
- 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.
Older kids (ages 5 to 11)
Some 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. Also, 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, and right next door is…
- Youth Point, which offers regularly scheduled activities and classes aimed at kids.
- The Children’s Fete is on Wednesday of War week from 12-3pm 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 Saturday 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.
- Children’s Dance class is offered at 9am on Thursday of War week in the Dance tent at the corner of Dragon Trace and Chandler’s Road.
- Bedtime stories are offered every night at 7pm in AS13 in the University block on St. Lawrence Way starting the middle Friday.
- The Youth A&S Display is on Tuesday from 10-noon in the Great Hall, so if your kid has made some cool things, they can display them there and meet other young artisans.
- Youth Combat is held daily from 8-10:30 and 3-5 pm for kids ages 6-17. There are also special evening activities from 7-9. Kids don’t need to be authorized to fight at Pennsic, but there generally isn’t much if any loaner gear, so it’s best if you can arrange to bring your own armor and weapons. There are also special tourneys throughout the week, including:
- Night with the Knights on Sunday from 7-9
- Hunter’s Home polearm tourney on Monday from 7-9pm
- Known World Adult and Youth Baronial Champs Tourney on Wednesday from noon to 1pm
- Æthelmearc Youth/Adult Tag Team Tourney on Wednesday night from 7-9pm,
- Castle Battle on Thursday from 3-6pm
- Reindeer Games Thursday from 7-9pm
- Youth Rapier combat is also available on the battlefield. Ask for Baron Anton du Marais on the rapier battlefield.
- The Archery range has a special family range where kids can shoot at age-appropriate targets and distances. There are two youth archery competitions – the Youth Baronial Champions tourney on Sunday from noon to 2pm, and the Ealdormere youth archery competition on Thursday of War week from noon to 3pm. Again, you need to bring your own equipment, or you can buy bows, arrows, etc. from merchants on site.
- The Children’s Water Battle is on Wednesday from 3-4 at the fort – bring your own super soakers and water balloons, though water will be available at the battle. No balloon catapults – they hurt!
- University classes – some classes are aimed specifically at kids, like the class on spinning that’s being offered on Sunday at 10am in AS 6, while other classes are not specifically for kids but may appeal to kids with specific interests.
- Join the Fools’ Parade on Tuesday at 3:00 . Kids need to bring a parent/guardian with them.
- 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 12 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.
- Attend “It Takes My Child to Raze a Village,” on Tuesday from 1-5pm at Family Point. It’s a mini-event hosted by the Midrealm for all age kids, and includes the Plague Game; the Duckling Race; Arts, Science, Service; Tyger Toss; Parent-a-Pult; Chariot Races and a Mom2Mom Garb Swap
Once kids turn 12, 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. 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, and make sure they know how to find their way around. I recommend pulling the site map out of their Pennsic booklet and having them keep it in a pouch, with your camp marked, so they can always get help finding their way home. It’s also helpful to know other safe 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, archery, dancing, the Youth A&S Display, and the Water Battle, are all great for older kids, too. Some activities are aimed specifically at tweens and teens:
- The Youth Choir rehearses daily from 2-3pm starting the middle Saturday 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 kids ages 12-19.
- The Youth Commedia class meets daily at 9am in the Amphitheatre behind the bathhouse, and is open to kids ages 13-17. Performance is Friday at 5pm.
- Perform with the Youth Readers’ Theater, which rehearses at noon on Thursday and Friday of Peace week in the Performing Arts Rehearsal tent, then performs on Friday evening at 6:00pm. For kids ages 10-17.
- 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.
- Attend Fool School. Daily at 10 am in the Amphitheatre behind the bathhouse, kids and adults can learn skits and skills to become jugglers, magicians, and singers. Performance is Wednesday evening from 6-7pm, though there’s no requirement to perform.
- Many University classes may appeal to older kids. There are youth-oriented classes ranging from serious (algebra tutoring) to artsy like Pottery Techniques for Kids and Relief Carving Techniques for Teens. There are even classes taught by kids, like Dancing for Kids That Like to Dance. Check out the class list for more info.
- Make some money selling ice. Bring a cart or wagon and fetch ice from the Coopers’ store. Some kids haul the ice and cry their wares as they walk around the camp, but if you offer to supply specific camps and merchants with ice 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!
- Busking – kids with musical or juggling talent often take spots on the path from the Food Court to the Cooper’s Store, sometimes called “Beggars’ Row,” and perform for coins from passers-by.
Teenagers can sometimes end up spending their time a little aimlessly at Pennsic, often hanging out in groups not doing very much. 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:
- Attend the Teen Party on Saturday evening from 7-9 pm in Æthelmearc Royal, located on Brewers’ Road just north of the Troll and First Aid.
- 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 some of the larger ones like Mystic Mail 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 be waterbearers, 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. There’s even a Service War Point this year, so they can do their part to help their Kingdom!