Get out and do the family thing

Christina Zaba

Christina Zaba finds the hottest tickets for children

Summer festivals are here to stay. The best-established are up to 30 years old and the experience is a far cry from the days of mud-encrusted hippy gatherings. Today's outdoor festivals are carefully wrought and large-scale. They're a celebration not only of music, but of music-making; not only of of art, but of performance art - art to share. And the most family-friendly ones are wonderful places for children.

Reading's Womad is one of the biggest and best. The Womad Foundation exists, as its charter says, "to promote, maintain, improve and advance education in world cultures, and... to show the worth and potential of multicultural societies". Festivals are held all over the world, and Womad organises school workshops and artistic residencies during the academic year, and publishes resources in association with Heinemann Education.

But it is the Reading event, now in its 12th year, that means Womad for most people - a crowd of around 25,000; more than 60 major musical and dance events from around the globe on seven stages; a Global Village of more than 300 food and merchandise stalls; a funfair; and hundreds of participatory workshops, many for children. Activities range from drumming to puppet-making, from storytelling to songwriting and mask-making. Under-fives have their own workshops, from finger-painting to parachute games; over-12s can join in many of the adult ones. It all culminates in a glorious carnival on the final afternoon, when the sophisticated work the children have created alongside the festival artists - authentic head-dresses, costumes, puppets, prayer flags and banners - is displayed in a vibrant and colourful procession that snakes its way through the site.

Summer also means warm nights in the city; and at Stockton-on-Tees you can enjoy them at the free Riverside Festival, one of the best-established family street festivals in Europe, attended by more than a quarter of a million people over nine days. It begins with three days of free music in the park and ends with a theatrical street spectacular including fireworks, giant robots and the best in British Asian music. Along the way there are hundreds of other events, including children's workshops in theatre, music, craft and dance.

Some children, of course, may want just to stand and stare. It's not every day, after all, that you can watch an inflatable creature 40 feet high walking down the street.

South Devon's Sidmouth Festival is another long-running event that cares about children. The children's programme this year, Fruits of the Forest, encourages young people to think about how they are developing their creativity. So there's a stage for young performers, as well as dance, song, drama, music, circus skills and storytelling events during the day, and everything from theatre to family ceilidhs at night.

The youth programme, Shooting Roots, offers more advanced workshops in instrumental music, song and theatre. But in both cases, young people are encouraged to get involved as performers, not just as consumers.

Guildford Live 2001 has a more eclectic line-up. Thousands of people will come to see bands from Tindersticks to Kiki Dee. But the children won't have to watch: other things to do range from workshops in music and circus skills to an end-of-festival carnival. There's also an open-air swimming pool nearby, and an indoor leisure complex.

The summer festival season is fun, though not compulsory; and, as more and more people are finding out, it's a shame to miss it. Festivals explore and celebrate. They do something different - they're tailor-made for summer.

Womad: Rivermead, Reading, July 27-29. Tel: 0118 939 0930. www.womad.orgreadingTwo children under 13 admitted free with every adult ticket holder.Stockton-on-Tees Riverside Festival: July 27-August 5. Tel: 01642 666600. Sidmouth International Festival: August 3-10. Tel: 01296 433669. Live: August 3-5. Tel: 01483444555.

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Christina Zaba

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