10 Survival Tips For Parents Taking Kids to the Fair


We spent well over seven hours at London, Ontario’s Western Fair with the kids this weekend, a record (at least for our family). No meltdowns, no injuries and only minor episodes or ride-related and/or fair food induced nausea. This was a milestone version of the fall classic for our family, since my sons (age 8 going on 9) were eligible for the adult rides for the first time (my 11 year old daughter is already there); although we visited the kids’ amusement area for an hour or so and they did spend some nostalgic time on the junior rides, the majority of this outing was spent in the midway. I don’t do rides, so my heroic quest was to try to sample as much fair fare as possible. Yes, most of it is fat, salt and sugar laden garbage, but once a year it’s not going to kill you. Sadly (sorry Matt), the tally did not include any bacon products, but between us we did manage:

Mmmmm, Gyros...Mmmmm, Gyros...

The Gyro has lots of tomatoes, so it kind of counts as healthy, right? (photo by Brad Moon)

  • Snow cone
  • Deep fried Mars bar
  • Gyro
  • Poutine
  • French Fries
  • Elephant ear
  • Caramel apple
  • Caramel corn
  • Popcorn
  • Onion rings

Fall fair season is ramping up in many areas, so I thought I’d put together a little primer for parental survival, with the various tips we’ve learned over the past decade or so of slogging around with our kids.

  1. Get there early. You don’t have to be in line, waiting for the gates to open, but early arrival means you get to enjoy at least a few hours without the rush that ensures when the teenagers haul themselves out of bed and begin to arrive. Arriving early usually means primo parking spots closer to the venue (which may not seem important on arrival, but makes life a lot easier when you’re ready to go and you find yourself carrying an exhausted kid). Also, you can pack extra stuff like rain jackets or coats, leave them in the vehicle and make a quick dash back for them if needed —beats lugging extra stuff around. Bonus points if you can wrangle a week-day visit when the crowds tend to be lightest.
  2. Bring a backpack. A big, comfortable backpack. Fall weather is often variable, so there are bound to be requests to carry sweatshirts that are no longer needed, you may want to pack rain ponchos and there are a gazillion incidentals that you might want to have on your person. Pockets probably won’t cut it. This also makes it easier to concentrate “stuff” in one place when everyone’s going on a ride. I hate to say it, but sometimes crowds bring out the worst in people, so if you put valuables such as a camera in a backpack, make sure the zippers aren’t easily accessed by someone standing behind you. If you have really young children, a stroller or wagon might offer enough cargo capacity to free you up from being the pack mule.
  3. Bring a water bottle or two. Soda is easy to find at most fairgrounds —water fountains, not so much. Sure you can pay a couple bucks for a bottle of water, but why stand in line and fork out what you can bring for free? Try re-usable bottles filled with ice cubes, or fill them with water the night before and freeze. By the time you need them, the ice will have partially melted, giving you a supply of cold water through the day.
  4. Pack an emergency kit for the little ones. Not the heavy duty medical stuff, but things to treat the minor hiccups that can derail a day of walking and over-indulging. I usually include bandages (useful for blisters from walking, slide burns, general “owies” and as a placebo), children’s Aspirin or other medication for headache of mild fever and something to calm upset stomachs. Make sure to include sunscreen as well. I usually throw in some granola bars too, for those hunger emergencies.
  5. Pacing is key. I know I mentioned earlier about the mound of unhealthy food we consumed, but it’s not as if everyone each ordered these items. Sampling the range of foods is one thing, while gorging is another. Ordering treats and divvying them up lets everyone get a taste, without taking a huge health wallop and sharing reduces the risk of stomach ache induced early departure. It also helps to keep the costs down. Pacing also applies to activities. It’s important to take rest stops now and then or you risk early burnout. Take a few minutes to sit down, drink some water and plan which attractions to hit next.

    Overhead view of Western Fair midway.Overhead view of Western Fair midway.

    Western Fair, 2011. (photo by Brad Moon)

  6. Wet wipes are your friend. Bring them. Bring lots of them. Wet wipes, diaper wipes, whatever you want to call them —and whatever you have available— stuff a bunch of these in your backpack. They tackle the stickiest of fair food, you can use them to wipe the congealed mess off the benches and chairs you will be coveting after a few hours of walking and they work a lot better than wet paper towels to scrub any spills off of clothing. I classify these things up there with duct tape in terms of miracle products.
  7. It’s also a good idea to tuck a few garbage bags into your backpack. Why? Garbage bags are another one of those products —like duct tape and baby wipes— that have a multitude of uses beyond their intended purpose. Plus they take up a relatively tiny amount of space. In particular, a garbage bag is invaluable if the weather takes a turn for the worse. I always have a plastic bag handy to stick cameras, cell phones and other valuables if it starts to rain and we can’t get under cover. In a worst case scenario, the entire backpack can be placed in a garbage bag to prevent hours of walking around with a wet lump on your back. While I’ve never resorted to this, you can always poke a few holes in a garbage bag to create makeshift rain ponchos too —it may not look very cool, but beats an early departure because the kids got soaked and miserable in a downpour. And if you’re on a ride that causes intense stomach upset…
  8. Bring cash. A few reasons for this. Most fair vendors don’t accept debit or credit cards. There are always ATMs on site, but you’ll pay a premium to use them and if you arrive during busy times, be prepared for a line-up. One of the best reasons for bringing cash upfront is that you can set a budget for the day and if you’re only using cash on hand, you stand a better chance of sticking to the budget. It may sound like a cheap day out, but when you start adding up admission, ride tickets, treats, parking and the rest, a family trip to the fall fair can quickly add up.
  9. Keep safety in mind. Fairs can be crowded and full of distraction, making it all too easy to lose track of children. It’s a good idea to point out security booths or staff to your kids and to explain that these are the people to approach if they somehow get separated in the crowds. Bring your cell phone and put a piece of paper in their pockets (or a piece of tape under their shirt) with your phone number. Dress them in brightly colored shirts that you can easily identify from a distance.
  10. Know when to call it a day. Kids don’t have the same stamina as adults, especially younger kids. They may start out strong, but the combination of walking, being outdoors, standing in line, brief adrenaline rushes, sugar and the overwhelming cacophony of a fair midway take their toll. You may still have a few hours left in you, but the mother of all temper tantrums is probably not the way you want to remember the fair. When the kids have had enough, call it a day and be thankful you got there early and snagged a parking spot near the entrance.
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