What the parents of kids who run wild at Burning Man are thinking

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Note: We obtained permission from parents to photograph all kids for this article if their faces are visible in the photographs.

With its harsh desert conditions and reputation for wild parties, Burning Man isn't the first place one would think to take a family vacation with small children.

But much to my surprise, last year's festival was filled with kids and people of all ages.

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Children mostly took advantage of kid-friendly daytime activities, like a human version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, where they got to participate in the game:

Burning ManAly Weisman/Business Insider

Or cheer on friends:

Burning Man kidsAly Weisman/Business Insider

There, I talked to three sisters who were at the festival for the first time.

The girls told me they were having fun, but that the bathroom was too far from the tent where they were staying.

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As the official Burning Man website states: "Everything in the Burning Man Survival Guide applies double to kids. Water, food, shade, sunblock, comfortable clothes, and knowing their (and your) limits are all important to being able to enjoy the experience."

These girls were well equipped with food and drinks ...

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Gear to fight the dust...

Burning Man gogglesAly Weisman/Business Insider

And accessories.

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Another family I spoke to came all the way from Warsaw, Poland, to attend their first Burning Man accompanied by their young daughter, Stella.

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"She's running around and having a great time," Stella's mom, Ela Kanior, told me Saturday morning at Center Camp. "Everyone wants to talk to her and play with her."

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But the desert terrain does have its challenges. "It's been tough with the dust," says Kanior, "but for Stella it's great fun being in a tent."

As for how it's affected the parents' experience at the festival, Kanior says, "For us, we need to take care of her and make sure she eats. Last night she fell asleep and we still rode around on the bike with her at night."

"At home she a routine," adds Kanior. "Here, her bed is a bike trailer."

Burning Man bike trailerAly Weisman/Business Insider

Vanessa and her 8-year-old daughter, Itzci, traveled from San Francisco to attend the festival. It was Vanessa's third Burn and Itzci's first.

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"I read a blog about a single mom who brought her kid to Burning Man and that's how I decided to bring her," Vanessa told me as we were both hiding from the desert heat inside a café with gifted refreshments. "There's nothing especially hard about having a kid here. It's good for her because she's a city kid. She needs to feel what it takes to survive with earth."

Itzci, who likes to spend her time drawing, told me she enjoys biking around but it gets cold at night so she puts on a lot of blankets. She didn't tell anyone at school she was going to Burning Man.

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Below is Luca. He was perfectly happy hanging out in this stroller while his parents danced nearby during a daytime party. His mom told me Burning Man is "very kid friendly" and that her 16-year-old son grew up coming but he couldn't make it this year.

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This is Bailee from Reno. It was her first Burning Man experience as well, and she was staying with her mom, Coral, in a tent. Bailee was very friendly and engaging, and clearly having a good time.

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Many parents who bring their children to Burning Man stay in an enclosed camping area for families called "KidsVille," where families bond with each other and have access to trampolines and toys.

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"Adults love the lack of structure at Burning Man, but most kids need some structure and security to be comfortable with their surroundings," warns the Burning Man website, which also provides a downloadable Family Survival Guide.

KidsVille aims to provide a bit more structure for families with programs like the Black Rock Scouts, who host "playa-cational field trips, events, and volunteer opportunities" in hopes of "Educating tomorrow's burners, today!"

And no age is too young to become a "Burner." According to the festival's website:

Anybody under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian aged 21 or older at Burning Man. Children 12 and under will be admitted for free, but (as of 2015) must have a Kid's Ticket... Children ages 13 and older require full-price tickets. Be prepared to show proof of age.

But kids at Burning Man are nothing new.

In fact, wee ones have been attending the festival since its inception in 1986, and parents have reasons beyond not being able to find a babysitter for bringing their kids along to the weeklong festival.

"The burner parents who bring them believe this experience to be truly enriching, a culture they are very much a part of that they want to share with the closest people to them," luminary activist and photographer Zipporah Lomax, who has gone to Burning Man every year since 2000, told Slate.

"I think the basic truth is that kids are truly at ease out there," she added. "In some sense, it's as though we, the adults, get to spend a week remembering how to be like them-to meet them in that imaginative space in which they naturally exist."

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