HIB FredericksburgI always loved hiking before having children.  It was a hobby my husband and I enjoyed, often trekking on weekends to state parks and taking the occasional epic vacations to places like Alaska. Why did having kids make this have to end? In truth, being new parents, it’s hard enough to get out of the house at all, let alone planning some woodland escape.  We’ve all been there.  I’m not saying start big, either. Start by taking your group of mom friends to a local playground for a play date instead of indoors. It’s amazing what simple discoveries can be made from your own backyard. Make a commitment to spend just fifteen minutes outside every day.  The best investment our family made has been to put a nice swing set in our backyard. So on days when one kid is sick or mommy just isn’t feeling it that day, outside is still an option. Recent studies have shown that kids today are only getting 4-7 minutes of outside time per day. Let’s make a valiant effort to change that number. In the end, it won’t just be for the betterment of our children. In turn, it will improve our own mood and our family relationships. Your kids and your body will thank you, I promise.

The statistics and studies surrounding how being out in nature affects us have been around for a long time. In 2005, a study by the American Medical Association concluded that,

“Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.”

Scientific evidence exists that getting children time out in the wilderness can decrease hyperactivity, improve social and emotional development, and increase cognitive function.  The benefits stretch beyond just our children when you get entire families outside, i.e. decreasing the risk of postpartum depression and minimizing the feelings of “the baby blues” to name one.  Seems like things we have known for awhile, right? So why do we continue to avoid the outdoors?  Fear of going out alone, a baby or child’s risk of getting injured, allergies, not adequate equipment or gear, physical limitations, or, for myself, laziness…these are all reasons I have given or have heard on why it was just easier to stay inside.  In an era where we cater to our children’s every whim and desire to get the biggest, best things, why not try to give them the world instead? Gift them our planet in the form of experiences in nature, learning about animals and our environment. Not every outing has to be a lesson; they gain those experiences when you don’t even realize it.  It’s time to change our way of thinking about what our kids really NEED.

What did I do to start my change? A group of three local moms and myself started a Hike it Baby Fredericksburg Branch.   According to their website, “Hike it Baby is a parents group with over 150 cities around the country and internationally, dedicated to getting families together and out into nature with newborns and little ones.” Founded by Shanti Hodges in Portland, OR in June 2013, she started leading hikes for a group of moms. Our mission is, “we believe that our world would be a better place if all parents stepped outside at least once a week for a walk in nature with their new baby.”  Hike it Baby Fredericksburg regularly has 3-5 hikes scheduled per week that are suitable for all types of hikers. We have anything from a story-time “toddler waddle” to a multiple mile, carrier-only, adult-paced hike.  The best part is, if you don’t see something that suits you, ask about becoming a hike lead and lead your own hike!  You can join our group Facebook page here for more information.  Not from this area?  Check out their website for locations nationwide or start your own branch!

Becoming a branch leader has forced me to commit to getting outside with both my kids at least once a week. In reality, I am now taking 3-5 hikes per week. Being a stay at home mom is, let’s face it, mind-numbing some days.  Getting out with a group of families gives me a chance for adult conversations, and most days keeps me sane.  Hiking has had a profound positive effect on my mood, decreased my stress level and given me peaceful respites between the chaos. My daughter has been more focused, less anxious, and has had a decreased number of temper tantrums since beginning our efforts to get outside more. My 16-month-old son is rapidly becoming a coordinated climber and hiker in his own right. So far, he seems to be a fearless little adventurer.  We still have bad days, or a week, when getting outside doesn’t happen. However, I am actively trying to not make that slip back to our old routine.   I implore every family to make getting outside a priority again.  The world, and our future, will surely be a better place if we did. Come join us in the great outdoors to ensure we are NOT the last generation outside.

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Authored by Brandi Akerberg BSN, RN

Brandi is currently a stay at home mom who resides in Locust Grove, VA with her husband Charles, two young children and their dog Foster.  She is a Registered Nurse with a BSN, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  A co-founder of the Hike it Baby Fredericksburg Branch, you’re most likely to find her out on a hike. She is an active member in the Lake of the Woods MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and Quantico Area Babywearers.