THREE weeks after Shanti Hodges’s son, Mason, was born, she felt blissful and anxious, fearful she would develop post-partum depression.
She had long found solace in the outdoors, so she asked women in her new-mother’s group whether they would like to go on an 804m trail walk at a park near her home in Portland, Oregon, in the US.
Hodges laughs at the memory of all the baby supplies she packed for that stroll back in 2013, where she was accompanied by a handful of other women with their babies. Subsequent walks and longer hikes drew more and more adults with babies and toddlers in tow.
Hodges initially founded Hike it Baby as a newsletter and Facebook page. Within a year, the movement of families helping one another get outside and on the trails had spread well beyond the Portland area.
Now Hike it Baby is an NPO with 650 volunteer branch ambassadors in all states and most major cities. It hosts about 2 500 outings a month.
“There’s a lot of information out there about how the outdoors is good for children, but it’s geared to school-age kids,” Hodges said. “But the positive impact can be felt much earlier. The younger they start, the better. Their minds and bodies will totally thrive.”
Hodges recently wrote Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers, on hikes suitable for the younger set along with tips for taking babies and toddlers into nature.
Here are tips from Hodges and other parents and experts.
Zoë Polk took her son, Quincy, to the beach near her San Francisco home when he was 8 days old. “I just wanted him to experience everything: the sounds, smells, the wind.”
Since then, Quincy, now 2-and-ahalf years old, has accompanied her on dozens of hikes.
Minnesota residents and adventure bloggers Maura and Bobby Marko run the Facebook group, Backpacking With Babies and Kids, and Maura is an ambassador for Hike it Baby. They took Jack, 4, on his first hike when he was 2 weeks old, and daughter Rowan, who is almost 2, started even earlier.
As for toddlers, Tovah Klein, director of Barnard College Centre for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive, advises parents to take children that age outside every day. “Outdoors, children aren’t being told what to do, so they can discover on their own,” said Klein, who started camping with her children before they were 2.
The younger they start, the better. Their minds and bodies will totally thrive