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An Author's Tips on Getting Babies (and You) Outdoors

“It should be OK to wander in the woods for a bit with no plan whatsoever.” That’s the adventurous view of Jennifer Aist, author of the book Babes in the Woods and the mother of 4 kids in Anchorage, Alaska. The REI Blog asked Jen, who recently led a class on this topic at the REI Issaquah, Wash., store, for her thoughts on changing America’s increasingly structured, indoor culture—one child at a time.

Q: What prompted you to write the Babes in the Woods book?

A: I wrote the book to encourage families to get outside and play. I’ve been doing a class with this title for about 10 years. I got started when my husband was a backcountry guide, and we were really active outdoors. When I was pregnant, my friends said “That’s it, you’re done, pack up the pack.” This really surprised me. So when my daughter was born, we went backpacking together. I discovered it was really different backpacking with a baby.

Q: What did you learn?

A: There really wasn’t a lot of education out there, and I thought, “What a shame.” I had an early-childhood education background and ended up sharing my experiences in a few classes. The next year our local paper, the Anchorage Daily News, did a big article and I went from having 4 people to 60 people come to that class. And I realized, wow, I’m really not alone. A lot of people want to do this, but they don’t know the intricacies of doing this with babies. It's my hope to spawn a generation of kids that could grow up playing in the woods.

Q: What do parents tell you is the main obstacle to getting their kids outside?

A: I would say the predominant one is the fear of bears, even in places where bears are practically extinct. That is a huge issue. Even up here where I live (in Anchorage), where we have a lot of bear awareness, people tell me that “I get it, I really want to do it, but I’m never going do it because I’m freaked out by bears.” It surprised me, so I decided to spend a lot more time on the bear piece than I had been. The incident statistics with bears and little kids are actually quite good. It’s a rare occurrence.

Q: What other misperceptions do parents have about the outdoors?

A: I think as a society we have moved from a group of people who predominantly lived in the outdoors to having this fear of the outdoors. There’s no rocket science in my book. It’s basic stuff that gives people the confidence and skills to get outdoors safely with their kids.

Jennifer's familyQ: What’s your main advice to get them out there?

A: You don’t need to have a major backpacking adventure. It really can be walks around the local trail or your local park. That then becomes the norm and changes the culture right there.

Q: What piece of gear has proved most indispensible to you?

A: Where I live, I’d say raingear. Having a really good rainsuit is pretty priceless. If you have the right gear—and people always say, “Gosh, Jen, you’re talking about spending thousands of bucks to go out”—but I’m not, really. I do believe the old saying that there’s no bad weather, just bad gear. If everyone is warm, dry and happy, you’re going to have fun, and you’re going to do it again.

Q: How differently have your kids reacted to the outdoors?

A: My kids are now 13, 11, and I have 7-year-old twins. One prefers kayaking, one likes hiking up steep hills, one likes the flat stuff and one likes to pick flowers. They are all different, but they all love to be out there.

It’s funny, I just took a couple of kids on a big 15-mile hike. One of the kids was very fatigued at the end, so I called her mom, and she said to her mom, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” And my daughter kind of rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, my mom makes me do this, like, every week.” But they love it. I can honestly say I’m really not dragging my kids out there. It’s a part of our lifestyle now.

Q: What do you recommend for fall and winter outings?

A: This time of year, it’s all about layers. If you’re warm, dry and comfortable you’re going to stay out longer and have more fun. Unfortunately, winter is when I don’t see parents taking kids outside. And here in Alaska, that means a long winter staying indoors. One interesting statistic: When moms have had babies and then go outside on a semi-regular basis, it decreases incidences of post-partum depression by around 40%. That’s pretty cool—and yet another reason to get outside.

Posted on at 7:28 PM

Tagged: Hiking, babes in the woods, books, camping, jennifer aist and kids

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JMeC

It truly appreciate what Jennifer is doing. What better place to raise kids than the outdoors! My 17 month old daughter has been coming along on hikes since she was just a few weeks old. She absolutely loves looking at the clouds, trees, and critters we encounter on our journeys. Sometimes our trips last only 45 minutes or so but sometimes they last several hours. We pack snacks and baby supplies in the backpack and we are typically good to go. Truly, these outings have preserved both of our sanity.

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Arctic Lupine

Jen has helped many a parent in Anchorage maintain their sanity and let us know life doesn't stop when you have a kid. It just gets better. She has inspired many of us to get out there, and instructed us on how to do it safely & comfortably. We even have some great hiking parent and babe hiking groups thanks to her help and guidance.

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Exploring with little kids

If you'd like to talk more about hiking and camping and backpacking with kids (or rock-climbing, cycling, boating or whatever), come join in the discussion over at:
http://outdoorbabynetwork.com/

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