Open Letter to Elementary School Students

Dear Elementary School Students,

We all make mistakes and sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re making a mistake until someone talks to us about it. I know you don’t know me, but I’m wondering if I can ask for your help. We grown-ups are making a mistake these days but I’m pretty sure you can help us fix it.

Recently, 2,000 adults across Canada who don’t know each other were asked some questions about spending time outside (). All of their answers were collected from this survey and it showed something kind of strange – that 74% of these adults prefer to spend time inside instead of going outside. Sounds weird, eh? (Your teacher can try to help you understand what 74% if you haven’t been taught percentages yet, but it’s a pretty high number.) The even stranger thing is: 87% of the same adults answered that they know spending time in nature makes them happier, but they still choose to spend most of their time inside. It’s kind of like knowing something is really good for you and lots of fun, but you still don’t want to do it. Doesn’t make a lot of sense right?

I’ve talked to a lot of students over the years. I know how much you like spending time outside – kicking soccer balls, playing tag, and throwing snowballs. For many of you, recess is probably your favourite time of the school day because you get to run around and enjoy the fresh air. Playing outside is pretty fun no matter what you do, but for some reason, we adults have started to believe that outdoor play is only for kids.

I’ll try to explain and then ask my request.

Do you ever feel that something is so important and you feel so strongly about it that you just have to talk to someone or maybe even do something about it? I’ve been feeling that way for a while. Seven years ago, I felt so strongly about wanting young people to spend more time outside that I decided to run across Canada. I ran for 283 days from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, B.C., to have conversations with students just like you. However, it seems as though the people who are spending less and less time outside are in fact adults, not kids.

In some of your subjects like math, your teacher gives you a problem that they want you to solve. The solutions to these problems are not always easy. But this is why I’m writing to you. When it comes to heading outdoors, you are the experts and the role models that we need. I hope you would agree that this is a simple problem to solve – we just need to spend more time outside! And I’m guessing that if you can help us to do this, it would maybe help with some of the other problems going on in the world. I know your teachers are already teaching you about the importance of our physical health and our mental health. Spending time outside is good for our bodies and it’s good for our minds.

So if you’re willing to help and I really hope you are, here is my request. Ask your mom or your dad to take you outside. In fact, ask your teacher to take you outside. If you have a brother or a sister or a grandparent, take them outside too. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Play in the leaves or build a snowman. Jump in a puddle or catch snowflakes on your tongue. Canada has an amazing backyard, waiting for all of us – young and old alike – to go play and learn in it. We just need you to remind us it’s there.

Colin Harris

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