The Importance of Natural Playgrounds and Playscapes

What are Natural Playgrounds or Playscapes?

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Photo by Sam Iwinski

Natural playgrounds or playscapes are highly interactive and creative play environments that may consist of different elements from the earth, such as tree logs, tree stumps, plants, and paths instead of a traditional plastic or steel playground structure.

They could be in designated areas within a park or field, or they could be anywhere that is fit for people to enjoy and play!

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Connecting with Nature in a City

Why is connecting with nature when living in a city important?

Nature is all around us, yet many people forget to or don’t know how to connect with nature. Being in nature has been shown to enhance health and overall wellbeing partly by decreasing health issues often associated with a sedentary lifestyle (Fuller, Bush, Lin, & Gaston, 2015). Spending more time in nature is related to lower rates of diabetes and obesity as well as anxiety and depression. According to the World Health Organization, around 70% of the world’s human population will be living in cities within the next 30 years (2013). Living in an urban environment could reduce access to nature, and residents may not receive the benefits of nature unless they make nature a part of their daily lives (Fuller, Bush, Lin, & Gaston, 2015). With so many of us living in cities, it’s important to find ways to connect with nature so we can reap the benefits nature has to offer us. 

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Top 5 Most Inclusive National Parks in the U.S.

Much research has been done on how national parks have historically not inclusive for all Americans. The staff and visitors have been primarily able-bodied, but the need for more inclusivity in the parks has been acknowledged. There have been many steps taken and parks continue to develop programs and facilities to encourage visitors of all backgrounds to enjoy national parks and all that they have to offer. Here are some parks to inspire people of all backgrounds to get outside.

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The Benefits of Indoor Plants and How to Start your Plant Journey

Being outdoors and engaging with the natural environment has proven to have many benefits for people. Although it’s not quite the same, you can receive some of those benefits within your own indoor space. There are many reasons for going outside. It can often be difficult to leave the comfort of your home when there is a blizzard or a heat wave outside. It can also be hard when you work a 9-5pm job and want to get home and enjoy your couch. Sometimes bringing the outside in can make you feel better from the inside out.  

You may have dried out or overwatered your plants, but there are many reasons to keep these marvelous plants alive. More times than I would like to admit, indoor plants have not survived while in my care. I often wonder how I manage to keep myself on my own two feet, functioning on a daily basis, when I cannot water my plant once or twice a week. But indoor plants are not just a pretty sight to have tucked away in the corner. They can reduce our stress levels (and the amount of sick days we might take from work), improve our air quality, and lift our mood. Just as we take care of them, they may help with taking care of us.  

Benefits: Mind and Body 

Indoor plants can provide psychological benefits. Research as linked indoor plants with less nervousness and anxiousness, fewer symptoms of health issues, and better air quality (Deng& Deng 2018). Indoor plants are correlated with reports of less depression and anxiety, lower levels of stress, and increases in work productivity (Hall & Knuth 2019). Indoor plants seem to improve outcomes for employees, students, and patients. One literature review of 


Before and After Office Visuals


various studies found that indoor plants in the workplace decreased the amount of sick days taken and the stress levels among workers. Hospital patients recovered faster when there was a variety of plants in the room versus not having plants. Students with plants in their classroom had faster performance productivity: 10%. The review also found that indoor plants decreased stress and increased pain tolerance (Bringslimark, Hartig, & Patil 2009).  

Benefits: Air Quality 

The NASA Clean Air Project found that there was a correlation between air quality and the reduction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some common VOCs that we may interact with on a daily basis include: Acetone, Benzene, Butanal Ethanol, and Formaldehyde. These VOCs are found in everyday products such as your laundry detergent, nail polish remover, burning candles, and stoves. These chemicals can be harmful and hazardous to your health over time. The Clean Air Project found that low light house plants aided with improvement of air quality. However, the findings were not significant enough to support any of the other claims that were mentioned within the review literature (Moya, Van Den Dobbelsteen, Ottelé, &Bluyssen 2019). After reading this study, I personally found myself rethinking everything that I use around my apartment and reflect on how many plants are there to help with improving my air quality. That number is zero. As an avid candle burner, I may need to start looking into bringing home some indoor house plants to make sure my obsession doesn’t get out of hand.  

Benefits: Active Engagement  

Having plants around to look at might be good for you but being actively engaged with them may provide an even better benefit. Some research suggests that active involvement in indoor gardening and viewing indoor plant life was better than nature installations or nature inspired photographs in improving psychological and physical well-being, social engagement, and life satisfaction (Yeo et al,. 2019).  

Indoor gardening could mean growing your own herbs or vegetables but could alsoinvolve just maintaining indoor plants in your space. This would include watering the plant, adding soil, moving the plant into different pots, and cleaning the plant from any dead leaves it may have. This allows you to interact with the plant inside of just having a fake plant in the corner.  

There are limitations to many of the studies mentioned above, but the evidence is growing that adding indoor plants to your homes has potential advantages and no real disadvantages.  


Plant: Pothos 


Starting your Plant Journey 

Indoor plants can be relatively cheap and easy to maintain. NASA’s Clean Air Project recommended medium-low light house plants to complement air filters and carbon filters in your space. Some suggestions for beginners that are low maintenance and cost effective include: Spider plants, Ivy, Maidenhair Fern, and. These plants could be the gateway to exploring more of what indoor plants have to offer.   

If you are just beginning the indoor plant journey, you might be overwhelmed with all the options to choose from and may face problems along the way. Some common challenges are underwatering or overwatering. After determining which indoor plant, you want and discovering how often it should be watered, you can start a routine by setting-up a reminder on your smartphone. 

 An example indoor plant that requires minimal watering is the spider plant. The plant is forgiving and should be watered once a week. The spider plant is a low-light and low maintenance plant, perfect for leaving near a window that occasionally lets in the sunlight every indoor plant needs. If the indoor plant does not come in its own pot, it would be good to invest in a pot to help contain the soil and drain water properly. This helps with maintaining and setting up your routine to make taking care of your new friend easy. 


Spider Plant. Source: 

A helpful routine would be to water the plant every Monday night when you return from work or school. Another routine could be Sunday night right before you go to bed. All plants are more likely to store and conserve their water consumption when watered at night. A helpful tip for knowing when your indoor plant should receive a little more TLC is if the top 1 inch or so of soil is dry. Simply add some water. The soil should always be moist, not overly wet. It can be easier to determine when you are underwatering rather than overwatering.  

Signs that you are overwatering your plant include: the soil being wet, but leaves are wilting, browning leaves, and yellow falling leaves. A few ways to determine if you are is by taking your finger and place it into the plant’s soil so that it reaches near the base of the pot. If you feel that it is still wet, and leaves are brown and wilting, you are most likely overwatering. Obtaining low maintenance and low light plants, can help my fellow over waterers to relieve some pressure to take continually water our indoor plants.  

Taking care of indoor plants can help reduce stress, increase productivity, and help keep us physically and psychologically healthy. If you choose low to medium light houseplants, you’ll find that caring for them is easy. Why not bring plants into your home or office?  It’s more than just a pretty green thing it’s a life that can help you improve yours.  

Want to find out more about how you can start your indoor plant journey? Check out these links below for a beginner’s guide:

The Ultimate Guide to Indoors Plants:

A Quick Guide to Houseplants for Beginners:

Want more? Check out our sources below:

Bringslimark, Tina, Hartig, Terry, Patil, Grete G. The psychological benefits of indoor plants: A critical review of the experimental literature, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 29, Issue 4, 2009, Pages 422-433,  

Deng, L., & Deng, Q. (2018). The basic roles of indoor plants in human health and comfort. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 25(36), 36087–36101. doi: 10.1007/s11356-018-3554-1  

Hall, Charles, & Knuth, Melinda (2019) An Update of the Literature Supporting the Well-Being Benefits of Plants: A Review of the Emotional and Mental Health Benefits of Plants. Journal of Environmental Horticulture: March 2019, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 30-38.  

 Moya, T. A., van den Dobbelsteen, A., Ottelé, M., & Bluyssen, P. M. (2019). A review of green systems within the indoor environment. Indoor and Built Environment, 28(3), 298–309.  

Yeo, Nicola L., Elliott, Lewis R., Bethel, Alison, White, Mathew P., Dean, Sarah G., Garside, Ruth.Indoor Nature Interventions for Health and Wellbeing of Older Adults in Residential Settings: A Systematic Review, The Gerontologist,, gnz019,  

Accessibility in Our National Parks

Sprawling prairies, rising mountains, and crystal-clear lakes are just some of the beautiful landscapes that the United States has to offer. Add in some historic knowledge, cultural sites, and learning opportunities about geology, wildlife, and ecosystems, and you’ve got yourself just a taste of what national parks and sites have to offer. National parks aim to be for all Americans, but has it always been this way? Is it really available for everyone?

Unfortunately, national parks have not always been inclusive. Many parks have struggled with accessibility for all its visitors for years. There are many people who live with visual, auditory, physical, or mental disabilities who are not able to achieve the same experiences in national parks as everyone else. Many parks have physical limitations within their systems, whether it be steep hiking trails or a lack of tactile information in a visitor center, and these obstacles need to be overcome.

Avalanche Lake hike with off-road wheelchair ©NPS/Jacob W. Frank

When there’s a rocky trail or river to cross on foot, how can we ensure that all people are able to visit these places without altering the landscape? Many campgrounds, facilities, parking lots, sidewalks, and interpretive programs are not always accessible to differently abled individuals. This then limits the amount of people who visit these places, as well as diminishes the ability of visitors and their companions to fully enjoy the park. In an article published in the National Geographic, a visitor who had a son in a wheelchair said that she used to carry her son around the parks so that he could see the scenery that were obstructed by barriers on trails(Djossa, 2018). Thankfully, there have been some new developments in the past few years that have been aimed towards  fixing the accessibility problem faced by  national parks across the country.

In 2006, Sue Masica, the then Associate Director of Park Planning, Facilities, and Lands for the National Park Service, released a statement that acknowledged the lack of accessible facilities in US national parks and discussed plans to fix many of the issues that the NPS had long been aware of. Many buildings in the 400+ national sites were built in the 1960s or earlier, before accessibility options were made a requirement by the 1968 Architectural Barriers Act. Additionally, Masica  shared in her statement that the NPS was working on creating guidelines to help park planners manage natural landscapes in a way that meets the needs of visitors but also does not damage or harm their natural landscapes.

Fully Accessible Interdune Boardwalk in White Sand Dunes National Monument ©NPS 2019

Changes both large and small are occurring in parks all over the NPS System. Arches National Park now has barrier-free trails and audio-visual programming (NPS website), White Sands National Monument has a new 900-foot wheelchair-accessible interdune boardwalk with interpretative rangers onsite, at Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina, Braille and audio tapes were installed to enable visually impaired visitors to experience the information presented in the visitor center, and at Joshua Tree National Park, a day-use area was re-done by developing four new accessible picnic sites and re-constructing 1,420 linear feet of surfaced walkways (Masica, 2006).

A major move towards continuing accessibility-related developments in our national parks was made with the creation of the Accessibility Task Force. In 2012, the  National Park Service established the Accessibility Task Force with the goal of improving accessibility in over 400 National Parks and Sites throughout the United States. For the five-year period of 2015 to 2020, their three goals are: (1) to create a welcoming environment by increasing the ability of the National Park Service to serve visitors and staff with disabilities, (2) to ensure that new facilities and programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities, and (3) to upgrade existing facilities, programs, and services to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Green River at Mammoth Cave National Park ©Bryan Woolson/AP

Of course, the question remains: how are the leaders and implementers of this project making these much-needed changes without compromising the natural features of the park that people come to see? According to Sue Masica’s 2006 statement, the NPS is working closely with the U.S. Access Board to develop facilities that are accessible for all but that also preserve the integrity of the natural sites. Accessibility remains the focal point of these new developments because one of the key missions of the NPS is to “ensure that visitors with disabilities can visit the parks, and to the greatest extent practical, have access to the same experiences and services provided to all visitors.” (Masica, 2006). There are many construction efforts that have been accomplished since then, and many projects are still underway.

Along with physical changes being made to the parks, another helpful development has been the introduction of the all-inclusive entrance pass that provides access to 2000+ interagency sites for visitors with permanent disabilities. Other than a one-time $10 processing fee, the pass is free for disabled individuals, as long as they are U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. Better still, the pass allows its owner to bring upto four additional visitors at no cost to sites within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), USDA Forest Service (USDA FS), National Park Service (NPS), and US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (

With all of these developing changes making National Parks more accessible, the hope is that more people with disabilities are encouraged to get outside and experience the joy and beauty of these natural areas. Our national sites are meant to be explored by all, so please, get out there and enjoy all that the national parks have to offer!

2018 Access Pass
Access Pass © USGS 2018

For further reading: