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BCI Burke Playground

Adding More Greenspaces to Communities

Greenspace matters. By conserving it and restoring it, we are helping the environment — and by ensuring equitable access to it, we also are supporting future healthy development for all.

Few studies have examined the association between greenspace and mental health challenges in young people. The National Institutes of Health sought to fill the gap; its Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program studied more than 2,000 children living in almost 200 counties across 41 states, and researchers discovered that children ages 2-5 with access to green space had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

ECHO’s results suggest that kids’ access to greespace might have a direct impact on their mental health. And, it seems early childhood is a critical time for this exposure.

The American Psychiatric Association agrees. According to a review published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, access to greenspace promotes healthy memory, self-discipline, and supportive social groups; it moderates stress; and it improves symptoms of ADHD.

This might be particularly important for underserved children. A 2021 study in the interdisciplinary journal Wellbeing, Space and Society incorporated more than 700 children ages 10-11 and discovered that “a 10 percent increase in neighborhood greenspace was associated with a decrease in emotional problems and improvement in positive social behaviors. These benefits were especially strong among youth from lower-income families.”

How do we provide equitable access to all children? Not everyone lives near a lush public park with plenty of open space.

Fortunately, we can work with our local communities, schools and landscape designers to revitalize nature in urban play spaces as well:

  • Line pathways with plants and add in a space for a community or school garden
  • Plant native flowers to support the local butterfly and bee populations, and use play to teach children about pollinators, conservation and the importance of outdoor spaces — what we understand, we protect
  • Add bird feeders and birdhouses
  • Combine shade options, incorporating native trees if and where possible
  • Plant fruit trees/bushes, which provide snacks as well as shade
  • Combine built environment with the natural one — for example, incorporate climbing and seating areas made with natural stones/boulders, logs, and stumps; and combine play structures with natural elements like hills and trees
  • Create an environment in which children are able to play with found objects, such as pine cones, leaves, sticks, stones and other natural finds
  • Create sandboxes and dirt pits where children can dig and build
  • Make natural obstacles, hidden paths and secret nooks part of the design

Depending on available space and resources, you can add interactive water features as well, including fountains, splash pads, a pond or a small stream. And, through play, you also can teach children to plant and nurture raised-bed vegetable and herb gardens, and to care for local wildlife with bird feeders, birdhouses, bat boxes and insect hotels. 

If your available space cannot accommodate gardens, incorporate green walls/trellises, hanging baskets/planters, and planter boxes instead.

Children are yearning for a closer connection to nature in this tech-heavy world, even if they don’t realize it. Even a “pocket park” with its own micro-environment can provide tremendous, life-changing benefits. 

Explore the ways Burke can provide play and movement for all spaces. You also can contact your nearest Burke representative to discuss your specific needs.