Playful Pathways Provide the Highest Levels of Child-Adult Interactions

In the picture above, two best friends head home on a traffic-free greenway, carrying soccer balls after an energetic game in the park. The curvy, undulating greenway tread is bordered by park no-mow zones, which add the sensory stimulation of native flowering plants and diverse insect life.

Research shows that playful pathways attract children and families and can dramatically increase frequency and duration of use of trails, greenways, and shared-use pathways. 

Although trails exist throughout our nation, it appears that a small minority of children and families are actually using them. The Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, conducted independent research which provides new insight into how infusing play into pathway networks positively impacts usage, duration, independent mobility, and play behaviors of children. 

From the study, it was found that play pockets installed along trails that contained nature-themed equipment were not only popular, but showed the highest levels of child-adult interactions. Additional benefits include:

Extending play value 

Extending the types of play (especially in the physical and socio-dramatic domain) afforded by a continuous, complex, linear space where nature is omnipresent.

Enabling health promotion

Enabling kids and families to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air, and experience meaningful physical activity on foot, bicycle, or wheeled toys.

Expanding inclusion

Expanding possibilities for people of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds to engage in playful interactions with each other and their surroundings, which continuously afford play opportunities as children and other users move along.

Engaging with nature

Providing a multitude of opportunities for observing and/or interacting playfully with a wide diversity of plants and animals through the seasons.

Reinforcing environmental literacy 

Benefiting from the learning opportunities afforded by pathways integrated with a “green infrastructure” of stream and river corridors and vegetation patches, transecting local habitats, exposing natural and sociocultural history of former land uses.

Walkable, bikeable community connectivity 

Encouraging nonmotorized travel from home to local recreational and cultural destinations, thereby reducing both traffic and the carbon footprint.

Growing community social capital

Bringing residents together through shared lifestyle experiences focused on children and a sense of building healthy communities together.

Our program, Pathways for Play®, was written to intentionally integrate play - critical for children's health - into walkable, bikeable, share use community pathway networks to provide opportunities for playing along the way and encourage use by children and families. 

Sources for this article can be found page 54 of Pathways for Play®: Infusing play into pathway networks to encourage active lifestyles for children, families, and communities

Want to implement a Playful Pathway in your community, but not sure where to start?

Request a copy of Pathways for Play to learn more!

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