Pathways for Play®

Infusing Play Into Pathway Networks

Pathways for Play®

Infusing Play Into Pathway Networks to Encourage Active Lifestyles for Children, Families, and Communities

PlayCore has partnered with the Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University to offer an educational resource designed to help professional and community activists promote playful trails and greenways across our nation. The partnership also included collaborations with Advisory Committee of experts from American Trails. Pathways for Play intentionally integrates play into community pathway networks to provide opportunities for playing along the way and encourage use by children and families.

The purpose of Pathways for Play is to integrate play - critical for children's health - into walkable, bikeable, shared use community pathway networks infused with "play pockets" providing opportunities for playing along the way. In the last 40 years, the number of children and adolescents in the United States walking or bicycling to or from school has dropped from approximately half to fewer than 15%. Innovative pathway designs infused with play is a paradigm change that could increase children's walking and biking habits by offering a network of intriguing linear play environments connecting children's homes to playgrounds and other meaningful, daily life destinations.

To create the guidebook, supporting research was gathered on spontaneous play, family interaction in the outdoors, traffic issues, independent mobility, contact with nature, and adult/child interaction. This data was used to develop a set of benefits for playful pathways, supported and implied by the research, namely health promotion, inclusion, engagement with nature, environmental literacy, connectivity, and community social capital. Since this combination of benefits may not necessarily be achieved by other means, Pathways for Play creates a new paradigm in outdoor recreation for the family.

The program guide describes ways to combine historical elements, built play equipment, and natural materials in the pockets of activity, then space these pockets along a trail, designed with curving paths to disguise the next activity, and create an element of mystery and discovery. Playful pathways are a new focus for many planners and trail designers as they create corridors for community connectivity. All children need access to the wonder of the outdoors, and this new approach to playful pathway design offers compelling ways to engage children and families alike. Playful exhibits stationed along the trail increase the usage of pathways and trails by infusing them with play and adventure, engaging children by using familiar behaviors, centered around play, all while teaching facts about the environment in a friendly, non-formal way. Pathways designed with us using these best practice guidelines are eligible for National Demonstration Site status. 

Developed in Partnership with


The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) is a research and design assistance program of the College of Design of North Carolina State University. NLI creates environments for healthy human development and a healthy biosphere for generations to come. The purpose of the Natural Learning Initiative is to promote the natural environment in the daily experience of all children and families, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information.

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