A Shady Kind of Day: How to Keep Children Cool and Safe on Hot Playgrounds
Article by Mark Zimmerman, Kaplan's Playground Sales Manager
During the hot summer months, we all look for a cool, shady spot when we're at cookouts, festivals, and other events. Children on the playground deserve the same opportunities to seek shade. Most states require a minimum amount of shade on playgrounds that are licensed by the state, but even if it is not a licensed facility, shade should still be included on all playgrounds.
Benefits of Providing Shade on the Playground
Having the proper shading on playgrounds can have a variety of benefits:
- Shading Preserves Equipment From the Sun – UV rays can break down plastics and increase the speed in which colors fade on playground equipment.
- Shading Shields Equipment from the Elements – While shades are not 100% waterproof, they do decrease the amount of exposure to the elements, which helps prolong the life of playground equipment.
- Shading Protects Children From Burns and Overheating – Without shade, the summer sun can cause children to overheat on the playground and cause surfaces to become too hot for children to play on.
Preventing Overheating, Thermal Burns, and Skin Damage on the Playground
Thermal burns occur when the skin comes into contact with a heated object, and they can occur almost anywhere on the playground. Some of the biggest culprits are plastic and metal slides and rubber swing seats because the skin stays in contact with the object for a longer period of time. Another overlooked area is playground surfacing, particularly rubber surfaces. Tests have shown that playground equipment and surfacing temperatures can exceed 160 degrees in direct sunlight while the threshold for minor burns is only 120 degrees. Prolonged exposure to the sun can also cause skin damage, which increases the likelihood of skin cancer in the future.
So, what can we do to keep children cool and safe on hot playgrounds? In addition to using sunscreen and having cool water for them to drink, providing proper shading is the best way to combat overheating, thermal burns, and skin damage. If a playground doesn't have a lot of natural shade, then consider putting several free-standing shade structures on the playground—preferably over equipment that would provide the most relief from the sun.
If that is not an option, then provide a large free-standing shade for the children to go to when they need some relief from the sun. If purchasing new equipment, keep in mind that many structures are available with integrated shades as part of the equipment instead of your typical roof. Most shade manufacturers offer shade structures that can reduce up to 95% of harmful UV rays, which can make the air feel as much as 20 degrees cooler. Shades will also help lower surfacing and equipment temperatures closer to the actual air temperature.
Other Ways to Keep Children Cool and Safe on the Playground
- Children should always wear shoes when they're on the playground to protect their feet from the heat.
- Children should wear long pants when playing to reduce exposure to the tender spots on children's legs.
- Children under two years of age, particularly crawling infants, are extremely susceptible to burns since their reflexes are much slower at that age.
- When choosing colors for playground equipment and surfacing materials, choose lighter colors. Remember, dark colors hold more heat.
- The opposite is true when it comes to choosing proper shading. Darker shades increase the shade factor, and while almost all shades will block 92–96 percent of UV rays, lighter colors tend to have lower shade factors. It's also a good idea to stay away from the color white. It blocks the lowest percentage of UV rays, has the lowest shade factor, and shows a lot of dirt and grime.
When it comes to playgrounds, always aim to make it a shady kind of day for everyone! Visit our playground resource page for more information about all of our playground services, and be sure to request a free copy of our playground catalog or browse the online version to view available playground equipment and surfacing.