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Outdoor Shade Structures Extend Outdoor Activities

Florida-based Shade Systems builds its easily-transportable shelters out of UV-ray-resistant fabric that screens out up to 99 percent of the sun's harmful rays. The shelters can be placed over picnic areas or over entire playgrounds to allow extended outdoor activities.

One of the best ways to protect children from solar radiation is simply to avoid the sun or seek shade. Children can learn this from educational curriculum materials. Environmental support refers to the provision or availability of sun-protected areas.

This can be a grouping of shade trees, a shade structure over the play equipment, a shade structure element like the side of a tall building, or an available indoor area. Adjusting the time of day at which outdoor activities are scheduled (to avoid midday) is another way of providing environmental support. Good environmental support will automatically reduce children's sun exposure to a certain extent while also providing essential options for further self protection.

Sun Safety for Kids(SSK) encourages all schools to adopt a sun safety program out of concern for the health and safety of their students. Knowing that skin cancer can be prevented by establishing sun-safe behavior during childhood, Los Angeles-area dermatologists developed SSK to assist school administrators and maintenance personnel in the task of integrating sun safety into their school policy.

Shade Structure Installation

Permanent shade structures provide an alternative for creating high quality shade where trees may not be the best option. Some of the most suitable for schools are ramada or arbor style structures in which sturdy posts support a cover which can be constructed of steel or shade cloth. A steel roof has the added benefit of protecting from rain while fabric covers allow for greater flexibility in size and design. The outdoor lunch tables might best be covered by a steel roofed structure while a fabric-covered structure might be the ideal choice for bleachers, jungle gym equipment, and large or irregular shaped areas.

In assessing the adequacy of shade provision at your school, perhaps prime attention should be directed to the outdoor eating areas. Next might be the young children's jungle gym play equipment area.

Temporary shade structures, such as umbrellas or portable shelters are useful for providing shade at special or impromptu events and as a shield from solar radiation for staff on yard duty and outdoor pool supervision, etc. A simple handheld umbrella or parasol can be quite helpful at times.

In case any school remodeling or new construction is planned, shade provision should be strongly considered in the architectural design. If thought out ahead of time, there may be very cost-effective opportunities for providing areas of high quality shade by incorporating structural elements such as covered porches, broad eaves, or breezeways.

Trees are Shade Structures Too

The right tree can provide an excellent source of dense shade which can be psychologically soothing as well as sun-protective. Trees have the added benefit of helping to cool buildings to reduce air conditioning costs and to cool playgrounds to reduce the risk of heat prostration.

If trees have been avoided or eliminated from your school, perhaps as a cost-cutting measure, now is the time to re-examine that policy in light of the multiple benefits trees may provide including sheltering students from carcinogenic solar radiation. Since trees can also shade and thereby cool buildings, the costs of tree maintenance could be offset to a degree by the lowered air conditioning costs.

Shade structure manufacturer Poligon manufactured this prototype from a design created by landscape architect Jesse Scott of Albuquerque, N.M. In April, volunteers installed the structure with a picnic table and concrete pad at one of the city's trailheads. Photo courtesy of Site Solutions

Many factors such as quality of canopy, growth rate, cleanliness, maintenance, potential surface root damage, allergenicity, and adaptability to your local climate will need to be considered in choosing the best tree(s) for your facility.

For the past thirty years Tree People, a non-profit organization, has been voluntarily helping with the planting of new trees in the Los Angeles area.

In recent years, they have been particularly focused on helping schools to "green" their campuses and to introduce trees to outdoor playground areas, many of which in recent decades have become rather barren. Through their "Campus Forestry" project, Tree People assists schools to design and develop a tree-planting program involving the participation of students, staff, and parents. Funding in support of the project can sometimes be obtained from the "Cool Schools" program of the Department of Water and Power or from various charitable foundations with which the Tree People has developed good working relations.

To learn more about Tree People and how they might help at your school, visit their website at

More information on Sun Safety for Kids is available at:

Be UV Aware

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides excellent information through their SunWise program, including the daily UV index forecast, searchable by zip code.

Visit their website at:

We strongly encourage schools to adopt a policy to ensure that the UV index is announced in home room class each morning. On days when a UV index of 5 or higher is forecast, a reminder that students should take careful precautions to avoid sun damage should accompany the report.

An additional excellent resource for an interactive UV index forecast is provided by

A very important function of your school's sun safety officer or committee should be to take inventory of the amount of dense shade currently provided on campus and to identify areas where shade is needed. A thorough shade survey should be conducted at least once a year. In areas where shade is desirable, choose from among trees, shade structures, and architectural elements to best meet the need.

Most schools will not have financial resources to immediately provide the ideal environmental support. Unfortunately this is sometimes used as an excuse to defer establishing any sort of sun safety program at all. Most of the other recommendations in Sun Safety For Kids are cost-neutral or very inexpensive.

If a school cannot immediately afford shade structures it makes it all the more important to teach sun safety and to establish a policy governing the use of protective hats, clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses using the modular policy development worksheets we provide.

Engage the P.T.A. to help prioritize the wish list of shade options, explore existing sources of potential funding, and if necessary design fund raising events to finance the desired projects. For starters, schools and camps should at least ensure that the outdoor lunch tables and play equipment are shaded.

Not to diminish the importance of seeking shade, we must realize that there can be significant ultraviolet radiation during periods of high UV index even in the shade, so it's still important to take the usual precautions of wearing a hat, long clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses when outdoors.

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December 7, 2019, 4:31 am PDT

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