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The Importance of Shade Structures in Playgrounds

Playgrounds are a vital part of childhood. They’re a place for fun, laughter, and creating lifelong memories. But as parents and caregivers, we have an important responsibility to ensure these spaces are safe. One aspect that often gets overlooked is the importance of shade. Yes, shade! Shade structures aren’t just a matter of comfort – but an essential feature in every playground.

Exposure to high levels of sunlight can be harmful, and young children are among the most vulnerable. Prolonged exposure can lead to sunburn, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and even increase the risk of skin cancer in the long run. While sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing can help, shade structures can significantly reduce children’s exposure to the sun.

But the benefits of shade extend beyond health. It can also significantly enhance the usability and appeal of a playground. Besides, no one wants to play on scorching hot playground equipment! Shade can help keep equipment cool to the touch, making it safer for kids to play. Now that we’ve established the importance of shade structures, let’s delve into their benefits.

Aerial view of Woodhaven Park playground in Eagan, MN with a rectangular hip and gable end shelter.

Benefits of Shade Structures in Playgrounds

Shade structures offer numerous benefits in playground settings. Firstly, they provide shelter from the sun, reducing UV exposure and keeping the playground cooler. Secondly, shade structures enhance the aesthetic appeal of a playground and make it more inviting for children. Depending on the design, they can also add a themed or architectural element, adding another layer of fun to children’s playtime.

Additionally, shade structures can extend the usability of a playground. Even on hot, sunny days, children can continue to play comfortably under the shade, encouraging more physical activity and reducing screen time. Furthermore, the presence of shade can also make the playground more attractive to parents, caregivers, and teachers, who can supervise children comfortably from a shaded area.

Finally, incorporating shade into playground designs can make them more inclusive. For children with certain medical conditions or disabilities, exposure to the sun can be especially harmful. Providing shaded areas ensures that all children, regardless of their health status or abilities, can enjoy the playground.

Castaic Regional Sports Complex playground in Castaic, CA with three three-point shade sails.
Hickory Lane Park playground in Jackson, WI with umbrella shade structure and park bench.

What to Consider When Choosing a Shade Structure

Choosing the right shade structure for your playground requires careful consideration. It’s not just about picking something that looks good – you must also think about practicality and safety, too. To start, consider the size of your playground and the number of children who will be using it. This will help determine the size and number of shade structures you will need.

Next, think about the playground’s location. Is it exposed to the sun all day, or are there certain times when it’s in the shade? This will influence the type of shade structure you choose and where you place it. Also, consider the local climate and weather conditions. If the playground is in a particularly windy area, you’ll need a shade structure that can withstand strong winds.

Material is another crucial factor to consider. Shade structures should be made from durable, UV-resistant materials to provide effective protection from the sun. Examples include powder coated steel, pressure treated lumber, or UV-resistant fabric. Lastly, remember to choose a shade structure that complements the playground’s design and aesthetic. After all, a playground is a place of fun and creativity!

Types of Playground Shade Structures

There are a variety of playground shade structures available, each with their own unique features and benefits. Here are a few common types:

  1. Shade Sails: These are tensioned fabric structures that provide versatile and effective shading. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours and can be installed at various angles to create an appealing and functional design.
  2. Umbrellas: These are a great option for providing shade over picnic tables or small play areas. They are easy to install, as they only require one post, and you can install multiple around the perimeter of the playground.
  3. Gazebos: Gazebos provide a large shaded area and can be designed to match the playground’s aesthetic. They can be used for group activities, like a family picnic or outdoor classroom, or as a shaded area for parents and caregivers.
  4. Pergolas: These are wooden or metal structures with a slatted roof. They add a natural aesthetic to the playground and provide partial shade, allowing some sunlight to filter through.
  5. Canopies: Canopies provide extensive shade coverage and are ideal for larger playgrounds. They can be custom-made to fit the size and shape of the playground. However, canopies are typically more expensive and require careful engineering.
Callaghan Park playground in Edmonton, AB with hexagon gazebo, two picnic tables, and one waste receptacle.
Barnes Street Activity Center playground in Florence, SC with square hip shade structure, two picnic tables, and two waste receptacles.

Alternatives to Playground Shade Structures

While shade structures are an excellent solution for providing shade in playgrounds, they’re not the only option. Natural shade, such as trees and shrubbery, can be a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternative. However, they require time to grow and may not provide sufficient shade in the initial years.

Another alternative is to use the playground equipment itself to provide shade. Some play structures come with built-in shade elements, such as roofs or canopies. You can also strategically arrange the playground equipment to create shade, such as under deck play areas.

Panorama Park playground in North Vancouver, BC with natural shade such as trees and shrubbery.

How to Install and Maintain Shade Structures

Installing a shade structure requires careful planning and execution. It’s important to ensure the structure is installed correctly to provide effective shade and withstand weather conditions. For this reason, it’s often best to hire a professional to help install your shade structure.

Once installed, regular maintenance is key to ensuring the longevity of your shade structure. Routine inspections are necessary to identify any safety issues, such as loose fittings, paint chips, or damage from weather exposure. Cleaning the shade structure is also important to keep it looking its best and to prevent the growth of mold or mildew.

If you have a shade sail, you may need to remove it during extreme weather conditions, such as high winds or heavy snowfall. While removed, you should also clean the fabric to remove any dirt and debris, as well as inspect it for any tears. When in doubt, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for care and maintenance to ensure your shade structure lasts for many years.

Types of Footings Required for Shade Structures

Depending on the type of shade structure you choose, you may need to dig foundations, install posts, or anchor shade sails. The type of footing required largely depends on the type of shade structure and its size. For instance, shade sails typically require concrete footings for the posts. However, the size and depth of the footing will depend on the size of the sail, local wind conditions, and provincial engineering standards.

For larger, more permanent structures, like gazebos and shelters, deeper and more substantial footings may be required. This could involve digging a deep hole and filling it with concrete, or installing screw piles. Alternatively, you may also consider pouring a concrete pad for these structures. While more expensive, it also provides a flat surface that’s great for seating or outdoor classrooms.

Aerial view of Golden Isles Park playground in Hallandale Beach, FL with rectangular hip shade structure and playground shade sails.

How Shade Contributes to the Longevity of Playground Equipment

Providing shade in playgrounds isn’t just beneficial for the children who play on them. It can also help extend the life of your playground equipment! Direct sunlight can cause materials to fade and degrade over time, especially plastic and rubber components. By providing shade, you’re not only protecting children, but also your playground investment.

Shade can also help maintain the safety of playground equipment. In hot weather, metal equipment can become dangerously hot, posing a risk of burns. Additionally, UV radiation can also weaken certain materials. Shade can help keep equipment at a safer temperature, allowing children to play more comfortably and your equipment lasting longer.

Blandair Regional Park playground in Columbia, MD with playground shade sails.
Mays Family Clubhouse playground in San Antonio, TX with a four-point shade sail.

Conclusion: Making Shade a Priority in Playground Planning

As we’ve seen, shade is an essential feature in every kid’s playground. It provides protection from the sun, extends the life of playground equipment, and enhances the usability and aesthetic appeal of the playground. When planning a playground, it’s important to consider shade right from the start – not as an afterthought.

Remember, the type of shade structure you choose should complement the design of the playground, provide effective shade coverage, and be durable enough to withstand the elements. And, don’t forget to conduct regular maintenance to ensure the longevity of your shade structure!

Whether you opt for a shade structure, natural shade, or a combination of both, remember that the goal is to create a safe and fun environment for children. If you’re unsure about the best shade solutions for your playground, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our specialists. They can provide you with expert advice and guide you through the process, from planning to installation.

Sunset Park in Vancouver, BC with a custom barrel vault shelter and three pedestal picnic tables.