Picking the right shade
Natural shade should be a major element of shade in an outdoor play space.
Trees with dense foliage and wide-spreading canopies provide the best protection, although leaves can create ongoing maintenance problems for sandpits and may build up on paths. Choose species that suit local soil and climatic conditions and the character of the environment. Root barriers and subsoil drainage will ensure that tree roots don’t damage nearby paved areas.
Dense shrubs can also provide shade. They should be planted around the perimeter of a site so they don’t obstruct supervision. Pruning shrubs on the underside may create shaded play nooks underneath. Shrubs and trees selected for the play space must be safe for children. For example, avoid species that:
- have toxic leaves or berries;
- have seed pods or stone fruit (a potential choking hazard for children under five years);
- attract bees;
- have thorns or spikes;
- are known to cause adverse health effects such as asthma and skin irritation;
- drop branches.
Temporary built structures can provide shade until trees mature.
Built shade structures
In many situations, combining built and natural shade will be the best option. There are many types of built structures that can provide effective shade, including:
- permanent structures (pergolas and verandahs);
- demountable shade (marquees and tents);
- adjustable systems (awnings);
- shade sails.
Materials used can range from glass, fibreglass, canvas and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to steel sheeting. For built structures, regardless of the size, it is recommended to seek professional advice from a shade installer, builder, landscaper or architect to ensure it is safe and will provide the desired amount of shade. Permanent shade structures usually require council approval before installation.
Selecting shade cloth
Shade cloth is often the most common and simplest way to provide sun protection. Keep in mind that different fabrics have different abilities to block or absorb UV radiation. Fabric that is dark, close weave and heavy will block or absorb more UV radiation. Shade cloth often states the level of UV protection it provides, either as an Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating (UPF) or percentage figure. Purchasing good quality shade cloth is important. So is the style and size of the structure in providing good shade.
Shade structures should allow adults to view and access the children’s play areas. A head clearance of about two metres is recommended for shade structures. The useability of the floor space underneath the structure must also be considered. It should be of a sufficient size and shape to allow children to gather or play actively underneath.
Demountable shade structures should only be used to supplement more permanent forms of shade (e.g. when waiting for freshly planted trees to grow). Some demountable structures, such as umbrellas, offer only limited protection and may be unstable during windy conditions.