Shade: What Is Your Center Doing to Protect Children?

Far too many outdoor play spaces - both traditional and naturalized - offer little, if any, shade for the children using them. Sun-smart policies for child care centers must go beyond hats and sunscreen to provide real protection.

As I visit both traditional and naturalized outdoor play spaces around the country, I am concerned about the commonalities of both: lack of shade. Adding bushes, shrubs, water and sand offers no protection for children when they are still standing in full sun while playing outdoors. Child care centers have a unique role and responsibility to provide protection from ultraviolet radiation (UVR), because children are at centers during the highest risk period of the day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children in child care centers spend a significant period of time outdoors, and in most cases, they have little choice about their exposure to the sun.

Key elements of sun-smart policies for child care centers should include both protection and education. Hats and sunscreen are only a partial remedy.

Shade audits can help your center determine where shade is needed and how much would work for full sun protection during outdoor time. Just as you budget for other items in your environment, plan for adequate funds to help purchase fast-growing shade trees at least 4" in diameter.

Other enforcement measures include consistent policies for use of hats, sunglasses and appropriate clothing. Sunscreen should be added if the other measures can not be met.

Education efforts with parents and the wider community can build awareness about sun safety and promote a healthy center environment. Providing adequate training for teachers on sun safety can help promote the change process.

Sun Safety for Kids,, started by California dermatologists, offers inexpensive training videos, sample shade policies and suggestions for trees. The site also has sample letters, links for sun-safe clothing and a list of distributors for shade structures. If you can't plant trees and must purchase a shade structure, go directly to the manufacturer so your local playground vendor won't have the opportunity to add unnecessary fees.