Keeping kids cool at playgrounds during the summer heat — with trees!

Rushay Naik and Gregory R.A. Richardson, Health Canada

Summer is finally here, and that means more trips to neighbourhood parks. As the pandemic restrictions ease, families will schedule outdoor play dates for their kids and playgrounds will increasingly become a popular destination for active and creative play. During these hottest months of the year, extreme heat could make even the most exciting playgrounds hot and uncomfortable.

Children are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures, so reducing risk of heat-related illness and burns is crucial to ensuring safety. Extreme outdoor temperatures can increase risks of sunstroke, burns from playground surfaces, and exposure to harmful UV radiation from the sun. Annual hot days exceeding 30°C in Canada are expected to more than double in the next 20 years because of climate change. As global temperatures rise, so does the importance of evolving designs of outdoor recreation spaces to keep kids cool and comfortable.

By increasing shade, planting more trees and adding water features, parks and playgrounds can become healthier, more comfortable spaces. New national guidelines developed by researchers at the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), with support from the Standards Council of Canada and Health Canada, are being implemented by communities to promote the ‘thermal comfort’ of playgrounds and outdoor spaces. Playground designers, schools, and cities can consult these guidelines when planning new playgrounds or upgrading current ones, so the latest solutions for managing heat in playgrounds are considered.

Trees are an important solution to protecting kids and promoting play during the summer. One key benefit that trees provide is shade. Research shows that by placing deciduous trees on the south and southwest sides of playgrounds – while planting coniferous trees to cover high and low solar angles – can create a canopy of shade that limits sun exposure and lowers temperatures at playgrounds.

In order to protect outdoor play for kids into the future, we will need to reimagine the spaces children play in with the help of trees. We invite you to share these guidelines with members of your local community and learn more about how trees can keep kids safe. By taking key steps to plant more trees near our playgrounds, we can help protect the health of kids across Canada for many more summers to come.


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