Safe Shade Play

Safe Shade Play 

According to the Cancer Council, skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia. Australia also has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, mainly caused by exposure to the sun. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun during childhood and adolescence is a major risk factor for the development of skin cancer, with 90 – 95 percent of skin cancers caused by exposure to radiation from the sun. 

In Australia, UV radiation levels remain high throughout most of the year. Increasing shade in areas where children play outdoors will minimise unnecessary exposure to UV radiation, and create greater potential to reduce the risk of skin cancer later in life.

Shade is imperative for all playspaces. If an area feels uncomfortable it will not be utilised. Trees provide the best shade quality, lowering summer temperature by an average of 8 – 10 degrees. If possible, playspaces should be positioned in areas with shade from trees. If this is not possible then thought should be given to shade structures. Ensure your shade falls in the right place at the right time of day. 

Everyone is urged to wear protective clothing and sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun year round. Always consider the most practical ways of enhancing sun protection for children when playing outdoors, which includes seeking shade when outdoors. Providers of supervised play areas should have a sun protection policy and should adhere to their own regulations and guidelines on shade provision.

You can protect you and your children from skin cancer and other sun damage by being SunSmart all year round:

UV radiation is strongest in the middle of the day. Minimise the amount of time spent in the sun between 10 am and 3 pm, especially from September to May. 

Be a good role model and demonstrate good sun protection behaviour - "Slip (on a shirt), slop (on sunscreen), slap (on a hat) - seek (shade) and slide (on some sunnies)!" 

  • Apply SPF 30+ broad spectrum and water resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before you go out in the sun. Reapply every 2 hours after that.
  • Wear protective clothing to cover up as much of the skin as possible. Cottons and lycras are good sun protective materials.
  • Wear a broad brim or legionnaire style hat (not caps) that covers your face, head, neck and ears.
  • Locate play equipment in an area that is densely shaded when children are most likely to play. 
  • Help children to identify shady areas to set up games Shade should provide a dark shadow. Use the shadow cast by your house, a structure or vegetation. Be aware of reflective surfaces 
  • Wear close fitting, wrap around style sunglasses.
  • Plant trees that provide maximum shade over play areas or include permanent shade cover in the design of play areas 
  • Position play equipment to maximise the use of available shade for outdoor activities (note any existing structures which might provide protection) 

The above information has been supplied by The Cancer Council Northern Territory. For further information visit 1800 678 123.


Planting for Shade and Amenity

Trees are an effective, economical and attractive way to provide shade. Careful placement of appropriate trees and plants will increase the appeal and value of any play area. Deciduous trees can block out summer sun but allow the warmth of winter sun. 

Trees, shrubs and ground cover play a number of roles in a playspace. Trees and shrubs can be used as wind breaks to moderate the temperature of the playspace and buildings, reduce glare, define play zones and can be used as an educational tool. Plants can also be used to create private, hidden spaces. 

Planting different types of vegetation will increase the amenity of your play area. A wide variety of vegetation affords seasonal variations, colour, perfume and wildlife. Trees can provide shade, colour, seedpods, leaves and havens for wildlife; shrubs can screen or divide; and climbing vines can soften fences or provide shade over a pergola. Groundcovers (including grass) provide effective low UV radiation reflective surfaces.

Create a Children's Garden where beds can be planted with annual colour, herbs or vegetables. If you establish a 'bush tucker' garden, educate children to only eat plants an adult gives them, because not all plants, or all parts of plants, are edible.

Some species of plants can present hazards to children, and Kidsafe recommends using a horticulturist or someone with extensive local plant knowledge to assist you in the selection (or identification) of plants. The Asthma Foundation of Western Australia has also produced a document titled ‘Low Allergen Plants’. For further information visit Asthma Foundation NT

Plants to Avoid

In general, avoid plants which:

  • Attract large numbers of stinging insects 
  • Commonly cause allergic reactions 
  • Have spikes, thorns or toxic parts 
  • Exude a milky sap - it is usually irritant 
  • When mature may affect underground drainage systems or overhead wires 
  • Require a lot of pruning or maintenance 
  • May overtake your garden or become bushland invaders

Poisonous Plants 

If you suspect a child has swallowed part of a plant ring Poisons Information on 13 11 26 to determine if the plant is poisonous and whether there is a need to seek medical help. If a child shows any symptoms of poisoning, call an ambulance. Alternatively, take them immediately to a doctor or hospital, along with another adult (competent in first aid) other than the driver. Take a piece of the plant with you. Refer to the Poisonous Plants Fact Sheet for a list of commonly found poisonous plants. 

For further information contact:

Poisons Information Centre:    13 11 26

Asthma Foundation of Northern Territory