According to the Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology, January 2019 was the hottest month on record for Australia as a whole. It also was the warmest or second warmest recorded for each and every State and Territory.
Have you given thought to the microclimates that children are exposed to where the “real feel” temperatures far exceed reported air temperatures? Our children spend many hours out of their day at school playgrounds, a community park or a childcare centre. The temperatures of the artificial surfaces they are exposed to can become very hot.
Senior researcher and initiator of the Cool Schools report, Dr Sebastian Pfautsch, commented: “We saw temperatures rise up to 98 degrees Celsius on AstroTurf, raising concerning questions about the impact this is having on children’s wellbeing, as we know children are far more vulnerable to heat stress than adults.”
“We also found that playground infrastructure heats up drastically as temperatures rise and some surfaces and playground equipment, such as metal slides, become far too hot for children to play on.”
Understanding and Prevention of The Dangers of Heat on Playgrounds
In an article from The Conversation, it found that “In full sun, the artificial surface materials became dangerously hot. Soft fall surface temperatures reached 71-84°C on days when air temperatures were in the low 30s. Astroturf heated up to nearly 100°C. Plastic toys in direct sun reached temperatures up to 73.7°C – that is one hot rubber duck!”
There are measures that can be taken by playground designers and playground operators to make play spaces more usable and safer during hotter temperatures.
Tips for Design
Tip #1 – Provide more Sources of Shade
Natural shade such as trees provides an excellent way to reduce the heat impact in playgrounds.
“Trees provide significant environmental, economic, social, psychological and physiological benefits to students. As well as offering shade, trees create fresher air and provide fantastic habitat and food sources for insects and animals, resulting in beneficial learning and recreational environments for children.” said Dr Pfautsch.
When creating a playground, designers should take into consideration the surrounding landscape and utilise as much natural shade into the play space as possible.
Designers should also look for ways of including shade structures in playground design to ensure sun safety and reduce the impact of heat on the play area.
Tip #2 – Consider Heat Resistant Material in Components and Structures
Where heat in a playground is a concern, consider the materials used in the components and the various structures not only for their functional and aesthetic values but for their heat resistance properties too.
Some materials have a higher resistance to heat than others. As the temperatures climb, play spaces that feature metal components can be very hot. In some cases, hot components can even cause burns. Plastics slides are often prefered over steel slide as they don’t get as hot.
A fabulous heat resistant material is timber; so, consider using it as the main structural material.
It’s not only what children touch with their hands that should be considered. It’s also the undersurfacing on which they stand. While the primary reason for undersurfacing is to create a safer surface safer surface on which children may fall, we also need to consider its heat implications as well.
Synthetic turf and rubber undersurfacing can reach higher temperatures than other options such as mulch and sand. In the instance where rubber or synthetic surfacing is desired; select a lighter colour to reduce heat absorption.
Tip #3 – Smart Playground Design
The use of shade structures greatly reduces the heat impact on a playground. Many playgrounds can be designed with large roofs, including skillion roofs that can provide shade for the users.
An experienced playground designer should consider the orientation of the playground on site and position slides so they get as little sunlight exposure as possible. Where practical, adventure+ face slides towards the south or east where the sunlight isn’t as intense.
As mentioned earlier, use materials and colours in the playground design that are more heat resistant.
Tip #4 – Provide Access to Water and Other Amenities
Does the play space have adequate access to water (bubblers, taps) to help children stay hydrated? Have you considered a shaded area with seating for supervisors? Should the play space include grass areas for children to rest and cool down?
The answers to these questions around water design considerations are key to creating safe and enjoyable play areas.
Tip #5 – Supervision Is An Imperative
Finally, supervision is critical when children are playing.
Parents and others charged with supervision should always check the heat of surfaces before allowing children to use the equipment. You can simply hold your hand just above a surface to determine if the playground surface is too hot for children to use.
Be wary of being out in the hottest parts of the day too. The temperatures that you deemed safe when your child first started playing at 10:30 am, could well and truly rise higher by the time noon rolls around.
Limiting the unsafe risks hot weather has on playgrounds is definitely something that should be considered by those designing children’s play areas. However, it should be an issue that we are all aware of and that we all take seriously.
Playgrounds exist to promote enjoyable play. Let’s keep them safe!