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Raising awareness

Children invariably comment on the lack of shade in the schoolyard and the absence of windbreaks to protect them from harsh Winter winds. People are now generally aware that multiple exposures to the sun that result in even minor sunburn in childhood increase the risk of skin cancer later on. Providing shade is often one of the major reasons why parents support greening school grounds.

Choice and location of plants

Conducting a twelve-month shade audit of the grounds will help your school plan the changes. For example, sun-loving plants will not survive in the shade. Some plants prefer sun-dappled shade or a mixture of sun and shade at different times of the day while others thrive in deep shade.

A shade audit will help you choose the right plants for the right site and also help determine where shade trees should be planted to shade existing play spaces and places where children tend to congregate.

Sun protection policies

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Photo: Jeff Ward


The results of the audit can be used to raise awareness on the health risks of over-exposure to the sun. Showing the amount and location of the shade in the schoolyard helps to focus attention on the need to shade play and social spaces.

Check to see if your school board's health and safety policy includes providing shade in school yards to help protect children from the sun's harmful rays.

School boards have policies to protect children from frostbite. In Winter, children are checked to ensure they have adequate protective clothing before going outside. In extremely cold temperatures or when the wind chill factor is high, children are kept indoors. They are also kept inside when it rains. However, no matter how high the ultra-violet index, the majority of children are sent outside to play.

More needs to be done to educate people on protecting children from the sun. If your school board does not have a sun protection policy that includes 'sunsmart' education for teachers, parents and students, perhaps it's time to encourage them to produce one. Children can burn in as few as twelve minutes in the schoolyard and it is estimated that one in six children in school today will get skin cancer in his or her lifetime.

Doing a shade audit

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Students can measure the area of the shade in the school yard at intervals throughout the year. The shade should be measured early in the morning, at noon and at the end of the day to show how the amount and location of the shade changes during the day and throughout the seasons.

Students can work in groups to figure out how to measure the shade. Some areas of shade will be hard-edged and fairly simple to measure out while others will be irregular and more difficult to calculate. Students can start by experimenting with measuring the roughly circular shadow of a fairly symmetrical tree. The diameter, radius and circumference of the shade can be easily marked with string and its length measured by children. Older students can calculate the area of shade mathematically and even quite young children can cover the shaded areas with squares of paper or cardboard to determine the area. Students can perform the same shade-measuring exercises at different times of the day and repeat them several times a year.

The shade audit should be repeated annually and the results recorded so that comparisons can be made over time as the amount of shade available to children is increased through planting trees, growing vines on fences and constructing shelters such as gazebos.

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