Shade / UV Index

“We can’t afford shade structures, so the subject of sun safety will not be considered,” declared one school administrator.

Although shade structures may indeed require acquisition funding there are numerous steps a school can take to reduce children’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation with little or no financial impact.

Avoid unintentional sun exposure

Begin with a survey of your schoolsite(s) to identify existing areas that are shaded. Children should not be required to spend time in direct midday sunlight if a shade alternative is at hand. For example, sometimes children are ushered into the middle of a field for a prolonged period of time during a disaster drill, or are required to sit at a lunch table that is not shaded. Establish procedures to shift activity and congregation into shaded or indoor areas when feasible. When there is no reasonable alternative, compensate by encouraging or providing other sun-protective items, such as hats, long clothing, umbrellas, and sunscreen.

Track the UV Index

The level of ultraviolet radiation striking your school varies with the altitude, season, time of day, and weather conditions. Levels are greater from March to November, and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during daylight saving time. These are the periods when sun safety should be most strongly promoted.

The Ultraviolet Index is calculated daily to forecast the strength of ultraviolet radiation across the nation. You can determine the UV Index for your area by logging on to the EPA website at Click on “UV Index Forecast,” and search by entering your zip code.

Kickoff your sun safety program each year during the first week of March, on the first day of Spring, or during Wellness Week with announcements, reminders, instruction, etc.  Between March and November (or year-round in high UV areas) heighten awareness by tracking and communicating the UV Index to the school community, accompanied by appropriate warnings and sun safety tips when the level is high.

Shade trees

Trees can not only provide shade for outdoor activities, they can also help to keep school buildings cooler, reducing air conditioning costs. Look for sites on the campus that could benefit from tree shade.

Mr. Frank McDonough, horticulturist at the Los Angeles Arboretum, has provided his recommendations for the best shade trees for use on Southern California campuses. See his list on our trees page.

Through their "Campus Forestry" program, Tree People (a California nonprofit) assists schools to design and develop a tree-planting program involving the participation of students, staff, and parents. Visit their website at

Scheduling of outdoor activities

There usually aren’t sufficient resources for making substantial changes, but try to take advantage of lower UV levels before 10:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. by prioritizing outdoor activities during those periods. Between 10 and 4, which is of course most of the schoolday, don’t discourage outdoor physical activity but, particularly during the high UV season, strongly promote sun safety measures to “Block the sun; Not the fun.”

In areas of the country where winters are cold, there is usually a gymnasium, even at elementary schools, to provide children with a protected environment for physical activity. During sunny weather, capitalize on a gym’s capacity to protect against UV radiation as well.


The area adjacent to a building can sometimes be a good source of shade. Locate and encourage the utilization of such existing areas. Any plans for new construction or remodeling should include shade provision as an important and desirable feature. Factors such as height, positioning of the building(s) on the lot, overhangs, and breezeways can significantly increase shade availability.

Shade structures

The lunch area and the young children’s play equipment are two sites commonly found on school campuses where shade is highly desirable. In some cases, a shade structure might be the best solution. Over the lunch area, a steel roofed structure might be the best choice due to the added rain-protective feature. For play equipment and large or irregular shaped areas, a UV-blocking fabric cover would be a logical choice.

Of course it wouldn’t be possible, or even desirable, to shade the entire school campus. However, reasonable efforts can be made to increase the shade options currently available to the students and staff. When shade structures are desired, check for available grant, state, or local resources, and partner with parent groups to organize a fundraising drive.



Donate to SSK


2625 W. Alameda Ave., Suite 517
Burbank, CA 91505 | more contact info