The temperature of the playground — air temperature, surfacing material temperature, and temperature of equipment – can have a dramatic effect on a child’s play experience.
Children are especially susceptible to high-heat conditions because their bodies regulate their temperatures less efficiently than adults. These uncomfortable experiences may discourage children from being physically active at a playground. Extreme playground temperatures in the summertime may lead to burns, hyperthermia, and exacerbate issues, such as asthma.
Factors That Influence Playground Temperatures
The amount of sun exposure depends on the location of the playground. Less shading leads to higher, more dangerous surface and ambient temperatures in the summertime.
Different playground surfaces absorb and release various amounts of heat. Synthetic surfacing material is more likely to create warmer playground temperatures.
Type of Equipment and Surfacing Material
Playground materials that children come into contact with using their hands and feet have recorded temperatures of up to 189°F, which can burn a child’s skin in less than three seconds. The most common places on a playground for a child to be burned is on a slide or unitary surface.
A playground in the summer may heat up enough to cause a burn, but that same playground in extreme cold winter conditions, could bring the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. The planning, design, and supervision of the playground needs to consider seasonal factors. Sunscreen should be used, along with appropriate clothing.
As part of a national study of playgrounds, NPPS collected temperatures of playground surfaces and surrounding air temperatures. Researchers found disparities between natural and synthetic surfaces and the amount of heat retained when exposed to sun and shade environments. Natural surfacing products (wood, sand, pea gravel) were found to be similar to air temperatures, while synthetic products were found to absorb and retain heat and present substantially warmer play environments.
More information about this can be found in the report for Thermally Comfortable Playgrounds.
NPPS is concerned about the attention given to environmental factors such as heat exposure and surface temperatures experienced on playgrounds. Climate change, playgrounds, and child health are intertwined. Recent extreme weather and climate change reports shared in the National Climate Assessment Report suggest attention to heat mitigation is needed in urban areas.
Playgrounds are critically important spaces in urban communities, yet cities are faced with the combined impacts of climate change and the urban heat island effect. The health and well-being of children is our number one concern. NPPS is actively developing research protocols to gather further information on this important topic.
We hope you will engage in the climate change and playground conversation by
- Stay informed
- Be an advocate
- Make smart decisions with equipment and materials surrounding the play environment.
- Steel materials should be placed strategically.
- Synthetic surfaces should be selected carefully for their particular conditions — matching material selection, orientation of equipment, and even color selection — to sunlight exposure.
- Utilize existing shade or create more shade, especially over synthetic surfaces or metal