Playground Shade Structure

A playground canopy is a critical part of safety and health requirements during school recess or any other recreational outdoor time for kids and supervising adults. To get the best coverage for your students' wellbeing, see our guide below.

The Goal of Your Playground Canopy

When kids are out playing in the schoolyard, they must have protection from the harsh outdoor environment. Although it is quite fun for little ones to romp about in the sun, too many UV (ultraviolet) rays can pose a significant risk to their health.

Playing outdoors without the protection of a playground shade structure may experience frequent sunburns. According to cancer experts, this is one of the most significant risk factors that increases kids' likelihood of developing melanoma skin cancers. 

Reducing the children's skin cancer risk is not the only reason you should integrate a shade structure into your school, church, or another institution's play area. Additional benefits of installing a playground canopy include:

  • Creating outdoor learning spaces. Installing a playground canopy provides a sun-safe area where you can teach and engage kids outdoors, extending the classroom far behind campus walls. Learning experiences outside are critical to students' retention of math, science, and language arts subjects and the development of their five senses.
  • Extending opportunities for physical activity. A playground canopy reduces the risk of heat-related illnesses for kids playing outdoors. Temperatures underneath the shade structure can differ from the surrounding environment by 10-20°. This helps extend their playtime and provides more valuable opportunities for exercise and socialization. 
  • Improve school aesthetics. Campuses can look quite one-dimensional with the endless stretches of asphalt, concrete, steel, chain link fences, a8nd artificial grass. Beautifully designed playground canopies can improve your campus's visual quality, making the area more enjoyable for students, staff, parents, and everyone in-between. 

The only way to bring these benefits to fruition is to install the highest quality canopy for your campus's children. Here's what you need to consider before you buy. 

Coverage Area

The only way to protect your institution's students and staff is to ensure your shade structure can fully cover the most relevant sites. This requires a detailed evaluation of which parts of your campus are most consistently used for outdoor socialization. 

As a part of the CDC's recommended planning process, you should ask the following questions as you're determining where you should have your canopy installed:

  • Where do most campus outdoor activities take place?
  • Which areas of our campus are off-limits? 
  • Do we have any upcoming plans for a renovation? (For instance, do you expect to have any new construction projects in the areas that need shading? If so, this might change the coverage area, the shape of the canopy you need, etc.)
  • How effective is our existing shade structure (if there is one)?
  • What are our expectations for additional shade? 

You'll also need to think about all the space's vulnerabilities. For example, we'll help you determine the sun and shade patterns throughout the day, noting which parts of your play area receive the most sunlight at various parts of the day. 

Durability and Reliability

A quality playground canopy is a significant investment. You want to make sure that your chosen cover can last for several years, so that you get your full money's worth and avoid unnecessary worries about wear and tear. 

With this in mind, your selected canopy shouldn't be flimsy or easily torn. There is always a possibility that one of the kids' toys will go flying into the cover up above, potentially puncturing or otherwise damaging the material. 

You should be able to trust that the shade structure can stand up to such accidents. Otherwise, it'll be at constant risk of falling apart at any given moment. 

Plus, your shade structure must be code-compliant regarding fire safety, structural integrity, and more. This is one of the primary reasons why you should entrust your playground's shading to a reputable company like WillyGoat, instead of cutting corners with cheap providers.

Withstanding the Elements

As mentioned above, your shade structure's primary goal is to protect students and staff from environmental pressures. This means that the canopy should be able to withstand those elements itself, too. 

Depending on your region's climates, your shade may be exposed to one or more of the following elements:

  • Sunlight
  • Wind
  • Rain
  • Hail
  • Snow
  • Dirt and debris
  • Microorganisms (i.e., bacterial buildup)

Your canopy should maintain its structural integrity all year long. This is essential not only for the canopy itself but all the equipment housed underneath it. 

For example, many playgrounds have either metal, hard plastic, or wooden equipment. These materials are highly vulnerable to degradation due to environmental pressures, often rusting from water damage and oxidation or cracking from warping or excessive heat. 

With a canopy overhead, you can reduce the likelihood of these types of wear and tear (or significantly slow their progression), decreasing the chances of injuries related to damaged equipment. 

Easy to Maintain

Lastly, your shade structure shouldn't be a headache to maintain. 

If you or your institution's staff can't clean and manage the canopy on your own, this may lead to extra costs that will almost surely blow your budget. Such a problem will leave you with fewer economic opportunities to improve the play area further. 

Plus, difficulty in maintaining the canopy can lead to some severe safety risks for the play area. For instance, accumulated dirt and debris on the shade structure's surface will further increase its chance of degrading due to environmental harm. 

Too much debris buildup is an open invitation to damaging microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus (mold and mildew). 

This will accelerate the canopy's breakdown as the microorganisms eat away at the material, further increasing the risk of harsh elemental exposure to visitors in only 24-48 hours. 

The Best Options

Now that you know what to look for in a playground canopy and what your overarching goals should be in its installation, it's time to choose a type of shade structure.

These come in a variety of configurations, each characterized by unique benefits and drawbacks. Here's an overview of the integrated playground shade types we recommend for your campus's outdoor recreation sites. 

Hip Roof Shade (The Classic)

The hip roof shade is the beloved classic covering for playgrounds across the nation. 

These are distinguished by the four-post rectangular configuration attached to sturdy posts that are typically held in place by concrete. 

Although most hip roof shades have only four props, you can enhance the size to cover a larger play area or request a custom, small shade to shade a bench. 

Here are a few examples of our hip roof shade structures to inform your perspective on these canopies' scale of variation:

  • Hip Roof Shade Structure with 4 Posts and 10 ft Entry: This represents the most common configuration for hip roof shades. It stands at 10' high and can be anywhere from 10-40' long. No matter the size, your students will enjoy 80% shade and 90% UV protection under the high-density polyethylene fabric.
  • Hip Roof Shade Structure with 2 Posts: If you only need a small area protected from the sun's rays, you're in luck. We can shrink down the hip roof shade to meet your precise needs with a 10' or 14'-long cover. You can also adjust the height to be either 8', 10', or 12', depending on the type of seating or play equipment you have.
Sail Shade (For Style)

Sail shades are more structurally simplistic than hip roof shades. Whereas hip roof shades feature a peak in their configuration (four points that all connect at a high point in the center of the fabric), sail shades are entirely flat. 

These can be beneficial in areas with high winds, as there is a smaller amount of surface area that will catch the gusts. However, we don't recommend them for playgrounds in places with regular snow or rain, as the snow or water will accumulate on top and weigh it down.

We offer two types of sail shades:

  • 3 Point Sail Shade Structure: This is an excellent option for moderately-sized playground areas (covers 20', 25', 30' in length with an entry height of 8-16'). If you want to minimize the amount of equipment you need to mount the canopy, this is the perfect option for you, as it only requires three posts.
  • 4 Point Hypar Sail Shade Structure: Although this shares similarities to hip roof shades due to the four-point mounting, it is a far more aesthetically pleasing design. If you'd like a stylized look for your playground without compromising UV protection, this 20', 30', 35', or 40'-long (with entry heights spanning 8-12') shade is ideal. 
Octagon or Hexagon (If You Have a Round Play Area)

Octagon playground canopies provide many of the same benefits as a hip roof structure. However, we understand that not all playgrounds are square or rectangular. 

If your playground is circular, you're not out of luck. Your students can still enjoy the benefits of UV protection under our Octagon Shade Structure with 8 Posts. These boast a radius of 35', 42', 50', or 60' with entry heights including 8', 10', 12', 14'. 

We cover smaller play areas as well with the hexagonal structure, which are ideal not only for playgrounds but outdoor eating areas, too. These shade structures are slightly smaller, maxing out with 50' radiuses and 14' entry heights. 

There are a few different types to choose from, including:

Superspan (For Large Areas)

You can think of the Superspan as the enhanced version of a standard hip roof shade described above. The standard version comes in 40', 50', and 60' lengths and many corresponding widths. Plus, we've massively increased the entry height from 10' to span 8'-16'.

However, you might have an even larger area or want a bit more style for your shade structure. If this is the case for you, here are two alternatives for the Superspan:

Unique and Custom Options

You might want to liven up your play space a bit and feature more unique coverage for playground visitors. Instead of the standard configurations described above, consider adding these unique sun shades to your campus' play area:

  • Pegasus: This is an eye-catching, artistically designed sunshade. It's perfect for poolside play areas that don't take up too much space. 
  • Hypar: This is a beautiful reimagination of standard sail shades. They are aesthetically striking when combined over a play space. 
  • Aurora: A minimalist take on sun shades, these only require a single post to protect users from harsh UV rays. 
  • Flower: Kids at the playground will adore this flower sunshade that resembles the delicate petals perched atop a stem (the mounting post). 
  • Butterfly: Delight your playground visitors with this breathtaking sun shade, perfect for pairing with flower shades or featuring in nature-themed play areas. 

Things to Remember

There are a few things you'll need to keep in mind when buying your WillyGoat integrated playground shade. 

By consulting with one of our experts on the factors below, you can ensure your kids are protected from the harsh environmental elements during playtime, year-round:

Mounting Options

Remember that your sunshade must be mounted on one or more posts. Think about the amount of space you have available on the playground. Is there enough space to install a six-post structure? 

If not, you might consider a smaller design, reducing the number of required posts down to four, two, or even one. 

Proper Measuring

As mentioned above, you need to make sure your entire play area is protected from the sun, rain, and other environmental pressures. This requires accurate measurements not only of the play equipment (length, width, and height) but the grounds surrounding it, especially if there is seating beside the equipment. 

We must stress the importance of measuring a play system's height once again. This is a commonly overlooked factor in purchasing a playground canopy, which can compromise the entire process. 

Ensure there's enough space between the top of the play equipment and the canopy for the best results. 

WillyGoat's Process

Purchasing a playground canopy is a surprisingly intensive process. There is much to consider in terms of safety, durability, and practicality. 

WillyGoat experts are on-call to advise you every step of the way to ensure that you get precisely what you need. Based on our 20+ years of experience, we'll help you choose the perfect shade structure, then walk you through the quoting process (or you can do it yourself):

  1. We'll verify all the details of your request.
  2. We'll search for the best available freight pricing.
  3. We'll compile all the order and pricing details to get you the best economic option for your playground shade structure.

Remember that your options aren't limited to the listed sizes. Feel free to let us know if you need custom dimensions for your play area, and we'll still be happy to handle all the shipping and installation. (Installation is not available everywhere. Inquire for further details.)

We understand that shade structures aren't the only items necessary to provide a safe, fun play experience. Let us know if you need to bundle additional products, such as interactive play equipment or borders and ramps, and we'll get it all ready for you!

Shade structures