An Intentional Cover-up

By Jeremy Knoester

The sun is out, the trees are brilliant shades of green, and the day is full of promise. Millions of people throughout the United States venture outdoors to engage in healthy activities and temporarily escape being confined indoors. Nature beckons as beaches are bustling, campgrounds are booked solid, and parks everywhere are teeming with happy faces.

Yes, being outdoors on a clear day is a beautiful thing to experience. How satisfying it is to face upward with eyes closed and bask in the warmth of the sun. Unfortunately, too much exposure to the sun can be harmful. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as little as 15 minutes of unprotected contact with the sun is considered unhealthy. Harmful UV radiation can continue to damage the skin hours after an exposed person moves into the shade. Additionally, it can take up to 12 hours for a person to show effects of sun exposure, so if a child looks pink while playing in the sun, he or she already could actually be burned the following day ( Each year, there are more cases of melanoma (skin cancer) diagnosed than all of the new cases of lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. Sadly, one American dies from skin cancer every hour (

Be Proactive
Although the health facts concerning UV exposure are alarming, the solutions are simple. It is possible to go outside and enjoy a warm, sunny day without being in danger. No matter if you are at the beach, the ball field, or a local park, consider three important practices:

  • Use sunscreen
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Find shade.

Sunscreen and protective clothing are simple enough, but sometimes there just isn’t enough shade in parks to find refuge. As a result, shade structures have become increasingly more common. People who have seen first-hand the devastation of skin cancer can understand the practical value of shade structures, not only for parks but playgrounds, splash pads, benches, and picnic areas. These structures are designed so children and adults can take a break from the sun and feel protected from harmful rays, glare, and heat.

A Structure That Makes Sense
Three factors to consider in choosing the best shade structure for a particular setting are:

  • Cost
  • Function
  • Design. 

Cost is affected by materials used, such as fabric, canvas, wood, metal, and plastic; the size of a particular structure; and the labor required. In terms of function, ask the following questions:

  • Does the structure allow for air circulation or does it trap the heat?
  • Is it waterproof and fireproof?
  • Is it easy to clean?

Finally, those in charge of purchasing or building a shade structure need to consider if the design should be simple or if it should be artistic to add beauty to the landscape. Perhaps a committee might choose a simple design for a ball field but an elaborate, artistic design for a city park.

The great outdoors is a treasure, and it should be accessible, beautiful, and above all, safe. Knowing that one in five Americans will develop life-threatening skin cancer should motivate park professionals to take positive, preventative steps. Installing shade structures in communities and parks is a strong step toward improving the quality of life for many.

Shade structures—a good way to keep our cool.

Jeremy Knoester is a recreation therapist and currently serves as Life Enrichment Coordinator for American House Communities in Grand Rapids, Mich. Reach him at