Learning about sun safety at early childcare centres not only protects your child from the harmful effects of the sun now, but it can also reduce their chance of developing skin cancer later in life. Sustaining several serious sunburns early on in life more than doubles their melanoma risk.
In Australia, where the UV index is high for most of the year, it's especially important to teach children about sun safety early on, to set them up for a healthy life.
So, when sending your child to childcare, here are some steps to take to protect them from harmful UV rays — the questions to ask childcare providers and what you can do at home to reinforce the sun safety message. We have also included some tips on how to keep very young children safe in the sun.
Questions to ask about a centre's sun safety policy
Every early childhood education and care service should have a sun protection policy that outlines the responsibilities of families, children and the centre. This policy should link back to the curriculum and environment.
To get an idea of your centre's sun safety policy, here are some questions to ask your educator before you enrol your child.
- How does your centre promote sun safety? Do you have a sun protection policy? For example, many centres have a "no hat, no play" policy. The centre may require children to wear broad-brimmed, bucket-style or legionnaire-style hats that protect the face, neck, shoulders and ears more than say baseball caps or other styles.
- How do educators encourage sun-safe behaviour in very young children? For example, if toddlers refuse to wear a hat. Do staff role model sun-safe behaviours?
- Do you have a sunscreen register? How frequently is sunscreen reapplied?
- When are children allowed to play outside? Is their day based around providing opportunities for outside play early in the day to keep them out of the sun when UV levels are highest?
- Is sun safety incorporated into the curriculum?
- Where does the centre get sun safety information and products from? If my child has sensitive skin or allergies, can I provide my own sunscreen?
- And finally, what sun protection measures do you have in place in outside play areas? Is play equipment covered by umbrellas or shade sails? Are there trees and grass to keep heat at bay? Are outside play areas, such as sand pits, undercover? Are toys and games available inside if my child doesn't wish to play in the sun?
How parents can keep kids sun safe while in childcare
- Dress your child in light, long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect their young skin from the sun. Children can even be exposed to UV radiation while inside. Avoid sending them to childcare in shirts with no sleeves, such as singlets.
- Protect them from sunburn by applying sunscreen before you leave home. Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.
- Familiarise yourself with your childcare centre's procedures and discuss them with your child. For example, frequently applying sunscreen throughout the day. Even young children can be encouraged to apply it themselves, with supervision.
- Model being sunsmart! If you're going outside, wear sunglasses and a hat, and your little one is sure to pick up on the sun safety habits you should follow regularly. Remember, you are their biggest influence.
- If your centre allows it, pack sun-safe clothing such as rash vests or stinger suits for days when you know there will be water play. These are particularly effective against ultraviolet rays as they don't have to be reapplied like sunscreen.
How to apply sunscreen to babies and toddlers
When it comes to sunscreen, a lotion is the best type for complete coverage on young, sensitive skin. However, it can be difficult to get a baby or toddler to sit still while you apply it. So, why not make a game of it? Set a timer and see how quickly you can get it done, or sing a song while you slather it on. Also, why not change up the way you apply it? Try using a sponge, cotton balls or even a paintbrush!
For young babies, it can be a great idea to wait until they are strapped into their car seats or pram to start applying sunscreen.
However you choose to apply it, make sunscreen application a part of your morning routine, even in winter.
Learning sun safety is an important part of their development
Childcare centres have certain requirements when it comes to sun safety to create a safe and enjoyable environment for your child to play and learn. Parents and carers can ensure that learning continues at home by reinforcing these sun safety messages all year long, not just during the summer months. One way to do this is by focussing on your own health with a skin check.