Early childhood educators are creative and conscientious in protecting young children from skin damage from our harsh New Zealand sun. A recent survey by the Cancer Society and Canterbury District Health Board of 26 early childhood education settings showed how teachers help protect tamariki by providing spare hats and sunscreen.
All of the early childhood providers surveyed also have sun protection guidelines which include provisions for shade, requiring tamariki to wear wide-brimmed hats outside, and re-applying sunscreen throughout the day. Together our youngest and their teachers show us all how it should be done – and how soon we seem to forget.
Teacher feedback suggested that not all New Zealanders know that sunscreen is best applied 20 mins before going into the sun, and that ALL tamariki need protection, no matter the colour of their skin.
Amanda Dodd, Deputy Manager Health Promotion for the Canterbury West Coast Cancer Society says early childhood educators are doing a great job, sometimes with limited resources, to protect our smallest tamariki.
“We realise we need to emphasise the ‘Slip Slop Slap and Wrap message’ again for everyone. One thing that we may all overlook is covering up tamariki with clothing that falls below elbows and knees” says Amanda.
Jocelyn Wright, Director at Hagley Community Preschool says, ‘I talk with families new to New Zealand and they are not always aware of how harsh our sun can be. We talk with them about how children are best protected.’
In conversation with educators, the Cancer Society and Canterbury DHB have found the biggest barrier to effective sun protection is how costly sunscreen can be for some
The Cancer Society is reminding New Zealanders that while sunscreen can be viewed as expensive, it is not an item we have in our shopping basket each week so the cost is spread out over weeks if not months.
“Protecting our skin is very important for our future health. There are other tools in the SunSmart toolkit too, such as making sure tamariki are wearing hats and clothing that covers skin (or a rash top if swimming outdoors), and seeking shade particularly when the levels of Ultra Violet Radiation (UVR) levels are 3 and above on the UV Index.
“We need to remember that it is UVR exposure that causes skin damage and not the heat of the sun.”
Together these measures are very necessary if we are to reduce the frightening rates of skin cancer here in New Zealand which, unfortunately, are still the highest in the world.
“Children should not be getting sunburned at any age as it does lasting damage to the skin. We need to learn from our early childhood educators (and our smallest tamariki) and develop good habits for life. Slip, slop, slap, and wrap – simple!” Amanda says.