More schools and early childhood centres getting the sun smart message

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A new training tool for early childhood teachers, set up by the Cancer Society to promote sun safety, has been a resounding success. But coming into the last term of the year – and the beginning of the summer months– they want all schools and early childhood settings to think about being sun smart.

This time last year the Cancer Society set up the Early Childhood SunSmart Professional Development Module. This was quickly taken up by teachers in 417 centers throughout the country. It is an online teacher development tool to help teachers and parents upskill on sun safety.

“This means around 25,000 children are benefiting from better sun smart practices as more teachers have greater understanding about the sun, UV radiation and sun safety,” says Mike Kernaghan CEO of the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

The ECE module operates alongside the SunSmart schools programme where schools receive Cancer Society accreditation for having SunSmart policies and processes.

“Over 50% of New Zealand’s schools have either been accredited or are in the process of being accredited.”

Accreditation ensures a school is providing a sun safe learning environment for its year 1-8 students, and equips them with the knowledge to be SunSmart.

“Annually, more New Zealanders die from skin cancer than in road crashes. Yet there is compelling evidence that most skin cancers are preventable. They are mainly caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun.”

Kapanui school is a large decile 9 primary school with over 600 pupils based in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast.  The school is SunSmart accredited and the children proudly wear their bucket hats and SunSmart clothes. 

However, not everyone can afford to have sunscreen in their children’s bags.  Kapanui have taken the initiative and set up sunscreen stations so nobody misses out during the SunSmart season. Students act as SunSmart role models distributing sunscreen at lunch times.

“Now is the time of the year to get into good SunSmart practices - ultraviolet radiation levels are climbing. Even on a cloudy day the UV Index may be three or more – that’s when the damage starts,” Mike Kernaghan says.

Experts say excessive UV exposure during childhood is dangerous—DNA damage is irreversible and exposure is cumulative through the life span.

The Cancer Society say UV radiation, unlike heat and light, cannot be felt or seen. Therefore, it is important not to rely on the temperature, or whether the sun is out, to indicate whether you need to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

Students are taking part in many outdoor activities such as camps, sports days and swimming sports where, unfortunately, some do get sunburnt.

 “All New Zealanders should get into the daily habit of checking the UVI level before venturing outdoors, especially in the daylight saving months between 10am and 4pm.”

And, they say, remember the five SunSmart steps:

  • Slip on a shirt with long sleeves and a collar
  • Slip into the shade of an umbrella or a leafy tree
  • Slop on broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30
  • Slap on a hat with a wide brim of at least 7.5cm wide
  • Wrap on sunglasses that are close fitting and protect against UV radiation

“We are really pleased that so many schools and early childhood centres are actively SunSmart – now let’s get the number to 100% accredited so all our kids are sun safe, especially in terms 1 and 4 of the school year.”

For more information on UV levels go to:

or download the free UV2day app

  • The SunSmart schools website provides information for teachers, students and parents on how to be SunSmart and can be found at