Learn about: skin cancer, being SunSmart, and how to incorporate sun protection strategies into your day to day activities.

Generation SunSmart

Physical activity and sun protection – how to encourage both for healthy kids

For most, these facts are most likely not new:

  • Physical activity is important for immediate and long-term physical and mental health
  • Australian children are not meeting the daily recommendations for physical activity*
  • Research supports the importance of play for young children
  • Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes skin cancer
  • Sun exposure during childhood is a major risk factor for developing skin cancer later in life

It can be difficult for schools to balance the requirements for all students to be active and use appropriate sun protection. Schools might be unintentionally prioritising one over the other, but being physically active and using sun protection are both important to prevent cancer later in life. One policy document must never be used as an excuse to override and dismiss another. Instead, develop guidelines to get the best outcome.

Cancer Council WA is aware that some schools ask that children without a hat do not participate in play and PE lessons. A strict ‘no hat no play’ rule might be seen by some children as an opportunity to deliberately avoid PE lessons, or to be sedentary during recess and lunch.

“We hope that all kids are participating fully in school outdoor activities and play. If a child deliberately or accidently forgets a hat, they should not be forced to sit on a bench at lunchtime and miss out. Kids can be protected from UV without a hat in the shade, or with a bit of initial planning and budget, kids can be provided with spare hats,” said Cancer Council’s Education and Research Director, Terry Slevin.

We do not encourage that schools exclude students from play or physical activity because of lack of sun protection. Here’s what we do recommend:

School ethos

  • Scrap your ‘No hat no play’ rule. Replace it with ‘No sun protective hat, play in the shade’. No child should be benched for not having a hat. If they don’t have one, play can occur in undercover areas, under trees, on shaded verandas, or on playgrounds with shade. Download a ‘No Hat? Play in the Shade’ poster here.
  • Role model. Kids won’t wear hats if duty teachers and PE specialists don’t (and it protects your own skin too).

Providing and selling hats

  • Sell hats at cost or discounted prices and if introducing a new hat, make sure it’s appealing to students or include them in the design process.
  • Check that all of your students have labelled their hats so it gets back to them if it’s misplaced.
  • Some families may not be able to afford hats (as with other school supplies). Have a plan to assist these families with sun protective uniform items.
  • Ensure parents know that it is a requirement for students to wear hats, through newsletter inserts, assembly announcements etc.

If kids forget

  • Have spare hats for kids to use, especially for PE and sport.
  • If students keep forgetting their hat, have a chat to them to think of ways to help them remember.
  • If you’re finding not many kids at all are wearing hats, reward kids who do the right thing. It might be faction tokens on lunch duty, or a SunSmart award presented on assembly for the most hats worn to PE lessons.

Using shade

  • When planning new buildings, playgrounds and play spaces, factor in shade from the start. Many expensive playgrounds aren’t used because they are in full sun. Kids don’t have to wear hats on a shaded veranda or playground.
  • Give instructions for outdoor activities in the shade and utilise shade during lessons.

You might not need a hat

  • Check the UV Index. If it’s below 3, no sun protection (including hats) is required. If possible, re-schedule events and outdoor activities to be during times of lower UV. Visit myuv.com.au or download the free SunSmart app or widget to find out the UV near you.
  • There may be times when it’s not practical to wear a hat, such as short competitive races. That’s fine. Just remember the sunscreen and to put the hat back on once it’s done.

Don’t forget, a baseball style cap doesn’t protect the parts of the body that are most susceptible to skin cancer (like the ears, neck and sides of face) and they don’t provide adequate sun protection. A decent hat is either a bucket hat, broad-brimmed or legionnaire style.

Changing the culture of your school to encourage physical activity and sun protection can be done – your students will thank you for it!

* For health benefits, children aged 5–12 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. Only one-third of children, and one in ten young people undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Australian Health Survey 2011-12