Skin cancer is increasing in the U.S. and one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Of current preschoolers, one in 74 will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. The good news is that with 90 percent of skin cancers coming from sun exposure, the disease can be prevented with appropriate sun safety measures. Children are most receptive to health messages during the preschool through fourth grade years. Preventive health habits developed at these young ages are likely to continue into adulthood. SunSafe is a sun protection curriculum for preschoolers developed by the SunSafe Project at Dartmouth Medical School through the National Cancer Institute. The developmentally appropriate curriculum includes includes learning objectives, curriculum overview, suggested theme day plans and support activities including reproducible materials. SunSafe is available free-of-charge and can easily be integrated into any childcare setting. Children do need some sunlight and the ultraviolet (UV-B) portion of the solar spectrum stimulates the production of Vitamin D. However, 15 minutes a day of summer sun, three times a week, is all that is needed to produce enough Vitamin D. Everyone needs to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun, no matter what their age or color. For several reasons, it is especially important to protect the skin of those least able to request it--babies and children. Not only do children have delicate skin, they have many more years head of them to receive damaging solar rays. Children also spend much more time outdoors than adults. It is estimated that 80 percent of total lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18. Sun protection in childhood and the early adoption of healthy sun habits are key to preventing skin cancer later in life. By following the ABC'S of sun safety, being safe in the sun can still be fun. Avoid or limit exposure between ll to 3. Try to schedule outdoor activities in early morning or late afternoon. Teach children to seek shade if they are outside during peak hours: Eleven to three, stay under a tree. Block the sun's ray with sun screen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Cover up with clothing and a hat with a brim. Say something to parents about sun safety.
The SunSafe Curriculum can be downloaded from the website. If you do not have Internet access, copies are available free-of-charge. The Sunsafe Project, Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, 7250 Strasenburgh, Hanover, NH 03755; 603-650-1566; www.dartmouth.edu/dms/sunsafe/preschool.htm