This summer, many preschoolers across Texas are safely enjoying their vacation time outdoors thanks to Ray and the Sunbeatables™, a sun-safety program developed by researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Launched last summer, the program has taught sun-safety lessons to more than 3,500 Texas preschoolers in school districts, community organizations and YMCA locations. Nationally, more than 7,000 preschoolers in more than 120 sites have access to the curriculum through a partnership with the CATCH Global Foundation.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with approximately one in five Americans diagnosed at some point in their lives. Research has shown that excessive sun exposure in childhood increases the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. Being sunburned at least once in childhood can double the risk for later melanomas. Based on that success, an expansion of the program, designed for children in kindergarten and first grade, will be made available in August to teach even more children about the importance of sun safety and skin cancer prevention.
Fortunately, teaching children about sun safety early in life can instill lifelong habits that will help to protect them against future cancers. The evidence-based program utilizes five superhero characters, the Sunbeatables, with unique sun safety superpowers to educate teachers, parents and children about sun protection and sun safety behaviors.
“We developed the idea to feature superheroes in our program because we thought children could relate to the concept of protective sun safety behaviors as superpowers,” says Mary Tripp, Ph.D., instructor of Behavioral Science and one of the program’s developers.
Based on years of MD Anderson research, the Sunbeatables program was developed through MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, which is designed to harness scientific knowledge to dramatically reduce cancer deaths through prevention, early detection and treatment. It’s a project of the Melanoma Moon Shot, which focuses on preventing and developing better treatment for the most lethal skin cancer.
The CATCH Global Foundation, responsible for disseminating the curriculum, is a non-profit organization that offers evidence-based programs to promote healthy lifestyles for children and family through its Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program. CATCH trains teachers on the Sunbeatables_†¢ program using materials developed by MD Anderson.
The curriculum promotes the use of all sun safety behaviors every day and everywhere. For example, children learn how their shadow length can show them when the sun is directly overhead and ultraviolet rays from the sun are more harmful. During early morning and late afternoon, shadows are longer. During midday (10 a.m.-4 p.m.), the sun is directly overhead and shadows are shorter or absent. Children learn to be SUPER-protected during this time by engaging in all sun safety behaviors.
“We’ve seen in the classroom that children are having fun learning about sun safety with the Sunbeatables, and children are practicing their own sun safety superpowers during curriculum activities and on the playground,” says Tripp.
The K-1 curriculum includes 10 sun-safety lessons that build on the activities from the preschool program and align with national and state educational standards, explains Payal Pandit Talati, program manager.
This newly developed curriculum will initially be introduced in six Texas school districts, including Brownsville, Los Fresnos, Pasadena, Round Rock, Spring Branch and Ysleta ISDs. These six districts will bring the program to an estimated 36,405 K-1 children in 176 elementary schools.