The digital Sunbeatables™ Program, which was created and developed by behavioral science researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center, features free online components that include teacher training and resources, curriculum lessons for preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students, sun safety songs, downloadable school posters and lesson templates, and parent engagement materials. Through a partnership with the CATCH Global Foundation, the program has already been disseminated in school districts and communities in 25 states and one Canadian province, reaching more than 100,000 children.
Superhero characters Ray and the Sunbeatables teach children, parents and teachers about sun protection and promote sun safety behaviors to reduce a child’s lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. The evidence-based program engages children through a variety of interactive lessons and activities.
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. In the early morning and late afternoon, shadows are longer. At midday (10 a.m.- 4 p.m.), the sun is directly overhead and shadows are shorter or there are no shadows. Children learn to be SUPER-protected during this time by engaging in all sun safety behaviors.
Approximately one in five Americans is diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives, making it the most common form of the disease in the United States. 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 melanoma later in life.
“Teaching children about sun safety early on can instill lifelong habits to reduce their skin cancer risk,” says Mary Tripp, Ph.D., instructor of Behavioral Science, and one of the program’s developers. “It’s now even easier for teachers to incorporate year-round sun protection in their classrooms, due to the online availability of Sunbeatables curriculum lessons.”
Based on years of MD Anderson research, the Sunbeatables Program was developed through MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, which is designed to use 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 Sunbeatables Program has been very successful in engaging children in practicing sun safety behaviors in and out of the classroom,” says Payal Pandit Talati, one of the program developers. “Through first-hand experience, my own son now asks me to apply sunscreen before going to school, dress him in protective clothing and seek shade when we are outside.”