Sun Protection Program Expands to Educate More Children

The Dermatologist spoke with Kelly C. Nelson, MD, associate professor of dermatology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, about how the Ray and the Sunbeatables program teaches young children to be sun safe.   

Dr Nelson

The Ray and the Sunbeatables program has expanded to include more pre-kindergarten through first grade children in public and private schools across the United States through a new collaboration with the children’s book publisher Scholastic. As a part of this expansion, the program recently released new content on sun safety for third through fifth grade students. 

Initially launched in May 2015, the Ray and the Sunbeatables program was developed by Mary Tripp, PhD, MPH, instructor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and her team as a part of the Melanoma Moon Shot Program, an interdisciplinary platform designed to reduce the number of melanoma diagnoses and deaths through primary prevention strategies and clinical research on innovative treatment methods. The curriculum uses superheroes with sun-protective superpowers and fun, engaging activities to teach children about sun-protective behaviors that can reduce their future risk of developing skin cancer (Figure). It has been adopted in over 40 states and 4 countries, reaching over 200,000 children.

The Dermatologist spoke with Kelly C. Nelson, MD, associate professor of dermatology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, about the Ray and the Sunbeatables curriculum and about the new changes to the United States Preventive Services Task Force Guidelines (USPSTF). 

Q. Under the new USPSTF guidelines, the age for initiating behavioral counseling for sun-protective behaviors was changed to include children aged 6 months and older. Why is that important?

A. The majority of the evidence suggests that the younger we start a culture of sun-protective behaviors the more durable the response is. Our understanding is that this is a very important time period for risk and future development of melanoma. It gives us a nice basis for recommending increased attention and increased education for children so that they can protect themselves from sun and UV exposure to reduce their chances of skin cancer as adults.

Q. How is the Ray and the Sunbeatables program encouraging this kind of engagement in children?

A. The Ray and the Sunbeatables curriculum targets pre-kindergarten through first grade students. All of the materials are available free of charge through the website so that anyone who is interested in supporting their community in providing sun-protective education has access to the materials. Registration is free, and teachers can download the entire curriculum, including a Teacher’s Guide, curriculum lessons, and supplemental materials. 

The lessons are fun and age-appropriate. For example, one of the educational activities that is available asks children to determine if their shadows are short or long so that they can start gauging on their own whether they are outside in a high intensity sun exposure part of the day and they can take, of their own accord, protective measures for their skin.

ray and sunbeatables


Figure. The programs uses materials with colorful characters to help educate children on effective sun protection.

Through the collaboration with MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention and Control Platform, part of the institution’s Moon Shots Program and Scholastic, we are moving the Ray and the Sunbeatables educational platform into public schools and private schools that would be interested with specific content tailored for kindergarten to first grade, with new content for third to fifth grade recently having gone live. We anticipate having exposure to 1.5 million children through the Scholastic collaboration. 

Q. How is the online curriculum beneficial?

A. We would like to reach as many people as possible. The ability of a physician to provide education solely within the confines of their clinical practice is very limited but with free curricula available, such as the Ray and the Sunbeatables program for younger ages combined with the MD Anderson Scholastic Be Sunbeatable curriculum for older ages, our ability to support education and outreach is expanded exponentially. 

Q. Has there been a lot of positive responses and interest from schools to adopt this platform into their curriculum?

A. Yes. Absolutely. The curriculum has been very well received. The teachers find the lessons to be age-appropriate and engaging. Children are really interested in observing how their bodies interact with their environment and the way the activities are structured is engaging and fun for the children as well.

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