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  • Writer's pictureZoe Wiltshire

Slip, Slop, Slap - Sun Safety

Bridget Young is the Head Teacher at Holmewood School, an independent day school for neurodivergent children and young people. As an Australian Expat, she knows what to do in the rare case of a sunny day in the UK.

As a bare footed child running around on an island off the coast of Queensland, Australia, there was one thing I took seriously and that was sun safety.

In the 80s there was a very catchy sun safety campaign entitled ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’, in which an anthropomorphic mascot named Sid the Seagull would sing and dance to the phrase. This public service announcement reminded all of us to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat and was widely credited as playing a key role in the dramatic shift in sun protection attitudes and behaviour.

We had a rule at school; no hat, no play, which basically meant you got detention if you forgot to shade your face. Everyone acted as though it was life and death, which, let’s face it, it was. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world - about two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70. As a teenager I watched terrifying adverts on Australian TV showing pictures of late stage melanomas that haunt me to this day.

Last weekend I realised that a lot of British People do not know how to act in the sun. At a festival, I watched on as people keeled over with heat exhaustion and sported a lot of bright red sunburns. On one day the festival ran out of water, which goes to show the problem is on an institutional level.

Everyone is complaining about how hot it is, and when I look at the temperature it’s a balmy 25 degrees. It gets up to 45 in Queensland and somehow we survive it. But I get it, this place has been built with the cold in mind. Children here know how to stay warm, which I personally still haven’t learned.

I realise now how important it is to explicitly teach the message of sun safety to our kids and remind them every year. What better way than to call in Sid the Seagull.

That’s the old ‘slip on a shirt, slap on sunscreen and slap on a hat’ with a couple of new additions in ‘seek shade’ and ‘slide on sunnies’. That last rule is my personal favourite.

Sun safety also means an awareness of what’s needed to stay cool and safe, building what’s needed into our normal routines, and understanding and regulating the physical needs of our bodies. Interoception is a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what's going on inside your body and kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they are hot, cold, or thirsty. Therefore it is our directive to ensure the sun safety message sinks in.

Using the Neurodiversity Support Framework, teaching sun safety would be -

  1. Explaining the relevance or importance of the topic - explain why the sun is lovely but dangerous.

  2. Explicitly teach the topic - this means teaching, singing, performing the message.

  3. Support the practice of skills in a safe environment - get students used to the feel of sunscreen and put sunscreen on before every outdoor activity at school. Go to the shop and get kids to pick out a cool hat in their own style.

  4. Support the generalisation of skills across different environments - ensure a hat and sunscreen and a bottle of water is inserted into a kid’s morning routine and put reminders around the place.

  5. Respond positively to success and failure - our kids will have varying levels of comfort with the realities of sun safety. Reflect on difficult situations and help each other to learn from them.

I for one want to enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts, and sun safety is an important part of that.

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