The Importance of Sunscreen

Every year that I’ve taught ALE (Alternate Learning Environment… sometimes called “Life Skills”), we focus on the importance of safety in the summer time right before the end of school. This week we’re talking about sun safety and water safety. Yesterday, we tried a science experiment to illustrate the importance of sunscreen. The kids were really surprised to see just how much the sunscreen really did work!

Here’s what we did! First, we read the book “Tell Me Why I Get Sunburned” on Epic Books. (If you’re a teacher who isn’t using Epic, you need to start – they are, well, Epic!!) This non-fiction book talks a lot about sunburns and how they happen, the science behind them, and how to prevent them… all at a level that young kids can understand, and in narrative, not boring facts.

Then, we talked about the wide variety of sunscreen products that can be purchased at our local HEB grocery store. For the purpose of our experiment, I purchased 100 spf lotion.

This is the lotion I chose based on price and high spf count. You could use any lotion available.

I explained to them that in order to SEE what sunscreen does, we would be painting our sunscreen onto dark paper in a basic design. (Here is where I messed up – I should have had them all paint the same design – a basic smiley face. I would have saved on lotion, time, AND they would have all turned out really well…)

For our project, we needed just the right paper – that would stand up to painting the sunscreen onto it and then being in the sun for several hours. Enter my partners from Clear Path Paper – again to the rescue! We used two different colors of their card stock from their Mixed Essentials pack- the basic Black and Deep Sea Blue. I wanted the kids to see that ALL things are affected by UV rays, not just one color of paper, OR one shade of skin! After passing out the paper, I had the kids write their name using a white crayon or colored pencil.

This is the perfect paper pack for you if you like having lots of fabulous color options!
They also have a 100 count pack of this that gives you more sheets of each color!

Then, I squeezed the lotion out onto a paper plate and students used a q-tip to make a design on their paper. As I mentioned before the design DOES matter. Several of my kiddos just made large blobs, and covered much of the paper. This lesson is most powerful when only a few bits of the paper are covered, in a clear, distinct design. We used LOTS of sunscreen. I didn’t want to have to wash paint brushes, but I think paint brushes would have been a lot easier to use and would have made more even distribution of the lotion as well. Might be worth the time and effort to stand and attempt to wash them all out.

This picture meant something to the student,
but sadly didn’t prove the experiment very effectively.

Note – if you have older kids and want to take this a step further, you could do one set with the lotion straight out of the tube, and one set with lotion you have watered down, to test it’s “waterproof”-ness! I think that would be really cool for older students to test… might even have to do that with my three at home and see what happens!

SO! I digressed. We took them outside and taped them down to the concrete, and then emailed the teachers/staff and made sure that they knew to watch their students at recess, that they didn’t get messed up. I also made sure to include a note saying I knew that I had misspelled experiment… apparently I had not yet had enough coffee. Lol. I have learned not to correct these things all the time with my students, however – it is important for my high-anxiety students to realize that I make mistakes, too, and that sometimes it’s ok to leave a mistake and just own it. I pointed out to them that I had messed up, and they all said my motto – “everybody makes mistakes!” One of my sweet girls asked, though, “are you going to LEAVE it that way?” And I said, “yes, *Sally* because it really doesn’t matter, and I don’t want to waste any more paper by making a new sign. It’s ok to make mistakes sometimes.” And she replied, “wow. I don’t know if I could handle making that big of a mistake.” Then she walked off, very contemplative. I hope that my little “woopsie” maybe made an impact on her. She often totally shuts down if she makes a tiny mistake, which is sadly somewhat common due to her specific combination of autism with an intellectual disability. Sweet *Sally* has become one of my favorite students to love on, and maybe, just maybe, my “expirament” mistake made an impact. Maybe even bigger than the actual point of the lesson. Here’s hoping! 🙂

Our art! And the “expirament” sign was also made on Clear Path Paper.. that’s Pesto Green, which has rapidly become my personal favorite shade of green! Any chance I can use this paper, I’m using it! 😉

While outside placing our papers, we were able to discuss some predictions. Here’s some of what they thought would happen:
-the sunscreen might dissolve/disappear
-the paper might either get darker or lighter – we were about 1/2 and 1/2 on this one since we had just learned that our melanin gets darker in the sun, but some of us knew of things like paper or curtains getting faded over time at home
-the paper might blow away if we didn’t use enough tape
-somebody might step on it
-it would somehow change (One of my sweet boys said the cutest thing: “Well, Mrs. Hinnant, I know it’s gonna do something, or you wouldn’t have us do it!”)

We took them outside about 8:40, and made sure they were in a spot that wouldn’t get covered by shade as the sun moved (this makes for good conversation, too!). We went back out to collect them around 2:00. They were amazed to find their sunscreen still white! It hadn’t dissolved as they predicted. Some were very upset to be wrong. Again, this was a learning experience and I emphasized that scientists often make predictions that don’t end up being correct. That’s why they have to keep experimenting! Some of us were correct – a few papers flipped over because they didn’t have enough tape on the back. It appeared that our friends who were worried about stepping were wrong – teachers did a fabulous job of keeping their kids away from our work. No footprints, rips, snags, or tears!

We took our papers back inside and used paper towels to wipe all the excess sunscreen off. We were able to see a distinct line where the sunscreen had been, and they even noticed a little of the paper coloring came off WITH the sunscreen onto the paper towel. But the biggest excitement came from flipping the paper over. Those who had done a distinct design were able to clearly see where the sunscreen held the color to the paper, and the powerful UV rays faded the rest of the paper to a lighter shade of gray or blue. Again, some were frustrated by their design flaws. But I reminded them that scientists try things over and over and over before it all turns out exactly like they want. Some of them wanted to try again tomorrow, then! Lol. I told them we wouldn’t be using any more paper or sunscreen – we need to conserve our resources – but they are welcome to talk to their parents and try it at home if it’s ok with them.

This one barely used any sunscreen, which was a good lesson on making sure we have good coverage- it can’t work as well to protect us if we don’t have it covering us well like a blanket!

Overall, I’d call this “expirament” a success! A few lessons learned along the way about how I’d do it next time, but overall, quite a success! Let me know if you try it, and if you ever need quality card stock for projects such as these, be sure to give the folks over at Clear Path Paper a look!!

Author: Mrs. H

I am a SPED Teacher who is mom to three beautiful children, a wife to a fabulous man, and blessed beyond compare!

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