Preschool teacher and physician offer tips how to keep kids safe during B.C. heat wave

A few simple things can keep kids safe in the heat: hydration, shade and down time

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A heat wave is a breeze for Tanner Gresham and the 10 little ones who participate in her all-outdoor preschool for kids aged 2 to 5 on Jericho beach.

Weather doesn’t have to get in the way of fun. “Nobody’s gotten a sunburn on my watch!” said Gresham.

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As B.C. residents continued Tuesday to endure another day of sweltering temperatures, Gresham shared tips on how she keeps kids safe, while still having fun.

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Gresham learned about staying safe in the heat when she lived in Namibia, Africa, while working in wildlife rehabilitation — she still wears the same loose cotton button-up shirt to protect herself from the sun.

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Tanner Gresham says if the temperatures are scorching, resting in the shade is a great option for young children. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

“When it’s sunny, we meet under a cedar tree in the shade, or next to a big fallen willow,” said Gresham, who started Forest Friends Outdoor Learning, an all-outdoors preschool, in the summer of 2021.

The beach is a great place to stay cool, said Gresham: “There is no asphalt, concrete or closed windows. The sea breeze makes it several degrees cooler than other areas in the city.”

She encourages the kids to wear longer, looser layers, wide-brimmed sun hats and plenty of sunscreen. To stay cool, Gresham brings a Thermos stuffed with ice, and recommends hydrating fruits and veggies like cucumber and watermelon.

“We look for the safest places on the beach to play, and if it’s really hot we stay entirely in the shade. In among the trees with the sea breeze, it’s wonderful,” said Gresham, who took advantage of the low tide on Tuesday to turn a tide pool into a splash zone.

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Most importantly on hot days, Gresham schedules lots of down time, and mellow activities like playing on a slack line or relaxing in a hammock. “If you are getting tired, have a rest and lay down.”

Hydration, shade, and down time are all part of staying safe in the heat for kids, who may be more susceptible to the heat-related illness, said B.C. Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Ran Goldman.

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Elizabeth Salo, 6, plays at the splash park during an earlier heat wave. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“Children are at risk of heat-related illnesses and dehydration for a few reasons: If they are playing outside and forget to take a break they may not feel the same symptoms as adults, such as thirst.”

Goldman recommends parents make sure kids are drinking plenty of water, (formula or breast milk for infants), have access to cool or shady places, and seek help for headache, confusion or lethargy, dark urine or cracked lips that may be signs of dehydration or heat-related illness.

B.C. Children’s hospital is also raising the alarm about another hot weather risk: falls from windows. The hospital has treated 14 kids for falls from windows so far this season.

“Those injuries are preventable,” said Goldman.

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Ensure windows don’t open enough that a child can fall out, make sure there is nothing for kids to climb on, and remember that window screens are not secure enough to keep children safe.

Another concern is children that are left in cars, said Goldman.

“Do not leave children in hot cars even for a minute, even to go into an ATM or grabbing something from a store.”

Heat wave tips for children:

Hydration

• Stay hydrated and avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks. Fill water bottles half with ice to keep drinks cold.

• Raw fruits and vegetables help cool the body and keep kids hydrated.

• Keep food safe by using ice packs when outside.

Outdoor safety

• Avoid being outdoors at the hottest time of the day.

• Pack sunscreen, sun hats and sunglasses for the whole family.

• Dress children for the weather in lightweight breathable materials. If children are outdoors, long sleeves help protect from the sun.

• Spend as much time in the shade as possible.

• Keep long hair tied up or in braids to allow air to evaporate sweat.

• Look for splash-pads, waterparks or pools suitable for young children.

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Indoor safety

• If you have air conditioning, set it to maintain a comfortable temperature. Use fans to circulate air and keep blinds or curtains closed.
• Head to public, air-conditioned spaces, such as a library or community centre for playtime.

Know the signs

• Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness: severe headache, confusion, unsteadiness, loss of thirst, nausea, vomiting, dark urine or no urine, and severe lethargy.
• See your doctor or call 811 for advice if your child has a severe headache, confusion or unsteadiness. If your child is severely lethargic, go to your closest emergency department or call 911.

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