Is it time to ditch "No Hat, No Play"?

child wearing hat


Recently, one of our team shared a reminder message that they had received from their child's education and care service about hats and sun protection, and it led to some discussion about the concept of "No Hat, No Play" in our office. 

What is "No Hat, No Play?"

The concept of the "No Hat, No Play" message is that all children in early education and care centres and schools (although it is worth noting, this often doesn't apply to secondary schools) must wear a hat, or they cannot play. The catchphrase has become a common one around Australia in recent decades. And there's a good reason for that. According to, Australia has the highest rate of Melanoma (skin cancer) in the world. It makes sense - we're a warm country and we love being outdoors (who wouldn't?!) And so, when children arrive at school or care, they are often told "no hat, no play." But is this really the best approach? 


Is it time to change the message? 

In early childhood education in particular, we know that PLAY is vital. It is how children learn, it is their love language, it is everything! We know the physical, social and emotional benefits that play has on a child. We know that play helps children to focus. We know that play is how children express themselves. We know that play is joyous and wonderous. 

And yet, we are saying NO to play? That doesn't make sense. 

Are we suggesting that we just let little Sarah wander around in the midday sun without a hat? No. But, we need to change the message, and we need to think about our environments and routines. 

Does "No Hat, No Play" equal a child sitting alone on a chair twiddling their thumbs? Because that's the implication in this message. It's a "you forgot your hat, you miss out now" mentality. 

What if the message we used was more like "No Hat? Shady Play Today" and we had parts of our environment set up in the shade (which we should do anyway)? 


Who does the message impact? 

Let's be honest - in early education and care, and in the early years of school, it's not the child who is responsible for bringing their hat each day - it is a parent/caregiver. And yet, if that parent/caregiver forgets the hat (which, let's be honest, will happen because... LIFE), it's the child who misses out. 

When I was working in a service, we had families who regularly forgot their hats. It was frustrating at times, sure. But ultimately, we couldn't see those children missing out on play because their hat was left at home, or in the car. We always had a large supply of spare hats and a $1 fee would be added onto the parents account if a child required a spare. We made sure the hats stayed at the service, where they were washed and ready for the next person. It wasn't really that challenging. 


Sun Safety Catchphrases shouldn't be about "missing out"

I'm the first to advocate for sun safety. I have fair skin and burn easily. Just this year I have seen two loved ones have melanoma removed, one requiring weeks of radiation therapy. I'm a big fan of a hat, and of sunscreen. But, sun safety isn't about missing out on fun things. I still want to go to the beach. I still want to swim. I still want to enjoy summer. I still want my children to be able to play outside. If we want to educate children, if we want the message to sink in, it shouldn't be by taking away PLAY. 


How do you feel about the "no hat, no play" message? Let us know in the comments!



  • I think that head lice is a big part of sharing hats.

    Samantha Crant
  • This article seems a bit woke to me. Kids forget their hats every so often so it’s not like you have kids sitting in the shade every single day during ‘hats on’ season. And schools provide spare hats nowadays anyway. No matter how you word it, it’s still the same concept. If they have no hat, they play in the shade.

  • We simply buy heaps of hats and encourage the children to use them ! Simple as that . 🌟

  • I couldn’t agree more…. I think lots of messages like this one start in schools, with the best of intentions to help children remember hats, then filter down through EC services where they’re “punishing” the child who often hasn’t got the ability to be responsible for this anyway. This leads me to sunscreen and sunscreen-hating children. While keeping them safe, we must enable them to play and respect that some will have a sensory hatred of sunscreen. Shade, appropriate choices, team reflection and working with families are my approach.

  • I don’t agree with the part about parents being responsible for ensuring their child has a hat. I work with 4 year olds and we are teaching them to begin taking responsibility for checking that they have a hat in their bag before leaving home. Having to spend the day doing shady play is often a great incentive to remember their hat next time!


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