Setting up the class

It is okay to say “I’m not sure about that myself” or “I just don’t know the answer to that”.

A class setting is probably better than an assembly as it gives the children a better chance to ask questions.

  • Create an open atmosphere so that questions can be asked. For younger children ‘circle time’ is a perfect setting.
  • Let the children ask lots of questions and encourage open communication.
  • Talk about cancer in age appropriate terms, and use simple words.
  • Do not use terms like ‘The Big C’ as this leads to confusion.

Begin by talking about cells and explain how cells make copies of themselves (use the example below). Continue by explaining that cancer is because cells make too many copies of themselves.

Cancer is a complex disease so as a teacher do not feel that you have to know everything.

Answer childrens’ questions with honesty. Children respond to honesty, which helps them feel better about not knowing everything.

It is okay to say “I’m not sure about that myself” or “I just don’t know the answer to that”.

Understand that questions are often asked at ‘odd’ times and work out how to manage this. For example, provide a box or a poster where children can write questions about cancer after the class talk. It is likely that they will process information a day or two after. Revisit the box/poster the following week to ensure any confusion and concerns have been resolved.

Prepare a letter for children to take home to their parents explaining that they had a lesson on cancer. Perhaps provide a few website links for parents to look at. Download template

Research the common questions children ask about cancer – practice your answers Q&A in restricted area.

Example of how to start the discussion about cancer

“Our body is made up of lots of different types of cells. They are tiny so we need a microscope to see them. We have millions of them and there are lots of different types with different jobs, and together they all make sure our body works really well. Inside each cell is a set of instructions that tell the cell what to do. One very important instruction is to tell the cell to make a copy of itself (for example, if you cut your finger, skin cells make copies of themselves to repair the skin).

Sometimes the instructions can get damaged or lost and the cell is no longer under control. It starts to misbehave and make lots and lots of copies of itself. These misbehaving cells are called cancer cells. A cancer tumour is a lump of cancer cells that have made too many copies of themselves.

Fortunately there are lots of different types of medicines that can be used to treat a person with cancer.”