|The artwork of one student in the Healthy Tomorrow program depicts a game of tennis between friends – and a positive image about people with disability.|
Children today are likely to encounter people with physical disabilities. As a result, it has become increasingly important to ensure that children develop positive perceptions and the ability to communicate successfully with persons with disabilities as they live and work together.
A new program called Healthy Tomorrow™ (HT) has been developed by the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) to address these issues early in a child’s education. Funded by NIDRR, the project is aimed at disability and injury awareness in preschool and young school children.
The long-range goal of Healthy Tomorrow is to create habits in young children that will last a lifetime, and help ensure that they grow into adults who practice healthy behaviors. Evidence has shown that these behaviors will help them live healthier and longer lives – as well as influence the health and well being of those with whom they interact throughout their lives.
In May 2007, a pilot program was implemented in a Kindergarten class at a private preschool in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. Currently, 42 children between the ages of four and six are enrolled in a control group. This group has received a five-month disability and injury awareness program taught in part by persons with disabilities. The remaining students did not.
Preliminary results show that the children in the control group advanced in injury prevention and disability-oriented reasoning, as well as associated empathy to and awareness of persons with disability.
Plans are now underway to expand the program by integrating injury prevention, healthy behaviors and disability awareness into Kindergarten through 8th grade curriculum.