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"The Effects of Inclusion on the Self-esteem of Preschoolers"

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     First, I would like to thank Professor Krauchunas for giving me hope in Experimental I and Professor Mckenna for all of her help and energy during the initial stages of my thesis.  Next, I have to thank Barbara for hunting down the published test, without her I would not have been able to begin my testing.  Finally, I have to thank Professor Ossoff for her countless office visits...you must be sick of me!
      I must also recognize the cooperation of the Superintendent, Principals, teachers, parents and students of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District.  Without their help I would not have been able to run my study.  A special thanks goes to my mom for being so helpful when I worked in her classroom.  Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank the rest of my family and Shawn for all of their support and encouragement during this stressful time.

     The current literature has shown that inclusive education is emerging in schools throughout the nation.  The movement towards inclusive schooling is the latest controversy in an escalating debate focusing on the appropriate placement of students with special needs.  This study focuses on the relationship between inclusion and the self-concept of preschoolers.
     In spite of all of the literature that has looked at the academic and social effects of integration, researchers have yet to acknowledge the effect inclusion has on the self-esteem of children.  Inclusion is the placement of students with mild disabilities (learning disabilities, behavior disorders, or mental retardation) in regular education classrooms with their peers.  The current pilot study investigated the effects of inclusion on the self-esteem of preschoolers.  Cognitions and feelings about oneself appear to be key factors in the well-being and successful functioning of the individual.  Therefore, how we view ourselves, and how we view the world around us are two of the most important factors in our development.  Children’s self-
esteem is affected by how positively they are viewed by their peers, teachers, and parents.  Because the literature has shown that high self-esteem is so beneficial throughout one's entire lifetime, it is logical that it would be essential to develop this positive sense of self early in childhood.  It was hypothesized that, with an efficient program, a child's self-esteem, whether he or she is regular or special education, will increase throughout the preschool year.
     This study consisted of 15 children enrolled in 3 integrated preschool classrooms.  The ages ranged from 3-5 years old.  Among the 15 students, 10 of them were regular education, and 5 of them were special education.  These children were tested twice using Susan Harter's "Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Acceptance for Young Children".  The tests were issued one month apart.  Paired samples t-tests revealed significant findings in several areas.  Among all 15 children, the scores for the posttest were significantly higher on measures of physical and cognitive competence, as well as peer and maternal acceptance.  These findings reveal that there is something about the inclusive environment that is enriching the overall self-concepts of these children.  When looking solely at the special education children, their scores were significantly higher on the posttest measure of peer and
maternal acceptance.  Again, this finding reveals that the inclusive environment is in some way nurturing relationships between the special education children, their mothers, and their peers.  These findings were consistent with the hypothesis.  Future implications of this study concern applying what is found  about competence and acceptance to educational settings for preschool children.  In addition, this study sheds empirical light on the debate surrounding inclusive classrooms.


The Effects of Inclusion on the Self-esteem of Preschoolers
     Boundaries that once separated general education and special education are becoming increasingly blurred as the educational reform known as inclusion is emerging in schools throughout the nation.  Inclusion is the placement of students with mild disabilities (learning disabilities, behavior disorders, or mild mental retardation) in regular education classrooms with their peers (Schrag & Burnette, 1994).  The movement towards inclusive schooling is the latest controversy in an escalating debate focusing on the appropriate placement of students with special needs (King & Daniel, 1997).  The practice of inclusion derives from the principle of least restrictive environment (in terms of restrictiveness, the regular classroom is considered the least restrictive, and residential placement is the most restrictive environment) (Mills, Cole, Jenkins, & Dale, 1998).  This is the idea that all children should have the opportunity to be enrolled in any classroom setting as long it may prove to be beneficial to the child.  Unfortunately, what is most beneficial for one child may not necessarily be the same for another child.
    Research has found that children compare themselves to their peers (Bukato & Daehler, 1998). These comparisons may help some children, yet hinder others.  Children begin to reference others in describing themselves in the early school years.  This process, called social comparison, is the tendency of people to use others as mirrors to evaluate their own abilities, interests, and values (Bukato & Daelher, 1998).  By attending to the attributes and qualities of others, children may gain a more realistic means of predicting how well they can do.  For example, Dianne Ruble (1987) found that children in kindergarten who more frequently made social comparisons involving achievement tended to have greater knowledge of their relative standing in the classroom.  Could this process of social comparison be detrimental to the child if he or she does not quite measure up to his or her peers?  Possible feelings of inferiority are some of the many controversial issues regarding inclusion in the classroom.
     Although there may be controversial issues concerning inclusion, the focus of most early intervention programs is the movement of children with developmental delays into the mainstream of public education (Delisle, 1994).  Some of the main objectives of this movement are to educate all children without labeling them, to provide an environment conducive to social, emotional, and academic growth, and to allow students to form relationships with non-disabled peers (Kauffman, 1987). Despite much controversy that surrounds the subject of integration, the literature appears to lean more to the positive effects of integration outweighing the negative effects.
     Arguments supporting the positive effects of inclusion generally center around both academic and social benefits for children with disabilities.  Academic achievement is enhanced, advocates contend, when children with disabilities are expected to adhere to the higher standards that usually exist in the regular classroom setting (King & Daniel, 1997).  Furthering this argument, supporters stress that these higher standards are necessary because special education students are far less likely than their non-disabled peers to graduate from high school, successfully maintain employment, or live without assistance from a variety of sources (O’Neil, 1993).
     The educational rationale for integration is based on several underlying processes.  It presumes that children may acquire age-appropriate skills by observing and imitating developmentally advanced peers in their classes.  Models of appropriate social behavior are more readily available in regular education classrooms, and students have the opportunity to form friendships with non-disabled peers (Kauffman, 1987).
     Jenkins, Odom, and Speltz (1989) explored the effects of social integration on developmentally delayed (DD) preschool children.  One hypothesis of their study was that DD children enrolled in integrated educational programs would receive additional educational or developmental benefits by being in close proximity to and interacting with normally developing peers of similar ages.
     In this study, 72 preschool children were enrolled in integrated classrooms.  One treatment of the study assigned children to interactive play-groups based on the integrated preschool curricula.  In this group, a 30 minute play period was set aside each day for social integration activities.  During this play, teachers assigned the special education children to be with regular education children.  Teachers helped to suggest play ideas and promted social interaction when necessary.  Also during this play session a research assistant monitored the implementation if the interactive play sessions and collected observational data.  Observations were coded in behavioral categories using Parten’s (1939) scales of social participation.  Scores were taken before the experimental condition had been implemented, and again 5 months later.
     The above study found that special education children participating in the interactive play condition scored significantly higher on the posttest measure of language development and teacher-rated social competence compared to their scores on the pretest.  Interacting with normally developing peers in structured play activities appears to facilitate the development of language and social competence in children with special needs.  It appears that close proximity and interaction of DD children with regular education children nurtures a more productive environment for development to occur.  Therefore, this study helps to support the integration process.
     When a child is not put into an integrated setting and instead placed in a special education classroom, he or she is automatically labeled as different. Inclusion argues for the idea that school systems should meet the individual needs of each child without labeling him or her as being more different than he or she already feels.  Advocates further contend that student potential is limited when labels are applied (Denton, 1994).
     Considerable opposition to full inclusion does exist, however.  Delisle (1994) contends that teaching as if "one size fits all" disregards the individual needs of special education students.  Moreover, she believes that when the demands of servicing students with disabilities are added to the regular education classroom, the needs of low, average, and above average students are often ignored.  Skeptics of inclusion maintain that in an effort to make the inclusive classroom appropriate for all students, the more able
children may experience boredom, and children with special needs may experience frustration, such as not measuring up to the other children, when trying to keep up with the average instructional pace (King & Daniel, 1997).
     Support of the theory that integration is not detrimental to either of the parties involved is seen in a study done by Jenkins, Speltz, & Odom (1985).  Using matched groups, researchers compared the performances of regular education children enrolled in two Integrated Special Education Programs, with a group of children enrolled in two non-integrated classes.
     In this particular study, IQ scores were gathered from each child’s file before any testing was administered.  To evaluate the effects of an integrated special education preschool experience a pre/posttest with a control was used. The control groups were “segregated” classrooms consisting only of regular education children.  A battery of standardized tests were used to assess the relative effects on the development of integrated and segregated classes.  The regular education children were randomly assigned to either an integrated or segregated class.
     Although both groups made significant gains during the school year on measures of intelligence, language development, preacademic skills, and social competence, no between group differences were found.  This study reveals that the regular education children did not regress after being placed in an inclusive classroom.  The overall findings of this study indicate that a preschool following an integration model produces developmental changes that are not different from those in a preschool which only regular education children are enrolled.
     In an attempt to maintain equilibrium between the different social and academic levels of students, the inclusion teachers must be extremely willing to cooperate. This cooperation should include increased efforts directed toward collaboration and shared responsibility between regular and special education teachers.  The most important qualities a teacher must possess to make this collaboration and inclusion work in general, are flexibility and the ability to communicate (Denton, 1994).
     In order for teachers to be flexible, they should maximize the learning situation by manipulating the instructional environment.  Alterations in teaching style may include: creative lessons, specialized teaching strategies, compelling supplementary materials, and vigorous management techniques (Rousell, 1996).  Baker and Zigmond (1990) concluded that these fundamental changes in instruction would be necessary to adequately accommodate children with learning disabilities.  Because student success is partially dependant on how quickly curricula is adapted to meet his or her special or regular educational needs (Denton, 1994), and success is directly related to increased levels of self-esteem, teachers need to know who will be entering their classrooms each Fall.  With this knowledge they can alter their lesson plans before the school year begins.  If sufficient support is provided to regular educators, systematic inclusion can be a viable alternative for most individuals with mild disabilities.
     Advocates of inclusion argue that educators who deal with inclusive education must recognize that viewing students in essentially positive ways and maintaining favorable expectations of them may play an integral role in the enhancement of self-esteem.  Facilitating children’s peer-related social competence is considered to be a legitimate and high priority within early childhood education.  Programs employing developmentally appropriate practices, such as enhanced competence, provides children with the tools to gain their interpersonal goals in an appropriate and effective manner (Guralnick, 1990).
     Self-esteem or self-worth, are the positive feelings of merit and the extent to which a child believes his or her actions are good, desired, and valued (Bukato & Daehler, 1998).  Self-esteem may also be understood as including the feelings and beliefs that children have about their abilities to make a positive difference, to confront rather than retreat from challenges, to learn from both success and
failure, and to treat themselves and others with respect
(Brooks, 1998).  Cognitions and feelings about oneself appear to be key factors in the well-being and successful functioning of the individual (Markus, Cross, & Wurf, 1990).
     Because cognitions and feelings about ourselves are so pertinent to individual success, it is not surprising that how we view ourselves, and how we view the world around
us are two of the most important factors in our development (Rousell, 1996).  A child's self-esteem is affected by how positively he or she is viewed by peers, teachers and parents (Lawrence, 1987).  Children with realistic self-concepts and higher levels of self-esteem engage in fewer negative health behaviors, such as promiscuity or underage drinking, and express less intention to do so in the future (Petersen, 1987).
     High levels of self-esteem are also associated with resilience.  Resilient children maintain a sense of personal control over the path that their lives will take, and have more problem solving and decision making skills than those who are not resilient (Brooks, 1998).  On the other hand,
low self-esteem could become a precipitating factor for the adoption of unhealthy behavior including an increased likelihood to engage in alcohol and drug use (Hays & Fors, 1990).  Reduced self-esteem may also inhibit academic achievement, an outcome that has been positively correlated with perceptions of self (King and Daniel, 1997).  Knowing how significant a role self-esteem plays in our lives, it is important to develop a healthy level of it early in life.  Therefore, research revealing that inclusion increases a child’s self-concept would be an extremely important finding.
     The link between a positive self-image and resilience is one more reason for seeking ways to strengthen a child’s self-esteem. Resilient children have in their lives the presence of adults who believe in them, who encourage them, and who focus on their strengths (Brooks, 1998).  If this adult is not available at home, then teachers should be accessible to provide these children positive attention, since children spend most of their growing years in school.
     Research indicates that everyday contacts between teacher and child have the greatest effect on children's self-esteem (Lawrence, 1987).  Understanding that there are several types of teaching strategies, and each differs in its own way, Dale and Cole (1988), compared two very different programs.  Both programs represent special education models currently in wide and growing use.  Both have theoretical foundations that value strong support in both academic and educational settings.  The two models, however, differ in numerous aspects of both theory and classroom practice.
     The first program was direct instruction, which is based in extensive task analysis of academic skills.  This analysis operationally define the appropriate learning skills and is taught by a task oriented teacher.  The teacher is concerned with the pace and the amount of information being learned rather than the educational environment.  The analysis is then used as the basis of systematic and explicit teaching of academic skills such as language, reading, and mathematics, with a goal of maximizing academic learning time.  The method, like the content, is “direct” in that the program is teacher-directed and fast paced with frequent opportunities for student response and reinforcement or correction (Gernstein, Woodward, & Darch, 1986).
     The second program is mediated learning, which is based on the work of Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, and Miller (1980).  Mediated Learning emphasizes the development and generalization of cognitive processes of input, elaboration, and output rather than specific academic content.  The role of the teacher is to interpret the environment and cognitive problems, rather than simply teach directly.
     A study was conducted using these two methods of teaching in order to evaluate the effects it had on the children involved.  The sample for this study consisted of two groups of preschool children that were representative of the population in the districts where the programs were implemented.  The preschool subjects attended classes for two hours a day, five days a week.  There were six preschool classes, three for each program with twelve students in each class.  One of the three classes for each program contained eight normally developing children, and four special education children.  Prior to attending any of the classes each child was issued several standardized tests (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, Test of Early Language Development, Basic Language Concepts, and Stanford Early School Achievement Test).  After six months had passed the tests were issued again.
     The results of this study found the two programs to be clearly effective.  Not only did all raw scores increase substantially, but many standardized test scores which are not correlated with age also increased.  This finding reflects that the growth happened at a higher rate than during the period preceding entry into these programs (Dale & Cole, 1988).  Therefore, this study shows that inclusion does have a positive effect on both regular and special education children.
     As seen in the previous study, there is clear evidence that relationships between teacher and student can be  conducive to the enhancement of academics, which ultimately results in increased levels of self-esteem.  As teachers are in a powerful position to be able to influence a child's self-concept, they should consider adopting policies and practices that promote their pupils' feelings of self-worth (Markus et al., 1990).  These practices may range from teaching children that it is okay to fail sometimes, to simply praising children for a job well done.  A properly trained teacher of inclusive classrooms will be aware of the importance of constructive feedback to a child.  This teacher will be able to supply this feedback, while at the same time foster friendships between all of the children.
     Increased feelings of self-worth also make it easier for children to develop friendships.  Establishing relationships with one’s peers during the preschool years is a vital but often difficult process for many children with and without disabilities (Guralnick, 1990).  Children with a higher self-esteem are more likely to approach other children without the fear of being denied access to a group. These relationships have permanent implications for children’s cognitive, communicative, and overall social development (Guralnick, 1990).
     Children’s emerging social competence is a fundamental developmental process that is particularly important during their preschool years when initial peer relations and friendships are being developed (Guralnick, 1990).  Students with disabilities who are challenged both academically and socially are effected by the emphasis on ability as a prerequisite for group membership (Donahue, 1994).  Guralnick (1990) continues, that the development of both social and communication skills may be hampered unless children with disabilities have access to similarly aged peers that are not delayed.  Therefore, important goals for teachers in general early education have included helping children establish productive and satisfying peer relations, a process that is closely associated with furthering the
development of a child’s independence and generating feelings of self-efficacy (Guralnick, 1990).
     There are several ways by which teachers can promote preschool children’s social interactions: peer-mediated intervention and naturalistic interventions.  Peer mediated intervention strategies have been the most frequently used for improving young children’s social interactions (Odom, 1990).  Researchers have noted several reasons for using peers as mediators in social interaction interventions.  Brown (1995) lists these reasons: first, although adult-mediated intervention strategies have been effective, peer interventions result in longer social exchanges.  Second, badly timed teacher prompts can interfere with children’s ongoing play.  Finally, many peers enjoy participating in social interaction interventions.  Given these reasons, the use of peers as active participants in social interventions should continue to be a strategy for improving young children’s social behavior.
     Naturalistic interventions are also used in promoting peer interactions in inclusive early childhood settings.  This type of peer interaction involves systematically encouraging peers to initiate and respond to children with social interaction difficulties during routine preschool activities (Brown, 1995).  Two naturalistic peer interaction interventions, incidental teaching of social behavior and friendship activities, have been recommended to promote children’s peer interactions in preschool.
     Incidental teaching is conducted during unstructured activities during brief periods of time and typically when children have shown an interest or have been involved with materials, activities, or others.  Because incidental teaching has been child initiated and brief, many attention and motivation problems that are typical with preschool children have been soothed with naturalistic settings (Brown, 1995).  In addition to its use as a primary teaching strategy, incidental teaching can be used to assess whether or not children need more intensive intervention to promote their social interactions (Brown, 1995).
     Another naturalistic intervention strategy has been friendship activities.  Specifically, they encourage children to practice prosocial behavior with peers within common preschool activities (Brown, 1995).  Friendship activities have three advantages as a naturalistic peer intervention strategy.  First, when teachers employ friendship activities, they modify their preschool environments to support young children’s peer interactions. Second, teachers conduct friendship activities during a variety of activities with a number of different social behaviors and with several peers.  Finally, friendship activities include frequent discussions of the importance of peer social interaction and friendships (Brown, 1995).  Those discussions can establish a supportive atmosphere for peer interactions and friendships to occur.
     Also related to self-esteem and the classroom; peer relations contribute substantially to both social and cognitive development and to the effectiveness with which we function as adults (Hartup, 1994).  It is currently agreed upon that the ability to establish appropriate and effective relationships with one’s peers constitutes a critical developmental milestone for children during the preschool years (Guralnick, 1990).  Indeed, the single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades, and not classroom behavior, but rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.  Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children and who cannot establish a place for themselves in their peer culture are seriously at risk for future problems (Hartup, 1994).
     Given that many more students with disabilities are being included in regular classrooms than in the past, it is important to consider the perceptions these students have of their classroom experience.  Much concern has been expressed about possible rejection and unpopularity (Kauffman, 1987). It seems reasonable to ask if included students have the same perceptions of a given classroom as their regular education peers.  Based on the literature, there is reason to believe that how a student perceives the school experience is related to what learning takes place.  Fraser, Anderson, and Wahlberg (1982) found support for a positive relationship between learning and classroom factors such as class cohesiveness, establishment of formal rules, goal directives, and most appropriately, satisfaction with classroom relationships.  Therefore, it is important for the success of integrated students to know if they are seeing the classroom as a positive experience where needs are being met, or as a negative place where they feel putdown and unwelcome.
     One particularly important study compared perceptions of classroom environment between integrated and regular education students in the same classrooms (Hanson & Boody, 1998).  The Classroom Environment Scale was completed by 202 students at a middle school, 37 of who had been identified for special education services.  No significant differences were found between the perceptions of regular and special education students.  Considering the literature which links classroom environmental factors with achievement, and especially considering the potential difficulties integrated students could experience, finding that integrated special education students perceive their classroom as positively as
the regular education students in the same classroom is a very important finding.
     Children do make social comparisons, the study above by Hansen and Boody (1988) reveals that those comparisons found in classroom perceptions between the regular and integrated students were not negative.  However, it is important not to overgeneralize the findings of this study.  First, the study
was done at a school which has made a serious effort in mainstreaming.  Second, subjects were limited to one middle school in the Midwest.  Finally, this study looks at older children, as opposed to preschoolers.  Future research must look at the perceptions that non-included special education students have of their classroom.  Within the limits of the study nonetheless, the findings are important and suggestive.
     In spite of all of the literature that has looked at the academic and social effects of integration, researchers have yet to acknowledge the effect inclusion has on the self-esteem of children.  Because high self-esteem is so beneficial throughout one’s entire lifetime, it is essential to develop this positive sense of self early in childhood.  This study will look at how an integrated preschool setting influences a child’s self-esteem.  It is hypothesized that, with an efficient program, a child’s self-esteem, whether he or she is regular or special education, will increase throughout the school year.  This increase in sense of self may be due largely to positive teacher and peer interactions, and through simply being in an environment that does not reduce these children to labels (King & Daniel, 1997; Denton, 1994).

Participants:  The subjects of this experiment included 15 children enrolled in 3 integrated preschool classrooms.  The ages ranged from 3-5 years old, the mean age was 4 years old.  There were 8 males and 7 females in this study.  Among these 15 students, 10 of them were regular education children, and 5 of them were special education students.  These students came from middle class families living in small rural towns in Massachusetts.  All of the children involved in this experiment were Caucasian Americans.  Consent for this study was approved by the Superintendent of the school system, the principals of both schools, as well as all of the teachers involved, in full compliance with the American Psychological Association guidelines.

Materials:  Each subject was required to verbally complete Susan Harter’s (1984) “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Acceptance for Young Children" (see Appendix A).  This test consists of 24 sets of different pictures. The child was given a brief description for each set of pictures from the experimenter.  The description went as follows: “This child is good at doing puzzles (experimenter then points to one picture), this child isn’t very good at doing puzzles (experimenter points to the other picture), which child is most like you?”  At this point, the child points to the picture that best describes him or her.  Next, the child points to the big circle if he or she is really good at puzzles and to the small circle if he or she is really bad at puzzles (see Appendix A).   When the test is scored, it is scored in sub-scales.  Sub-scale reliabilities were rated using a cronbach alpha value.  When looking at each individual sub-scale the alpha values range from .50-.85.  However, when the sub-scales are combined by either competence or acceptance, the reliabilities increase to .75-.89.  The reliability of the total scale, all 24 items, is in the mid to high .80s (Harter & Pike, 1984).  The ratings of the students are found to be valid because young children’s beliefs of their abilities seem to be based on specific behavioral referents.
     The experimenter also used a personally created questionnaire that consisted of four questions that aided in the evaluation of each child’s perceived classroom environment (see Appendix B).

Procedure:  Before administering any testing to the children in the study, written consent forms were obtained from the children’s parents, principle, and teachers involved in the study (see Appendix C).  These people were told that the experimenter was interested in investigating the preschool experience and its influence on a child’s sense of self.  Directly before the testing the experimenter asked the child for his or her verbal assent.  This study was done in two parts: a pre-test, and an identical post-test.  Each participant was individually selected by the teacher to join the experimenter in a corner of the classroom that was quiet yet familiar.  The child was told that he or she was going to look at a set of pictures that would help the experimenter find out how a preschooler viewed him/herself.  The experimenter entered the classroom during the students’ free time so that the atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed for the children.  Along with the experimenter, the teacher or the teacher’s aid was present in the classroom during the testing sessions in order to ensure familiarity for the child.  The initial testing took place at the very beginning of the school year and again a month after school had been in session.  After completion of the “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Acceptance for Young Children”, each student was asked 4 questions which assisted in evaluating the child’s perception of his or her environment. When the child was done with the testing and questioning he or she was allowed to return to play.

     The dependent measures for this study consist of the scores from the measures on the “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance for young Children”.  The test is broken up into several sub-scales which include cognitive competence (CC), peer acceptance (PA), physical competence (PC), and maternal acceptance (MA).  These four sub-scales were further combined to produce the two sub-scales of: perceived competence (cognitive + physical (C+P)), and perceived acceptance (peer + maternal (P+M)).
     A self-constructed measure entitled the Perceived Classroom Environment Questionnaire (PCEQ) was also issued. This small questionnaire was used to evaluate whether the child perceived his or her environment as positive or negative.
     The data from the study was first analyzed through a Repeated Measure Analysis of Variance (ANOVA).  Next, a series of Paired Sample T-tests compared the means of the pretest with the means of the posttest for each variable.  Mean scores from the four sub-scales could range from 1, being the lowest to 4, being the highest.  To analyze the results from the PCEQ several descriptive analyses were run.
Repeated Measures ANOVA
     In order to investigate the possibility of an interaction, a 2(pre/posttest) X 2(regular/special education) Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance was run  on the dependent variables of total competence and total acceptance.  No interactions were found, which further strengthens the hypothesis.  Finding no interactions reinforces the fact that there was something about the inclusive environment that had a significant effect on the children.
     The first t-test included all of the participants.  This t-test compared the means of the pretest to the means of the posttest for each of the four sub-scales (CC, PA, PC, MA).  These analyses reveal a significant difference for peer acceptance, t(14)=-4.501, p?.01; and for physical competence, t(14)=-2.795, p?.01.  No other significant differences were found.  The means show that all of the children’s scores increased in all 4 sub-scales with a significant increase in the measures of PA and PC.
     Next, the means of the pretest were compared to the means of the posttest on the two combined sub-scales (C+P) and (P+A) for all of the participants.The means reveal higher scores over time, as predicted.  All children reported a significant increase in competence and acceptance between time 1 and time 2.
     Next, two t-tests separately looked at the pre/posttest means of the regular education children and the means of the special education children on all 4 sub-scales. The t-test looking at special education children showed that there was a significant difference in maternal acceptance, t(14)=-1.328, p?.05 from the pretest to the posttest.  These means indicate an increase in maternal acceptance from time 1 to time 2 of the testing.  Although no significant differences were found when looking only at the regular education children, all of the means moved in the predicted direction which is again consistent with the hypothesis.
     The final set of t-tests separately looked at the means of the regular education children and the means of the special education children on the two combined sub-scales (C+P) and (P+M).
    The t-test that looked at special education children found a significant difference in total acceptance, t(14)=-3.068, p?.05, such that there was a significant increase in means from time 1 to time 2 of the testing.  No significant differences were found when looking only at the regular education children, however, all of the means were still moving in the predicted direction, which is again consistent with the hypothesis.
Descriptive Statistics
     A series of descriptive analyses were run on the PCEQ.  The percent of children who said that they were happy at school was 93.3%.  When asked whether their teachers smile at them a lot or a little, 90% of the children chose a lot.  When asked whether their teachers smile at their friends a lot or a little, 75% of the children chose a lot. These findings reveal that well over the majority of children perceive their environment as positive.  When asked who was their favorite friend to play with in the class, only 2 out of the 15 children chose a special needs child.  This finding reveals that most children prefer regular education children to play with, which is consistent with the literature.

     This study has revealed significant results supporting the hypothesis.  Each of the significant results found could lead to future research in this field.  The hypothesis of this study proposed that with an efficient program a child’s self-esteem, regardless of whether he or she is regular or special education, will increase throughout the preschool school year.  This discussion will consist primarily of the results concerning the relationship between inclusion and the preschool environment.
     As reported in the results section, the major statistical analyses consisted of paired samples t-tests.  Each analysis revealed important findings.
     The t-test analysis revealed that as the school year passes, preschool children enrolled in an integrated environment have a significant increase in areas of physical and cognitive competence, as well as in peer and maternal acceptance.  These findings show that there is something about the inclusive environment that is enriching the overall self-concepts of these children.
     These findings were consistent with the study conducted by Odom (1984).  Odom found that both regular and special education children made significant gains on different measures of intelligence throughout the school year.  Although, until this point research had not yet looked at how children’s self-concepts are affected by being in a preschool environment, it is not surprising that there were also significant gains in this area, in this age group.  It is logical that as children gain experience in academic areas, and their intelligence increases, so too would their self-esteem.
     The t-test results also revealed that aside from benefiting the children as a whole, the special education children alone had significant gains in the area of peer and maternal competence.  Once more, this finding shows that the inclusive environment is in some way nurturing relationships between the special education children, their mothers, and their peers.
     This increase in acceptance may be explained by the study conducted by Brown (1995).  He states the ways by which teachers can promote children’s social interactions in the inclusive environment.  It was found that through peer-mediated and naturalistic interventions special education children are encouraged to initiate and respond to their regular education peers.  The combination of interactions between peers and teachers may be the key factors that allowed the special education children to feel more accepted, both at home and in the preschool setting.
     These findings were also consistent with the study conducted by Jenkins, Odom, and Speltz (1989).  They found that when special education students interacted with their regular education peers, the development of language and social competence was facilitated.  Therefore, close proximity and interaction of special education children with regular education children nurtures a more productive environment for development to occur.
     The PCEQ found that the vast majority of children, whether regular or special education, preferred regular education playmates.  This finding is not surprising considering the research done by Donahue (1994).  He found that students with disabilities who are challenged both academically and socially are affected by the emphasis on ability as a prerequisite for group membership.  Therefore, one can suggest that it is critical that integrated preschool teachers take full advantage of the strategies presented by Brown (1995) to help promote their children’s social interactions.
     The PCEQ also found that overall, the children were happy and viewed their environment as positive.  The preschool program that was the focus of the present study was one that is accredited by the state.  The program receives all of the money and supplies necessary to provide an enriching classroom environment.  The teachers involved must have a sufficient amount of experience before they are hired and are carefully chosen for the job.  Therefore, it is not surprising that these children saw their environment as a positive one.
     In addition to analyzing the results from the current study it is important to review and critique the methodology of the study. Although this study yielded positive results, one must remember that it was only a pilot study.  More research must be done over a longer period of time before the results are generalized to the preschool population as a whole.  Evaluating the methodology of this study brings to light issues that could improve the current study, as well as future studies.  Slight alterations involving the participants and instruments would increase the reliability and validity of the study.
     Two issues exist concerning the participants of the study that need to be addressed.  The first is related to the attempt to examine the differences and similarities between regular and special education children.  To more accurately analyze the similarities and differences between these two groups, an equal and larger number of regular and special education children are needed.  This study consisted of 5 special education children and 10 regular education children.  In addition to an uneven number of regular and special education children, the conclusions from this study can only be generalized to a specific population.  This is the second issue of concern with the participants.
     The participants were representative of a population of white, middle-class children living in two small rural towns in Massachusetts.  If the research had been conducted with participants from a lower socioeconomic class, the results may not have been so promising.  For example, children living in a lower socioeconomic class area of large city would not have access to the same environment that children living in a small middle-class town do.  Large cities have higher student to teacher ratios and less money to spend on supplies that would enhance the preschool environment.  Therefore, a change in these variables could have a significant impact on future results.
     Two issues concerning instrumentation also need to be addressed.  The first concerns the appropriateness of the instrument for preschool children.  Although the test was made specifically for children of this age, the researcher found several questions that seemed to be geared towards children older than preschool age. For example, two of the questions asked how often the child ate over a friend’s house, or slept over a friend’s house.  It seems that preschoolers may be too young to be involving themselves in those particular activities.  Second, one of the scales on the test measured maternal acceptance.  In today’s society, the father is playing more of a role in child rearing.  The instrument did not assess the father’s role.  Several times, when the researcher asked the children if their mom did something, their reply was, “no, my dad does”.  Therefore, perhaps a paternal portion should either be added to or combined with the maternal acceptance scale.  The test scores would prove to be more valid if this was done.
     A final concern is with the actual implementation of the testing.  The study was conducted over the short time span of a month.  If there had been a longer time period between the pretest and posttest measures, it appears that the study would have produced even more significant results. The hypothesis of the study proposed that over an entire preschool year the self-esteem of the enrolled children would increase.  It is logical that the longer children are exposed to a self-esteem enriching environment, the more their self-concepts will increase.  Therefore, if the test was issued first at the beginning of the school year and again at the end of the school year the children may have exhibited greater differences in self-esteem between the pretest and the posttest.
     Although this was only a pilot study, the results appear to be promising.  The results of this study can be applied to a broader range of situations.  Self-esteem plays a major role in the development of psychologically happy and healthy individuals (Rahhal, 1993).  Studies that contribute to the understanding of self-esteem can be utilized to increase people's self-esteem.  Because self-esteem is so critical to individual development, it is important to develop early in life.  An instrumental way of applying findings on self-esteem for children is to find methods that work within the school system.  Schools can be used as vehicles to implement programs to aid in awareness of issues and make changes in our society (Gelinas, 1998).   From this study, it appears that inclusive classrooms are a good place to start.  Here, children are introduced to an environment that enriches self-esteem at a very young age.
     Dramatic improvements in our understanding of the concept and practice if inclusion have occurred in the past decade.  This process is continually encouraging the emergence of framework and service systems for young handicapped children and their families.  We should not expect inclusion to be successful unless there is a widespread agreement as to the fundamental nature and influences of its practices and principles (Guralnick, 1990).  The current study is helping to move us closer to this agreement because it sheds empirical light on the debate surrounding inclusive classrooms.
     This study does not have to remain within the confines of a school system.  Because self-esteem pervades almost every aspect of our lives, it is essential to develop in the household also.  Parents can use the results of this study to construct their own strategies for enhancing their children’s self-concepts at home.  With the cooperation of both parents and teachers, self-esteem is a personal quality that may continually be improved.
     If inclusion continues to be the educational choice for the majority of special education children, we must persist in studying the effects it has on all of the children and families involved.  The overall challenge for the next decade is to assure that the needs of more and more special education children and their families are met and addressed in the early childhood school system.  The special knowledge and skills provided by specialists working with handicapped children must become an integral part of the overall early childhood network (Guralnick, 1990).  Continued research, much like that of the current study, and program development in important areas including friendship formation, policy issues, and curriculum development in the area of peer and social competence, all will be of value.

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