Twins – The Same or Separate Classrooms?

January 31, 2013

first day
Yesterday was a day of firsts.

My big boy started school for the first time. ( I need a whole other blog post to talk about how much that tugged on my heart.) And yesterday something else big happened.

Yesterday our twins started grade three, in separate classrooms.

Anyone who has known our girls for a few years will know how momentous that step was.

For a long time our twins could not be apart. Not ever.

Their attachment to each other is something that has amazed me, made my heart sing and concerned me all at once. I worried about it a lot, over the years, about how stressful it was for them to be apart. It seems that the most popular parenting advice for twins is to work hard at them being ‘individuals’ and allowing them to be so attached to each other that they can’t cope apart is not part of that plan.

I confess… for a long time I had horrible visions of them growing old together, still wearing the same clothes and still sharing a bedroom. Or worse, marrying other twins and living freakish parallel lives that would see them wind up on some trashy reality TV program. That is surely what would happen if we didn’t force them to be ‘individuals’ and force them to separate. Right?

Lucky for my sanity and for my girls we had some excellent advice and support from some wise friends, family, teachers and psychologists.

You see, our girls are identical twins. That means they are the same sex, the same age, they have the same genes, they have grown up in the same house with the same parents and the same opportunities. Given all of those things, it makes sense that they like the same things, want to wear the same clothes, and enjoy each other’s company. It makes sense that they are very very similar. In short, to be themselves, to be ‘individuals’ for them, means being very very similar.

It was with that pearl of wisdom ringing in our ears and an immense sense of relief that we had not (yet) scarred our twins for life by allowing them to be similar, that we began our journey towards school.

We chose our school because it was local, because it was small, because we liked their programs and because they 100% supported us in our choice to keep our girls in the same class.

I know that goes against a lot of advice given to parents of multiples. I know that it is not something that would work for all families, but for our girls, it was exactly what they needed. We needed to honor who they were, without trying to change them and advocate for what was best for them, our individual children.

We felt strongly that school should not be a place of extreme stress, especially in those first years and we knew from experience that separating our girls before they were ready would be catastrophic for them.

They needed to be challenged to be more independent but not pushed or forced. They needed lots of small opportunities to branch out and practice coping on their own and that is exactly what school provided.

Their first year at school was fabulous. They shard a classroom and spent lots of time together and some time apart. They had gone from children who could not sit at separate snack tables at preschool without tears, to children who happy to be put in different groups at sport and who confidently chose different elective subjects to participate in without encouragement.

There were a few wonky moments in the beginning, but with fabulous teachers who embraced our girls differences AND similarities they blossomed.

They shared a classroom for prep (first year of school), grade one and grade two. At the end of each year I would have a chat with their current teacher and ask if there were any issues with them being in the same class. Each year I was told no… they worked well together and well apart, they rarely impacted negatively on each other and there was no reason for them not to be in the same class again.

Our plan had always been to keep them together until such time that they asked to be apart. Towards the end of last year they began talking about being in different classes.

At first it was an idle threat spat at each other in frustration during an altercation. Then it became quiet chats about the possibilities, then questions asked of me. It seemed the time had come.

At the end of the year we had a chat and I asked them both, “do you want to be in the same or different classes next year?” When push came to shove, no one wanted to be the one who made the final decision, they both hedged their bets and said they didn’t care either way.

I chickened out too, and I told school they could decide… though I knew, and school knew that that was our way of saying yes… put them in separate classes.

So yesterday morning I dropped them off in their classrooms, one at a time. I could feel their first day nerves and I knew they were tinged with the strangeness of not having each other, right there. But I could also feel their excitement about starting a new school year, and I marveled at their resilience in coping with minor set backs (a favoured friend not being in one class, a preferred teacher not in the other).

It was the mixture of those three, the nerves, excitement and resilience that made me know we’d done the right thing. We’d done the right thing for our girls by allowing them to stay together and we’d done the right thing in choosing this year for them to part.

Giving them time to grow, develop and become independent from each other without excessive stress was the right thing for our girls. It may not be the right thing for other sets of twins, but it was right for us. That is why I think it is important for schools not to have a blanket policy on whether twins are separated or not. Assess a twins needs on an individual basis, and do what is best for them.

Of course it is early days yet and I am sure this year will throw up many challenges, but I am so very proud of how far my ever so attached to each other twins have come since that day, nine years ago, when they were dragged into the world before any of us were really ready.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate January 31, 2013 at 1:24 pm

A school and teachers who understand your kids and your concerns and work with you all is so important. My girls are in separate classes again this year and one wants this and one doesn’t so we are working through a few things again. Crossing fingers it works out again.

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leah January 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm

How exciting and bittersweet that this time has come :) It’s another kind of “weaning” I guess, but great in that while all kids move out of the family bed, finish breastfeeding and other miletsones, they reach a point eventually where returning isn’t on the table, but for this they will always have being together, just out of choice, not necessity :)

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Jen January 31, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I think having a blanket policy on anything pretty much at a school is a bad thing – children are so much more diverse and complex than a policy could ever capture. It’s great that your school treated your girls as individuals and listened to you and did what was best for them. Our school’s usual practice is to keep twins together for the first year and split them up after that but it also depends on what the families want. My son has identical twin girls in his class who were in separate classes from kindy (prep) – they are numbers 6 and 7 in a family of 9 though so were very used to having lots of other kids around!

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katef February 1, 2013 at 10:50 am

You are so right… ‘blanket policies’ often don’t work as everyone is different, just like every pair of twins is different, even if they are the same…. and now I am confusing myself! LOL

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Alana January 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm

sounds like they were ready for the next step of discovering who they are as individuals. I dont have twins so have no idea what it is like to raise two identical people but it sounds like you have done a fantastic job of letting them discover that slowly. hope you coped ok with your little boys first day at school!

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kirri January 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm

This is fascinating and reassuring reading for me at the moment Kate. I adore having identical twins, but there is always the push and pull in their relationship that has become increasingly evident for us at age six.

So great to be able to hear your reflections!

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katef February 1, 2013 at 10:53 am

I think age six was about when my girls started to disagree a lot. Looking back I think it was part of them testing the waters… disagreeing just for the sake of being ‘different’ to see how it felt, if that makes sense.

That was perhaps their first steps towards being apart and wanting to be different, before then they wanted everything to be the same, and they wanted to be the same. So it’s been a long process for us… but at 9, while they are still pushing and pulling at each other, I feel like they are beginning to find their places as individuals, as sisters and as twins.

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Jo @Countrylifeexperiment January 31, 2013 at 6:11 pm

How great it is too have supportive schools! Our local school is great, and had 4 sets of twins with 29 students… but being a 2 teacher school, there is no choice but to put them in the same class. My two girls are different ages but in the same class too.

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katef February 1, 2013 at 10:55 am

It’s funny because the other school we looked at for our girls is also tiny (four classes) so they would have been together there… which is why it was high on our list! LOL

I know there can be negative to having siblings together, but I also think there can be so many positives for many kids which we tend to overlook in our rush to make our kids ‘independent’

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Trish January 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I am very thankful to read this Kate. I appreciate you sharing.
I asked my boys kinder teacher too – and she answered similarly – “they worked well together and well apart, they rarely impacted negatively on each other and there was no reason for them not to be in the same class again”.
I had wanted them in same class to make it easier for me, truthfully – well this year anyway. Next year we may change tactics.
In the end they have the same delightful teacher for yr 1 – only 4 kids of 20 in class did. She was also the only kinder teacher who moved to yr1.
My boys are not identical but do have a strong bond (when not fighting) I don’t think they would mind either way at the moment . I do because everything I’ve read says to keep them together at least for first few years. I’d worry I was making a mistake in not advocating for them to stay together -just because a school has a policy of separating them.
We had 5 sets of twins in kinder (1 set has left) and I know they had intentions of separating identical boys who were disruptive and didn’t co-operate well (started at 4.5yrs though).

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katef February 1, 2013 at 10:57 am

I have to confess that one of my biggest worries this year is having to keep track of three different classroom schedules and paperwork etc… Having them in the same class up until now has been much easier on me and I am cursing that we decided to split them the year my middle boy started too! LOL

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EssentiallyJess January 31, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I love this Kate.
My girls have been separated from all their friends this year, and at first we all thought that was harsh until I realised it could just be an opportunity. There’s a strength that has to develop when you’re not in your comfort zone, and I think this is a great opportunity. Even better that you’ve fostered enough confidence in them that they can do it happily

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katef February 1, 2013 at 10:59 am

I have one girl who is in a class without any of her close friends and initially I was upset about that… but she wasn’t! I was so thrilled that my previously worrier was resilient enough to know that she’d make new friends and still play with old ones….

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Beth February 1, 2013 at 12:21 am

Thank you for sharing this. My identical twin daughters are seven, and they are still in the same class. We separated them last year, which they were okay with at first, but it was a very difficult year (though there were some other factors too). At the end of the year both teachers recommended putting them back together, which is what we had already decided we wanted as well. We were so grateful for their support and encouragement. This year has been great, no problems at all. It’s sometimes hard for me to recognize that being together is often what is best for them, when everyone else is trying to tell us they need to be different, and your words have been a great reminder of that, of the fact that for them, being themselves means being very similar. I love that.

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katef February 1, 2013 at 11:01 am

it took me a LONG time to understand and be ok with how similar my girls are. It seems that the whole world wants to find their differences and make them seem so important. I wonder if their sameness freaks out others a little (I know if freaks me out a tad and I am their mother)…. but once I got my head around it I think I have been able to make better decisions for my girls.

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Beth February 2, 2013 at 12:44 am

Yes, that is so true. People always want to know how they are different. And they certainly do have their differences (and some of them are big things), but they also just really love to be together and to do the same types of things. I don’t really know anyone who has twins, so your blog has been a great source of help to me. And this post in particular really resonated. It’s a hard balance, respecting their twinship while encouraging them to be individuals. Thanks for the support!

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Gina Osher February 1, 2013 at 5:28 am

I totally agree with your point, Kate, that there is no one size fits all rule when it comes to this decision. We separated our b/g twins in kindergarten because it was best for their individual needs & growth. I love how you really stuck your ground and said you knew your daughters best & staying together was what they needed at the time. I hope they love 3rd grade!

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katef February 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

Day three of grade three and all is going great… so far!

I think it’s kind of ironic that often people bang on about treating twins as ‘individuals’ but forget that when they make a grand sweeping assumption about what is best for them! LOL

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April February 2, 2013 at 9:32 am

I was very interested in reading your blog post. We have triplets GGB and they were split in grade 2 against our wishes with the girls together and my son separated due to learning difficulties he has. It was a distressing experience and they are back together for grade three. They were much more settled going back this year and they ate fighting less at home. The girls are starting to find different friends and having separate play dates. Being together gives them the support they need to be individuals. I agree with you that the parents and children will feel and know what is the best way to go in regards to separating. Even the best meaning professionals don’t seem to understand the dynamics between multiples and it should be left up to parents.

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katef February 2, 2013 at 10:26 am

You know over the years I have come to see how little people in general know about twins and multiples. I was a preschool teacher before I had mine and I naively thought I had a reasonable understanding, but I had absolutely no idea. I had no idea about the different kinds of multiples, how they develop, how they are different to singletons….
I don’t for a moment imagine teachers have time to really delve into the life of twins in depth, but I do think they need to have a basic understanding that twins are different to singletons in some ways and that different sets of twins may develop differently and at least be open to learning about these differences when they have twins in their class.
ok I’ll get off my soap box now! LOL

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April February 2, 2013 at 11:57 am

Yes you are right – I have also been teaching over 20 years but have always been intrigued by twins and love teaching them. So many of my colleagues seem to be fixated on separating them and don’t understand any of the support issues multiples may have with each other. With my own I see it as a positive thing, yet so many teachers etc don’t.

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jenny b February 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm

In an ideal world every school and every teacher would treat each child as an individual with particulatr needs – without judgement. Glad things have gone so well for Izzy and Zoe

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Lisa February 9, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Our fraternal BB twins are 6 and a half now. When they started at school, we had no strong feelings about keeping them together (they are nos 5 & 6 in our family, very different in temperament and have always been very outward facing) but the school decided to keep them together to start with. It turned out that one twin was quite ready for school. He wanted to sit down and learn on the teacher’s timetable. The other boy wasn’t as ready, and needed to spend a bit of time learning about being at school. Whenever their teacher and I would talk, we rarely discussed twin #1 – it was all about #2. Their class got too big after about 6 weeks, and they decided to split the class. Boy #1 got moved into a class with “older” 5-year olds, ones who had been at school for a while. Twin #2 was in with the newer kids, the ones still accustoming themselves to school. The school felt, and we agreed, that this gave the boys a chance to develop at their individual pace. This worked brilliantly for us, and they’ve stayed separate ever since.

Interestingly, we have done the same with swimming lessons, for much the same reasons (and also because two 6-year old boys in the water, waiting for their turn? Often not a good look).

It’s interesting to me to hear you say that people are always looking for the differences with your girls. People always seem to look for the similarities with our guys! We’re even at the point where when we start a new activity, each of us take one boy in, a couple of minutes apart, because if a teacher, coach, parent or whatever meets them at the same time, they cannot keep them straight in their heads! They are the same height, both have blue eyes and dark blonde hair, but are quite different otherwise!

I couldn’t agree more with your post. Each set of twins are two individuals and should be treated as such.

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Diane May 3, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Wow, this is exactly what I fear next year when my twin daughters start school.

They are fraternal but still want to dress the same we have to buy them the same things etc. People seem to always have an opinion, they think that by dressing them the same I’m not encouraging them to be individuals but what they don’t understand is that they don’t like to dress differently. When they get gifts from grandparents and the clothes are just different colours there are so many tears over which colour is better and why they have to wear this when they think their twin is wearing something better.

As we approach the time for me to enrol people are telling me oh twins are get separated now and it is really making me anxious.
Seems everyone is an expert on trying to force them apart when I feel like what is the rush?
Eventually they will get to that age where they can’t stand the sight of each other and don’t want the other to wear their clothes so for now why can’t I just enjoy their closeness?? It’s reassuring as well to know they are each others support when they confront new challenges. Life is hard enough so if you have you best friend with you through all the hard parts why not embrace it? I don’t know, it is hard trying to find a balance..

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