Twins in School

Part 1: Making the Decision About Classroom Placement

school twins
Photo Getty Images / Digital Visition.

You've survived the sleepless nights of infancy and the chaos of toddlerhood. Now it's time to conquer the next big challenge in your multiples' lives: starting school. Along with this milestone comes an important decision regarding their education: should your twins (triplets, or more) attend the same class, or be assigned to different teachers in separate classrooms?

Unlike multiple choice quizzes in school, there is no single correct answer to the question of classroom placement with twins and other multiples.

There are good reasons supporting both choices. However, it is an issue that can't be taken lightly, and ideally, one that should be reevaluated every school year. Ultimately, the decision should be made by parents, based on recommendations from past and present teachers, school administrators, and with consideration for the wishes of the children involved.

However, many school systems would prefer to make the choice for parents, by instituting a blanket policy that covers all multiples that enroll in public school. A recent survey by the National Organization of Mother of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC) indicated that 43% of educators believe that all multiples should be separated in school, beginning in kindergarten. Generally, these policies reflect that belief, claiming that separation benefits the individual children. However, many parents suspect the policies are implemented for the convenience of educators and are based on a misunderstanding of the true nature of twinship.

Parents who believe that separation would be detrimental to their children may have to confront school administrators in order to keep them together.

So how can parents confidently make this crucial decision for their children? This article provides some criteria to consider. In recent years, psychologists and twin experts recommend that unless there is a compelling reason to separate multiples, the benefits of keeping them together -- especially in the early primary years -- outweigh the detriments.

As you go through the decision-making process, seek input from every available source: Ask questions and listen to the answers carefully.

* Talk to other parents of multiples who have school-aged children. You can meet them in your local multiples club. Find out what worked -- and what didn't work -- for their children, and what factors figured into their decision.

* Talk to teachers. Talk to your multiples' past, present and future teachers. If they've not yet been involved in a school environment, talk to babysitters and caregivers at your daycare, church or playgroup. Ask them how your multiples interact with playmates and each other when you're not around. Are they sociable? Do they play only with each other and exclude others? Is one more shy or outgoing? You would be surprised at the discrepancy between parents' perceptions of their children and teachers' experience. Even though you know your children best, don't discount the teacher's evaluation.

Discuss the issue with administrators and counselors at the schools your children will attend.

Find out what their policies are and question the reasoning behind them.

* Talk to your twins, triplets, quads or more. Ask your multiples what they want. Even if their wishes don't factor into the ultimate decisions, you should consider their feelings. You might be surprised at what they tell you. Depending on their maturity level, try to schedule a time to discuss the issue with each child privately.

* Listen to your heart. You know your children better than anyone else. Have confidence in your instincts. As your multiples grow and develop, so will their needs, and the best option may fluctuate from school year to school year. Recognize that the situation may be different next year -- and sometimes even next month! -- so give yourself the flexibility to reconsider your options.

10 Reasons to Put Twins in Different Classes

Most of the reasons that would justify the separation of multiples in school are focused on avoiding some kind of negative circumstance. Many of these factors are potentialities or possibilities, not certainties. However a combination of these factors or a situation where the circumstance truly does exist and creates a problem would certainly dictate separation.

Avoiding Confusion

Identical twins who look very similar may confuse teachers and other students. It's distressing for everyone when multiples can't be told apart -- embarrassing for the teacher and frustrating for the children. Teachers who demand that the children wear dissimilar clothes or use other tactics (like nametags) to tell them apart only compound the problem. So do those who ignore the issue and resort to calling both children by a common name or treating them as a unit.

Separating the twins alleviates the issue altogether, however, this is a pretty weak argument for separation. In most circumstances, a sensitive and committed teacher can learn within a few days -- weeks at most -- how to distinguish between the children. Classmates will likely be able to tell even sooner!

Avoiding Distraction

Parents of multiples know better than anyone that their children's special status attracts attention.

Face it, people are fascinated. The presence of multiples in the classroom, and the accompanied attention they generate, can be a distraction to the educational process. So too, can the relationship between the children themselves. Twins have a unique dynamic. Unlike the relationship between fellow classmates, these children are siblings.

They share a great deal. Young children cannot be expected to leave their family "baggage" at the door of the schoolroom when their co-twin/classmate provides a constant reminder of their home situation. Thus, the multiples themselves may find each other a distraction in class. And if the teacher has to get involved to settle their disputes or control their shared antics, it's disruptive to the entire class.

Avoiding Comparison

From even before birth, multiples are constantly compared and contrasted. "She's bigger than he is." "He eats more than he does." "She has more hair." "She crawled first, but he walked sooner." Most of the time, the comparative statements are tolerated and accepted, but once multiples enter school, they may become distressing, especially when one twin consistently outperforms the other.

Even if no one vocalizes the differences in achievement, children are sensitive to them. For example, before entering first grade, one of my identical twin daughters started to read voraciously, selecting more and more challenging books.

Meanwhile, her twin sister assumed she was a "bad" reader because she was still tackling grade-level-appropriate picture books. It impacted her self-esteem quite negatively until they started first grade in separate classes. Being allowed to develop at her own pace, out of the shadow of her sister, she realized that she was right on target. She gained confidence and quickly caught up with her sister.

Suppressing Harmful Competition

Out of comparison grows competition. Multiples are constantly in competition for even the most basic resources; from before birth, they compete for nutrients and space in the womb. After birth they compete for parental attention, affection, toys, and to be "first" in every conceivable way Some competition is certainly healthy; it drives ambition, encourages achievement, and spurs enthusiasm. But constant competition can be detrimental to multiples in an educational setting, replacing the joy of learning with a pressure to outperform a sibling. Parents of multiples recognize that the competitive dynamic between their children extends beyond the drive to earn higher grades. It exists on every level, from who gets to get on the school bus first to who has more pencils to who has the better best friend. Students who rush through schoolwork simply to finish before their twin won't have much academic success.

Decreasing Dependency

Every relationship between multiples is unique. In some situations, there is clearly a codependency, with one twin or triplet established as a leader and the other(s) as follower(s). Parents who want to discourage that dynamic might consider separating the children in school, allowing the dependent child to develop on his own outside the shadow of his co-multiple(s).

Fostering Individuality

Fostering individuality in multiples is certainly an important goal for parents and one that can be served well by separating the children in school. Separate classrooms may provide an opportunity for each child to develop their own friendships, accomplish their own goals, pursue their own interests and establish their own identity. However, multiples have their entire lives to become individuals -- and they will, at their own pace, no matter what external influence parents prescribe.

10 Reasons to Keep Twins Together At School

Unless there is a compelling reason to separate them, the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC) and other experts advocate keeping them together, especially in early elementary years. There are hundreds of small reasons why staying together is a benefit, and one very significant factor: the unique and special relationship that multiples share with each other.

The Bond

The bond between multiples is powerful. Parents of multiples can observe it and appreciate it, but unless they themselves are also multiples, they can't fully understand it. To a child who has never known a moment of life without his co-multiple -- even before life actually began -- a forced separation can be severely traumatic.

Nonmultiples can perhaps relate the experience to a relationship with a spouse. Certainly, you could face the challenges of day-to-day life without the presence of your beloved, but doesn't it make it easier and more enjoyable when you're together? Thus it is with multiples in the school environment. Proponents of separation argue that having multiples together in the classroom is a distraction; however it can be just as distracting to sever the bond. Children who are wondering "What's my twin doing? Where is she? Why aren't we together? Were we separated because we were bad?" can't favorably focus on their school work.

Twin Services, a nonprofit resource and consulting service for families with multiples, explains it this way. "Twins and triplets just starting school usually benefit from the social support they give each other when they are in the same room. They seem to find it easy to engage in different activities when they have the option of being together.

When they are forced to separate into different classrooms, they get the message that there is something wrong about being a twin or a triplet. They may suffer emotional stress from worry about their absent co-twin(s) and find it difficult or impossible to do their school work."

Starting school in kindergarten or first grade can be a very anxious experience for some children. The new environment, with unfamiliar faces, rules, schedules, and academic demands can be overwhelming. Young multiples simply may not be able to make the transition to the school routine without the comfort of their co-twin. Some say that forcing them to do so is discriminatory, that being a multiple is an inherent condition of birth like race or gender. Others claim that it is like denying a diabetic child access to insulin. At any rate, in situations where it is obvious that separating multiples would generate genuine distress for the children, keeping them together is certainly warranted. Forcing them to separate can have ramifications for the future too.

An unpleasant early school experience sets the stage for future academic and social problems.

Many people view the bond between multiples as unhealthy -- a dependency, a limitation that excludes outside relationships, a suffocation of individuality, a font of jealousy and rivalry. However, most multiples, and their parents, recognize it as a wonderful gift. Every twinship, like every child, is unique and has to be evaluated as such.

Learning Style

Much emphasis has been focused on matching students with teachers based on learning/teaching styles. In many schools, the staff provides an excellent variety of teaching styles and personalities that meet the needs of a wide range of students. Due to genetic compatibility, multiples often have similar learning styles and aptitudes and they deserve to be matched with a teacher that will provide them the best possible educational experience.

And often, especially in smaller elementary schools, there is only one teacher that makes that match. To split the multiples between classrooms would deny one of the children an optimal learning environment.

Educators tend to be very sensitive about this issue, and when addressing it, parents should recognize that teachers -- like children -- should never be classified as "bad" or "good." Rather teachers possess different styles and qualifications, and matching those characteristics with the needs of individual children makes every classroom more productive.


Some may feel that making a decision based on convenience is selfish, foolish or maybe even hypocritical since parents accuse educators of wanting to separate multiples simply because it's easier. But no one can deny the benefits generated by parents who are wholly committed to and involved in their children's' education. Volunteering in the classroom or in the school, reviewing homework assignments, communicating regularly with teachers, chaperoning field trips, donating supplies ...

parents of multiples can contribute a great deal more when their efforts are focused on one class, rather than two, three or more.

In some situations, particularly in half-day preschool or kindergarten programs, there is only one available class. Requiring separation would mean transporting one multiple to the morning session and one to the afternoon, or sending one child to attend a two-day session, while the other attended three days.

Obviously, the benefits of convenience should be considered.

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