In most cases, twins will spend nearly every waking moment of the first few years of their lives together. While this may be true among some siblings as well, both identical and fraternal twins share a closeness and a bond - desired or not - that others may never be able to understand.
The big question
From play dates and doctors appointments to naptime and daycare, multiples go through nearly every experience together. However, as formal schooling rolls around, parents of twins are faced with a decision: to separate twins into different classrooms or to keep them together?
In the past, twins were divided into two separate classes as soon as they entered the private or public school system, according to the Scholastic resource Parent & Child Magazine. The idea was that this division would enable twins to find their own individuality. Schools would often choose the age at which these children would be placed in the rooms of different teachers.
Until formal schooling, twins generally spend nearly every moment of their lives together.
This general guideline that twins be separated, followed by many schools across the country, is based on a misconception of physical detachment, Mary Lamia, Ph.D., explained in Psychology Today. It is widely believed that this physical separation in different classrooms is what allows each child to forge their own path and identity. According to Lamia, however, this notion undermines the unparalleled bond between twins. It is, in fact, the emotional resonance that twins experience when together that helps them create a sense of individuality. As she explained, the importance comes down to how twins are treated as individuals, regardless of shared bedroom, classroom or sports team.
Today, there are "twin laws" in existence that allow parents the power to provide input on placement of their twins. At the end of the day, the general consenus is that there should be no set guidelines regarding the separation of twins in preschool classrooms. As Scholastic resource Parent & Child Magazine explained, the most important thing is to observe and respect the special twin bond while still allowing each student to grow as his or her own person. The source advised following the words of Dr. Eileen Pearlman and treating each set of twins on a case-by-case basis.
"The only absolute rule about the best way to educate twins is that there are no absolute rules," wrote Pearlman in her book 'Raising Twins.'
Disadvantages of separate classroom placement
In some cases, especially at the preschool level, dividing twins into two classrooms can have disadvantages. Within some sets of twins, one may be more dependent on the other, explained mother of twins Alanna McGinn in Today's Parent. When this is the case, having both kids in the same room with the same teacher can help ease the anxiety of the dependent twin attending school for the first time. The first year of learning and being away from home can be overwhelming as it is. With a built-in best friend by their side, taking on this big change can feel less intimidating. With that best buddy, teammate and friend right there with them, both twins may be more likely to engage, make new friends and develop social skills.
"Some twins find the classroom separation to be traumatic."
As The New York Times reported, the separation of twins at such a young age can be quite traumatic for some. Breaking up this healthy twin bond may not have the desired results teachers, administrators and even parents may think it will have. Moreover, if the two are learning in different educational environments, their reading, math or other skills may develop at different rates.
Additionally, if there is a sense of competition between twins, the segregation may in fact only make things worse. At the end of the day, the battle to share details or schools, friends or teachers may be too much at this young age when a sense of self is still being developed.
Advantages of separate classrooms for twins
However, there can also be advantages to separating twins into different classrooms. As the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative explained, two classrooms with two different teachers can help to reduce the natural comparison that often happens with twins. Though typically unintended, teachers, other parents and peers alike have a tendency to pass judgment on who they might perceive as the better or the smarter twin. Without this juxtaposition, identical or fraternal young learners are given the freedom to learn, develop and excel at their own pace.
At times, toddlers have trouble developing social skills with others because of all the time spent with their co-twin. In these instances, learning in different classrooms with new faces can help enhance these skills and create new friendships. Some twins may be known for behavioral disruptions or distractions when together. As such, this is a time when separate placement has its advantages, noted the ECP Collaborative.
In separate classes, twins will have their own stories to share.
As Kerry Bergeman, mother of one set of fraternal twin girls and another set of identical twins girls wrote in Twiniversity, placement in two different classrooms gives her little ones the chance to tell about the school day without interruption or feedback from the other. In a sense, two classes allow twins to finally have their own stories to tell. While throughout preschool experiences were almost always shared, separated twins now have their own unique happenings to report.
Another benefit of different school days is that twins - at this young age - do not know how the other is performing. For example, if one was placed in an advanced math group while the other was struggling, the latter twin would not feel embarrassed or self-conscious, noted Bergeman.
When twins are placed in the same classroom, there are important considerations for early childhood educators to keep in mind. Though it may go without being said, all teachers should make a conscious effort to treat twins as individuals, rather than as a unit, noted Teach Preschool. Discover each child's unique interests and characteristics, rather than assuming that all will be the same.
"Teach twins as individuals, rather than as a unit."
It is crucial that teachers avoid labeling twins based on superlatives as a means of telling them apart. For example, do not focus on calling one twin "the creative one" or the other "the outgoing one," even if the labels are positive. Because no matter how supportive these attributes are, it is naturally inferring that the other twin is not that thing.
As teacher resource blog Clutter-Free Classroom emphasized, it is very important that you make a real effort to find traits to tell them apart. This is important for the education of each child, as one twin may have a very different learning style than the other. Knowing who is who is essential for their success in the classroom. Likewise, you should encourage other students to find ways to tell them apart though typically, it is other young children who are best at doing so.
Another crucial rule of thumb is to ensure that you don't hold one responsible for the other's words or actions: They are two different people in charge of their own person. Likewise, if one twin has accomplished an achievement or milestone, do not hold back on recognizing and celebrating that twin just because the other one has not gotten there yet. Though being aware of feelings is important, taking away the achievements of one twin is not the answer.
At the end of the day, twins are just like everyone else and it is the health, wellness and education of each child that should come first.