After deciding on the make and model of double stroller, the second biggest question facing parents of multiples is whether or not to split up their multiples when they reach school age. On the one hand, parents don’t want to send their children into new environments without the child’s sibling, who is often their best friend(s). Multiples have the unique experience of growing up with a constant companion and separating them can be traumatic. On the other hand, parents and teachers worry about the dynamics of the multiple unit. Often the unit will have a more dominant member and another passive member. Keeping the unit together discourages the individual development of the members of the unit.
Parents of multiples are no strangers to these pros and cons. But there are deeper issues that come up when multiples are separated and when they are kept together in a classroom that I didn’t realize until the side effects materialized, sometimes years down the road. I spoke with other parents of multiples and here’s what we discovered:
When multiples are in different class rooms, several things can happen:
1) They aren’t exposed to the same information, teaching style, and classroom emphasis. Each teacher is unique and while they have standards they need to meet in their classroom curriculum, their emphasis is unique. This is especially true for preschool through second grade.
In our case, we had our twins together for their first year of preschool, apart for their second, and together again for their third year of preschool. That second year, one of my twins was in a class with a teacher that emphasized reading and the other was in a class that emphasized math. We are two years out of that experience, and even though both of my twins were in the same class for two years after they were separated, the disparity between their abilities in math and reading is still marked. Could one just naturally be a better reader and the other better with math? Since they weren’t exposed to the same teaching environment, we’ll never know. But they are identical, so the hardwiring is the same.
For this reason, parents of multiples I know keep their kids together until third grade, when the pressure of standardized tests push for more of a consistent classroom curriculum between teachers.
2) Teachers have a hard time remembering that your multiple has a sibling that looks just like them. This is especially true for identical twins, but can be true for fraternal multiples that look very similar to each other. “What’s the big deal?” you may ask. Teachers get confused when they think they see a student who should be in their classroom in another class, the child is falsely accused of sneaking out of the classroom, general chaos ensues which can be stressful for the child. You might think this is rare, but my twins were in separate classes two separate years and both years they were falsely accused of sneaking out of class. It’s hard to be 3 or 5 years old and be seen as guilty until proved innocent.
3) Teachers have a hard time remembering that you as a parent are outnumbered by children at home. This is especially true for teachers who do not have their own kids. Even if you’re at a 1:1 ratio with adults and children in your house, it’s rare that all adults can help your kids with their homework at night. It usually falls to one person. And when the kids are doing the same homework and you’re the only one helping them, the homework is going to look the same. Try as you might to explain the situation, the teachers will still think that one multiple copied the other’s homework. Teachers with multiples in the same classroom have the ability to know each multiple individually and can pick out the subtle differences in homework two separate teachers would miss.
4) On the plus side, your multiples might get along better at home. Even multiples that have developed their own language need a break from each other sometimes. Consistent time apart at school might be just what they need to smooth out the tough times at home.
When multiples are in the same classroom, other things can happen:
1) Their classmates may have a hard time telling them apart and recognizing their uniqueness. The entire time my twin boys were in the same class in preschool, they were known as “Willandhenry” by their classmates. It was each of their names because their friends couldn’t tell them apart. The boys didn’t mind. They would kindly point out who was who. But if your multiples are sensitive to people knowing who they really are, they might do better in separate classrooms.
2) They will be compared to each other, BY EVERYONE, including the most well-meaning teacher. EVERYONE compares multiples to each other. Especially identical twins. Maybe they’re verbalizing the thought process they’re going through as they try to find ways to tell the multiples apart. Perhaps teachers think you constantly compare your multiples to each other at home. Regardless the cause, people don’t realize that when they compare multiples to each other, they attach labels. One becomes “the social one,” the other becomes “the smart one.” Kids inevitably hear these labels and start to believe them. Or resent their sibling because of those perceived labels.
Ultimately, the decision to keep multiples together or apart in classes falls heavily with the parents. It’s a difficult decision with long lasting pros and cons for both outcomes. In the end, you know your multiples best. Make an informed decision while listening to your heart and do what is best for your kids.