Classroom Placement: Part II – Separate Grades

I thought that once we’d decided that to place our twins in public school and in separate classrooms, we could sit back and let the kindergarten year unfold.

Some of you may recall that getting M and J into their kindergarten classes was a little stressful. Fortunately, both their teachers turned out to be skilled and committed educators who value their student’s individuality and learning styles.

In her second week of kindergarten, M brought home a list of her week’s homework assignments. J did not. A few days later, J told us that she was the only child in her classroom who didn’t have homework. We contacted her teacher, who informed us that she and M’s teacher didn’t think that their homework assignments would challenge them, and were working with a 1st grade teacher to get them 1st grade assignments to work on. J’s teacher hadn’t realized that M’s teacher had given her kindergarten assignments in the interim.

Before long, J’s teacher told us that both teachers would talk to the school administration about whether moving J and M to 1st grade would be a possibility. I panicked. I didn’t think my husband and I could look at this development objectively. He had been held back in kindergarten, and felt that he was worse off for it. It didn’t help that being held back put him in the same grade as his younger sister. My parents had turned down an opportunity for me to skip 5th grade, and I firmly believe I’m better off for completing school with my same-age peers. I couldn’t see any middle ground, and we were both solid in our beliefs. I took a less-than-mature route, and avoided thinking about the whole thing. Out of mind, out of mind.

As the first 9-week quarter drew to a close, J’s teacher told us that the principal had given J’s advancement to 1st grade her blessing. The decision was ours to make. M’s teacher, on the other hand, told us that she would like to keep M in her kindergarten class. While the academics were no challenge for M, she needed to work on time management. M inherits from me a degree of perfectionism that can be paralyzing. In her efforts to get everything absolutely right, she was having trouble completing her work. Her teacher felt that a year doing schoolwork that came easily to her would help her confidence and her ability to finish things on time.

To me, that answer was clear. There was no way I was splitting my twins into different grades. I spoke to my mommy friends, and they were all of the same mind. Whatever benefit J gleaned from skipping ahead could just as easily be accomplished by providing challenges at home. The potential impact to M’s self-esteem wasn’t worth it. This was a long-term fix for a short-term problem. It wasn’t like J was disruptive in class, or any less interested in learning than she had been before. Skipping the remainder of kindergarten would mean that J would be graduating from high school a year before her twin. No way.

My husband, however, didn’t see it that way. To him, the girls’ twinhood should be a non-issue. The question was not whether J should leave M behind, but whether J would do well in 1st grade. If J wasn’t ready to go to college at 17, she could do an extra high school year.

We went around and around. I wrote up all 19 parts of my argument so that he could respond to each one. He wrote up his 4-point perspective. We both kept “healthy, happy and whole” adulthood for our daughters at the forefront of our minds. Finally, I gave in. I hadn’t changed my mind, but he was much surer in his stance. His belief that J would benefit from being skipped ahead was stronger than my fears of harm coming to both our daughters. The argument that turned me was my husband’s statement that we shouldn’t let our fears hold our kids back when they were willing to try something new.

There was also part of me that gave in because my husband’s duties as a soldier means he rarely has a say in child-rearing decisions. He has been overseas more than he has been home in our children’s lifetime. I make most parenting decisions solo. I try to include him in big decisions, but I often can’t reach him, and whether something is a big decision or not is my call. My mother-in-law is my backup co-parent, but in this case, mommy and grandma came down on one side, and daddy and grampy on the other.

It’s been nearly two weeks now that our twins have been in different grades.

M is flourishing. She and J no longer share recess, and her confidence and self-discipline have blossomed with the realization that J’s old kindergarten classmates are her friends, not just because she’s J’s sister, but in her own right. Because she is the only child in her class who can already read, M gets to be her teacher’s special helper. J gets out of school 45 minutes later than M, so the two of us have a 45-minute block every day that is ours alone, for M to tell me about her day, for us to read to each other, for M to get her extravert time in.

J is doing pretty well. I realized yesterday that she’s unaware that she was the only child to transition classes this quarter, and we’re electing to keep her in the dark. She could use some modesty. They did have to find a new desk for her. She couldn’t see over the ones already in the room. She’s a head and a half shorter than her classmates.

Still, she’s made friends, and is learning that she isn’t always the best at everything. This afternoon was graced with an hour-long tear-storm because J had come in second in her classroom spelling bee. She had wanted to win. While I didn’t exactly enjoy that hour, I think it was good for J to learn that sometimes doing one’s best needs to be a reward in itself.

What with their different grades, their different schedules, and their different haircuts, J and M are definitely not perceived as “the twins” at school. Each of them is seen, liked, and valued for who she is.

I’m not completely convinced that this was the right decision. I spoke to an old classmate from elementary school. He and his twin skipped grades at different times. His message to me read, in part, “On a high level, the pros are that each twin develops their own circle of friends (sometimes overlapping) and that gives each of them a sense of independence. The cons are that the twin that skips usually uses it to create an air of superiority over the other twin (kids being kids and all).”

What would you have done in our shoes?

Sadia earns her paycheck doing geeky stuff at a university. The rest of her time is devoted to raising her 5-year identical girls J and M with her US soldier husband. She’s not sure where she’s from, but possesses British and Bangladeshi passports and an American green card. The family is still finding their way around their new home in El Paso, Texas.

17 thoughts on “Classroom Placement: Part II – Separate Grades

  1. I found this really interesting – (and imagine your kids can only benefit from having two parents thinking in detail and differently!) I like your husband’s point that maybe we impose this sameness on twins when we wouldn’t hesitate to make separate arrangements if they were not twins. I think about this particular question of school years sometimes. I was moved up a year (at the age of about 11 I think) and it was done in very good faith but I always wonder if I would do the same for a child of mine. If it ever comes up I’ll think of you (and of the child I hope). Here’s also wishing you all good luck!

  2. When I started reading this I really didn’t think the result would be to separate them! It’s an interesting perspective and somewhat ties into my philosophy that Ned and Penny are just siblings who happened to share a womb.

    However, I’m a triplet (all girls) and I would have been DEVISTATED if my sister Allie (the clearly smartest one) was skipped ahead. There would have been so many comparisons, trying to explain in middle school and high school (when kids can be cruel). I would have felt left behind (which is why I doubled up in math one year to “catch” up into the advanced Calculus class because it shouldn’t just be for Allie). I think I would be more apt to keep them together as all girls than if they had been boy/girl twins because there are fewer comparisons with different sex twins. I appreciate your decision I just know what it was like as a multiple (Allie by the way looked NOTHING like me and Stacey) and I probably would have come out with a different decision.

    This more often comes up in the area of “not being ready”. With B/G twins and an end of August birthday I was worried that maybe Ned wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten or first grade when Penny is. After starting preschool I’m not as worried but I wonder if any reader has a perspective on the “holding back” of one multiple.

    I also wanted to chime in that when my husband feels strongly about something (like our Nanny coming back with her baby to take care of all FOUR kids (yikes!)) I did compromise/give in. I handle so much of the day-to-day decisions (activities, clothes, food) that when he feels strongly about something I’m apt to listen and respond.

  3. I am facing a similar situation with my kids. However, my two are boy/girl so issues are different.

    I’ve always told them that if they are not developing separate friends … they WILL be split up … this is easier for them because we don’t have same sex twins.

    But now I’m faced with my son being much more advanced than his twin sister. He could clearly move up a grade. In our particular school, they address this by having a class that is made up of first graders and Kinders.

    They take the advanced 1st graders and pair them with advanced K’s. This allows both grades to work in smaller groups and do more advanced work.

    We would love to move him to that class but we are concerned that it will destroy his sisters self esteem. Maybe not now … but definitely an issue for later years.

    For now, we provide additional challenges at home and that is working out great for our family.

    I think the issue of separating twins is interesting … everyone talks and talks about them being individuals but I don’t hear much about the fact that they ARE part of a duo. There are many benefits to learning about being in an inseparable partnership …

    I often wonder if families with twins have better relationships over all …

    Do twins have an easier time in marriage? Do they have fewer divorces? They grew up constantly having to consider another person … and more importantly … they grew up as part of a duo while maintaining a life as an individual as well.

    Ultimately, I think moving one twin ahead a grade is not a good idea. The one left behind (in my opinion) could start to have a self esteem issue … maybe not now but I can’t imagine how she will feel as a teen having to explain to everyone that she was not smart enough to move up with her identical twin sister.

    I agree that imposing “sameness” on twins is something to be cautious about … but it is there nonetheless and should not be ignored.

  4. Wow, Sadia, this is a tough one! I honestly have no idea what my husband and I would have decided in your shoes. I do agree that the comment your husband made about fear incapacitating us from trying something different is one to consider deeply. I think the process and thoughtfulness that you both used was the right approach. Both girls “seem” so insightful by your writings that I would worry what will happen as they get older, and how you will frame that conversation. I can only imagine how difficult this decision was for you personally and frankly stressful on a relationship.

  5. It sounds like you made the right decisions for your girls, Sadia. I’m so glad it’s working out! I know I was on the side of keeping them together, but after reading this I can see the benefits more clearly. I never even considered the angle of M gaining her “own” friends. Sure, there may be a time when one sister “lords it over” the other, if it were not this it would likely be something else. We all have to realize that each of us is talented in her own way, right? It works out for the best because we make it so. Thank you for the update.

  6. I’m going to talk to my DH about this tonight. I have a funny feeling that he’ll feel the way your husband felt but I agree with your initial reaction. I worry a lot that we may be faced with something like this when our girls reach that age.

    I am always concerned with kids skipping a grade and missing the social development, but obviously your kids’ teachers took this into consideration. It sounds like you have some great educators who have your kids’ best interests at mind and heart, that is wonderful.

    My concern, along with one of them ‘lording it’ over the other, would be the labeling and teasing that the other kids might dish out when they realize that they are twins but one got ‘left back.’ The ‘Smart one’ and ‘dumb one’ or ‘slow one…’ Kids can be so mean. But as a previous poster mentioned, there would be comparisons anyway within who was better at math or reading or PE anyway. I hope your kiddos continue to thrive in their classes!

  7. I would not. My perspective is actually as a teacher and I feel like kids get so much out of the kindergarten year in general – learning to be in a school environment, just learning the routines of schools, how to get along with a large group of kids, even when you don’t like them, taking turns, and so many basic concepts that are just not addressed in another grade. I would be more likely to let my child skip in first or second grade than kindergarten. Also, no matter what grade a child is in, there are vast differences within a classroom and the teachers should be able to differentiate for whatever level they are on no matter what.

  8. Oh wow, what a tough situation to have to deal with!

    I wouldn’t split my twins into different grades, but I also wouldn’t have any of my kids skip a grade. I kept them out of school an extra year, because I can’t see any benefit to graduating from high school at age 17 or just-barely 18. In every conversation I’ve had with people who were put into school early, skipped a grade, or were among the youngest in their classes, they report it having been a negative experience. There are so many opportunities to challenge a child academically, at home and in the classroom, and so far all my kids’ teachers have been eager to do so.

    I am surprised your husband wanted to split them up, since he felt he was worse off for being held back and put into the same grade with his younger sister. I assumed at least part of that feeling was because of the stigma of being with his younger sister and losing his “place” in the family pecking order.

    Also, I don’t know how you take the fact of their being twins out of the equation. At least with my boys, their relationship with each other is so important, and much closer than a sibling bond. I am outside of it, and really powerless to understand it or attempt to eliminate it from factoring into anything.

    I will be interested to find out how it goes. It sounds like you’ve found a lot of positives in the new arrangement. I hope it continues to be a good experience for all of you!

  9. Wow. Just WOW. holy hard decision batman! That’s insane. Reading this made me realize that I MISS your blog. Please please please send me an invite!!!

    What would I have done? I would have kept them in the same grade. Maybe that would be letting my feelings, fears and insecurities rule when I SHOULD be doing what is best for the girls’….but that’s just me. Right now M & C are in the same pre-school class and I am regretting putting them together. C came home sick today and M opted to stay. M came home going on and on about all the friends she talked to. Hubby, on the other hand, thinks they should be together until the ask to be separated. I’m fairly confident that next year they will NEED to be apart. they are already the oldest kids in their GRADE – not just class. But I think they needed this year together to transition from a home-based & small day care setting to a full-time, full-day structured school setting.

    I MISS HEARING FROM YOU!!!!!!!

  10. I was thinking about this more — this is SUCH a good question you’ve raised — and thought that if both twins were similar in abilities, I would be even less inclined to split them. If one were advanced and the other was a slower learner, it would be more of a choice to consider. But if both girls are way above grade level, I wouldn’t want to skip one and not the other.

  11. Wow, what a hard decision. FWIW (and I’m mostly including this for others, since it sounds like you and your husband weighed all the pros and cons very carefully), our twin club had Joan Friedman, a psychotherapist who is author of Emotionally Healthy twins, an identical twin herself, and the mother of fraternal twin boys, as a speaker recently. One mom asked what she should do about her kids, who were near the kindergarten age cutoff. She felt her daughter was ready for K but her son was not. Joan, who throughout the talk had emphasized treating twins as individuals, felt that the social issues of putting one twin in a higher grade than the other were not worth it. While she advocated separate classes for them, she was not in favor of one being in K while the other stayed in PreK.

    I’ll email you the notes from her talk if you want–you’re welcome to post them here as far as I’m concerned, if it would be of use to others. I haven’t read her book but it’s on my to-read list.

  12. Very interesting post Sadia, and courageous decision from you and your husband. His point about not letting your fears rule is a good one. I have no idea how I would have dealt with this. Before reading your post I think it would be to keep them together. On the other hand when someone asked me if one of my kids was ready for school and the other wasn’t would i send the one who was, my instinctive response was YES. It’s nice that you have that extra 45 minutes alone with M every day, and from past posts it seems that your daughters have a very close relationship – so they might get past the negative feelings and comments from others. Hope you can keep us updated on how this set-up works for you! Good luck.

  13. To me, this brings up a very interesting point that I struggle with, which is this: with the modern day focus on PRE-K and Preschool (which did not exist until fairly recently) have we re-defined kindergarten or (GASP ) might we be guilty of “over-preparing” our precious darlings for kindergarten itself? What is the point of all the preparation and acceleration in advance of a certain grade, and of accelerating through elementary school anyway? I struggle with these issues. My boys will start kindergarten in Fall of 2012 and if anything, they are probably “under”-prepared. I suppose I will find out…

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