back to (home)school with twins

Where we left off (more than a year ago… whoops!), our twins’ IQ test results placed just one of them into our public school’s gifted program, which helped solidify our decision to homeschool them – and eventually all four of our children (girls ages 11 and almost 7, and our twin boys, who turn 9 today!)  – for the 2012-2013 school year.

We are now one week into our 2nd school year at home, and I’ve learned a lot. Not about geography and grammar and other boring stuff, but about my children.

Homeschooling twins: 5 key take-aways

  1. The bond between my kids – not just my twins – is stronger. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, our oldest was at a different school than our twins and our youngest, who form a very tight trio. Over the last year I’ve noticed a change in how our oldest relates to the other three, and I think being home with the other three has made her feel less left out of twinhood. When most of the neighborhood kids went back to school and there was no one to play with but each other, my kids got really close. Over the last couple months my kids have been picked on and ostracized by a handful of neighborhood kids, but rather than being upset at being left out, they’ve felt pretty meh about it all. They enjoy each other. And I love it.
  2. I have perspective on my twins’ academic strengths and weaknesses. The twin with the lower IQ finished math a full month ahead of his brother last year, and is much more successful at employing various strategies to solve multiplication problems in his head, for example. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see this for myself if they were in school. And if I’d placed his brother into the gifted program, the not-gifted twin wouldn’t have gotten the chance to surpass his brother academically every now and again, and build his confidence.
  3. It doesn’t solve everything. The twin with the higher IQ tested into a higher math this year. (So far no one has noticed.) I’m still doing school work twice. We’re still dealing with “mean kids” and bullying.   
  4. They are less like twins; more like brothers. Because they are at home with people who can tell them apart, and because they are doing different work, there isn’t anything “twinny” about their day-to-day life. I don’t know that this is good or bad for them – I imagine that, for them, everything is “twinny” as much as it is not. But it is good for their older sister, and at least I know they aren’t being placed in the wrong levels or called by a hybrid name all day.
  5. There is no peer pressure. Including peer pressure to pronounce words. Being at home with people who can [mostly] understand their garbled speech has in no way motivated my boys to work hard on speech skills. In. No. Way.  

Jen is a work-from-home mom of twin boys who turn 9 today, and two girls ages 11 and almost 7.Once in a blue moon, she blogs at Minivan MacGyver about stuff like speech therapy and homeschooling and how there is not one single day without multiple kid activities and other stuff the rest of the internet seems to deal with in a much calmer fashion.

Talking to Kids About Chronic Illness

My 6-year-olds love going through the drive through pharmacy. They’re fascinated by the hardware that allows me and the pharmacist to send clipboards, debit cards and medications back and forth without my having to leave the driver’s seat of my car. They never tire of the box magically closing just before it disappears into the cavern above our heads.

While we were waiting for my refills and debit card yesterday, M wanted to know what the medicine was for. I told her I’d explain on the way home. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

I have clinical depression.

I didn’t say I was depressed. I’m not depressed. My emotional and mood responses to the challenges in my life are proportional and appropriate. I see the little joys in my day. My temper is completely under control. I don’t find myself needing to examine my every thought to determine whether it’s a real one or the product of a brain that isn’t working right. It doesn’t take an all-consuming act of will to get out of bed, eat, or breathe. Not any more.

I explained to my daughter that, many years ago, I started having horrible feelings of sadness. There wasn’t a reason to be sad, at least not as sad as I felt. Some mornings, my brain would tell my body to sit up, but my body wouldn’t listen. The sadness was controlling my body. I went to a doctor and a counselor–my daughter knows about counselors because her school has two amazing ones–and tried to fix things by thinking about my feelings, talking about my feelings, understanding my feelings. It wasn’t enough. I tried all the things we practice at home to manage our feelings: deep breaths, time out, reading a book, writing about our feelings, asking for help. It just wasn’t enough.

Finally, my doctor told me that I have an illness called “depression.” Everyone’s brain has chemicals in it, just like all other parts of the body, to make sure it works right. For some reason we don’t understand, some of my brain’s chemicals were missing. (I figured that 6 was a little young to go into serotonin reuptake. “Missing chemicals” would have to do.) The doctor recommended that I take medicine to help. I didn’t want to take medicine to put new chemicals in my brain. That sounded scary to me.

“This is a scary story!” my daughter interjected.

I asked if she wanted me to stop. She wanted to hear the ending, so I continued.

I started taking the medicine. After a few months, I felt better. My body started listening to my brain, and I felt happy. When I did feel sad, there was a reason, and fixing the reason fixed the sadness. My brain was all better.

When I decided to have babies, I didn’t want those medicines in their bodies. Their brains probably would never need them, and it’s not a good idea to have medicine in your body that you don’t need. With a doctor’s help, I stopped taking my medicines, and I still felt fine.

I had my beautiful little girls. (M smiled at that.) For four years, I felt just fine. Then, one day, the bad sadness came back. I recognized it right away this time. I went back to the doctor, and told them that I had depression and that it was making me feel sick again. He asked me to try the medicines that had worked before, and they worked again.

“So if you don’t take your medicine, you’ll be sick?” M asked.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I’ll probably just be the same that I always am, but this sickness, depression, might come back and make my brain sick again. Since the medicine helps make sure that I stay healthy in my brain, I keep taking it. There may be a good reason to stop taking it some day and be careful about watching my brain health, but for now, I think I should keep taking it.”

“Okay,” she said. And that was that.

J looked up from the book she was reading. “Did you say something about being sick?”

I told her we’d talk about it another time.

Sadia is a divorced mother of precocious 6-year-old identical twin girls. She works in higher education information technology and has her depression well managed. She hopes that some day, the stigma of mental illness will go that way of cancer stigma. She believes that knowledge is power. So is compassion.

Sneak Previews at School

My twin daughters M and J are in different classrooms at elementary school. Their teachers collaborate a lot, so the girls tend to cover the same course material at the same time, and are actually taught together–along with the other set of identical twins in their classes–for Language Arts.

When it comes to art, physical education, and music, though, the girls’ classes are on different schedules. They have different music teachers and learn different songs in music class while learning the same musical concepts.

Yesterday, M told me, she knew all the answers in music class. She “cheated” (her word) because J had told her all about her music class the day before. She earned a sticker for being about to explain the difference between beat and rhythm. M told the teacher that she had an unfair advantage because J had told her everything already, and the teacher didn’t seem to think much of it.

I can imagine that J’s music teacher might be pleased that J took away enough from class to want to and be able to share her new knowledge with a peer. However, I don’t want either of my daughters to be deprived of the joy of discovery in the classroom. I don’t want them to have an unfair advantage over their peers, either, from the early access to classroom material having a twin provides. When the time comes, I want them to choose to avoid previews of test questions, for instance, that would allow them to game the system. J and M are only 6 years old now, but I can only imagine that the next 6 years will rush by me just as fast as the last 6 did.

At the recommendation of some friends, I think I will talk to both girls about holding back from spilling the beans on new knowledge in the classroom until Sissy has had a chance to have the same experience with her teacher. Of course, I want them to feel like they can talk to each other, especially if they find schoolwork engaging. Some of my most effective learning in school came from discussing classroom material with my friends and getting their insights and perspectives.

How would you approach the matter of exposure to common course material at different times with your multiples? Has this come up?

Sadia’s identical twin daughters, J and M, attend dual language Spanish-English first grade in Central Texas. They have the same homework assignments, but get to choose 3 of 7 possible homework exercises each week per language, which keeps things interesting. They are lucky to have art and music at their school, in this age of funding cuts.

Where My Twins’ IQ Test Results Throw Me Into a Tizzy

Our identical (we think?) twin boys are in 1st grade now. While their speech issues hinder their spelling, they’re still performing above grade level in language arts. But math is where they really excel. This fall, G’s standardized test scores for math were the highest in the class, well above the 99th percentile threshold. Right now a parent volunteer is running a pull-out group for some of the kids who can do more challenging work, but next year that might not be an option. We wondered if the boys might be able to jump a grade for math. This isn’t something our district does readily, so we knew we’d have to push. We requested that our boys be tested for the district’s gifted program — if they qualified, we’d have the leverage we need to push for differentiation.

We were surprised by our results. G did not qualify for the gifted program, missing the cut-off by 4 IQ points. P did qualify.

Initially, I was upset with myself for even requesting the test. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of one qualifying and the other not.  Now we had this bona fide test result, on paper, saying G was less capable than his brother. And G has always struggled with self-confidence.

We had a conundrum, too. While we agreed it would be devastating to G for us to place P in the gifted program, we didn’t feel good about withholding enrichment opportunities from P just because his brother didn’t qualify. This is similar to the situation HDYDI blogger Sadia faced this year, except she was faced with moving one of her twins to first grade while the other remained in kindergarten. In researching what to do for our boys, I found this study of different twin types and their reactions to having one twin placed in a gifted program, while the co-twin was not. It definitely affirmed our gut feeling that our boys wouldn’t do well in that situation.

The more I’ve thought about it, the less I trust the IQ test results. I consulted with the director of the university speech clinic the boys attend, and she felt his speech issues could have thrown off the results. G is very aware of his articulation errors, and speaks very slowly to strangers so they can understand him. P does not make any effort to slow his speech for the benefit of others. The speech clinic director said G is likely to choose his words based on what will be easy for him to pronounce and for others to understand, rather than choosing the words that best convey his meaning. G is a kid who asks for math work on his days off of school, because he says he feels anxious on days when he doesn’t get to do math. He picked up his sister’s 4th grade math workbook and started completing the pages for fun. My other two kids who do qualify for the gifted program don’t do anything like this.

We will probably have him retested at some point, so we know what all of our options are. Our oldest child attends a charter school for academically gifted students, and our public schools have various levels of differentiation available. For now we won’t retest — G said he didn’t like the test and it was boring, so I hate to put him through the same thing with the same test administrator this school year. In the meantime we’ve decided to home school next year — we can let them work at their own pace, and provide as much enrichment as either of them needs.

What would you do? Have you run into a similar situation? How would your multiples handle one being placed in a gifted program, while the other remained in the regular classroom?


Jen is a work-from-home mom of 7-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 5 and 9. She also blogs at Minivan MacGyver. Once in a while.

Home Economics

Our daughters’ elementary school has organized a raffle to raise money for travel to Austin. I’ve never felt strongly about raffles one way or the other, but when my daughter J told me, “My teacher said I MUST bring a dollar tomorrow to get a new bicycle,” my reaction was strong and immediate. “No way. Besides, you already have a perfectly good bicycle.”

By the time I got around to discussing this matter with my husband, I’d figured out what bothered me so much about the raffle. Moving to a house with 300 fewer square feet than our old one helped me realize how much more stuff we have than we actually need or even use regularly. The kids have too many books and toys in their room to keep tidy, and the last they need is more stuff. We don’t want the raffle prize.

Even more important, though, is that the idea of a raffle, betting a small amount in the hopes of winning big, is in direct opposition to the ethic of hard work. We don’t want to teach our children that success comes by way of shortcuts, but rather that rewards are earned. If they want to participate in the raffle to support their school, I’m all for that, but not if they’re just in it for the prize.

We’ve taught our children that giving to others is important. On their 5th birthday, we requested canned foods for donation to the local pantry in lieu of gifts. When a neighbour asked J what she wanted for her birthday, she said, “A toy would be fine, but it’s nicer to bring food for hungry people.” If we’re going to support the school, I’d rather donate money outright than buy a raffle ticket, and will ask the principal about how to go about doing that instead.

It isn’t the school’s job, of course, to teach our children values. Teaching kids what is important falls entirely on the parents. However, the sale of raffle tickets and junk food to the children at school makes it that much more important that we explain to them how we choose to financially support the institutions we care about. I can’t help feeling that these fund-raising approaches fly in the face of the educational mission of the school. No one teaches home economics in school any more, but I would imagine that a key lesson would be to invest wisely, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

How did you/do you intend to introduce the concepts of money and responsible finances to your children?

Sadia’s identical twin daughters attend public school in El Paso, where her husband is a soldier. When not over-thinking every tiny aspect of the girls’ lives, she works full time as a computer geek.

Nurturing the Love of Reading

The Rainbow Magic series of books has been an obsession at our house for over a year now. The seemingly infinite sets of themed books, written by 4 British women under the pseudonym Daisy Meadows, have everything our daughters love: humour, fairies, royalty, clear cut good and bad (but not too bad), silliness, talking animals, and a sister-like friendship between the two protagonists, Rachel and Kirsty.

When our latest acquisition, Melodie the Music Fairy, arrived in the mail last week, I worried that M and J would argue over who got to read it first. Instead, they compromised. M read out loud while J peeked over her shoulder. It wasn’t until after M took a potty break that pandemonium erupted. J just couldn’t keep herself from reading ahead while M was in the bathroom. She lost M’s place in the book. These children love bookmarks, and use them with abandon. Interfere with a bookmark at your own peril. Fail to mark a child’s place in her book, and you can expect to be tarred and feathered.

While the Rainbow Magic books are a clear frontrunner, J and M are classic bibliophiles. J got completely flustered when her grandfather asked what kind of books she liked to read. She hemmed and hawed, trying to limit herself to one category of literature. I told her she didn’t have to pick if she didn’t know, and she was visibly relieved. The girls are as likely to be found with my Complete Works of Lewis Carroll in their lap as Everyone Poops, their Children’s Atlas or anything Dr. Seuss.

It’s easy for me to forget that it’s unusual for 5-year-olds to be comfortable with chapter books or to enjoy independent silent reading. I too was an early reader, and have partially read books stashed all around the house for stolen moments of literary indulgence. My husband got me a subscription to National Geographic early in our marriage, and it was an inspired gift.

I started chatting with one of the ballet dads at the girls’ dance school this weekend. We pointed out our children to each other in the 5-year-old class, and I answered his puzzled look by explaining that my daughters were twins.

“Oh, wow!” he said. “Do they fight a lot?”

“No,” I told him. “They hardly ever argued when they were younger, but they’ve been bickering more since they started school. One will want to read when the other wants to play, and they’ll argue over who gets to pick.”

“They read?” he asked me, incredulous. “And they’re 5? I can’t get my daughter to read. I work with her on her spelling words from school. She learns them, but then she can’t recognize them on a sign or whatever. How did you get them to read?”

We spent the rest of the hour discussing ways in which a child can develop a love of reading. I’ve been asked that question before, and usually just blow it off with a “they had a great pre-K teacher.” While that’s undeniably true, having an entire hour to talk to a parent who was genuinely at a loss allowed me some time to analyze how M and J came to love books.

When I was on maternity leave, I passed the hours of nursing by reading out loud from books and magazines. I was a little surprised that “henceforth” wasn’t in their early vocabulary. We’ve always had age-appropriate books around, though. J and M chewed on their fabric books as babies, and pointed at pictures in board books when they were a little older. We read Goodnight Moon every night for 3 years. Our local library understood children, and allowed them to explore the stacks of the children’s section with abandon. It was there that we discovered the Daisy Meadows books.

Reading was a way to avert tantrums. Sitting in my lap, listening to a story and caressing the pages of books seemed to soothe both the girls. Books were also a way to get a forgivable moment away from Sissy.

When I read to the girls, I always pointed to words as I read them. I expected them to learn to read words passively, I suppose, family lore being that that was how I learned. Their daycare program took a similar approach to kids’ books as we did at home. They were available to the children at all times, displayed where they would catch their eye. In addition, the teacher read to the class as a group daily, and one day a week was designated Book from Home Day. My girls loved browsing their book collection every week to settle on the book they would take in to share with their friends. The classroom winter party included a book exchange.

When J and M began to display an ability to recognize common words in books they’d never seen before, their pre-kindergarten teacher ran with it. She found them somewhat advanced worksheets to work on. Once they were reading comfortably, she allowed them to occasionally read to the class. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was a favourite. By the time they completed pre-K, a couple of weeks after their 5th birthday, J, M and the other girls in their class were all reading independently to some degree. All the boys were still working on letter recognition, much to the teacher’s dismay. She wasn’t thrilled about the way literacy had broken down along gender lines.

I didn’t even realize that the girls were ready for chapter books until I found them both in their room one day, noses buried in fairy books. At first, I thought they were looking at the line drawings, but J looked up and summarized the plot for me.

It wasn’t until one of the girls’ friends spent the night that I realized that my husband and I had been teaching them about reading without even realizing it. J wanted to read Llama Llama Misses Mama as a bedtime story. Their friend became angry as J embarked on the first page.

“How does she know the story?” she asked.

“She’s reading it.”

“But how does she KNOW?” she persevered.

I asked J to show her the words as she read them, and J took the initiative to point out that the word “llama” repeated, which is why she said it twice. It occurred to me that our little guest thought of reading from a book as one of those magical traits parents have, like eyes in the back of our heads. I know her parents very well, and know that she has a book collection and is read to regularly. She didn’t, however, see books as toys. They were purely for parent-child interaction.

This realization was borne out the next morning. Our guest was a little ticked off that M was staring at a book in bed. I told our little friend that she was reading.

“No she’s not!” she said. “She’s not saying anything.”

It struck me that she had probably only rarely seen her parents read, except out loud to her. They’re outdoorsy, very active people, and on the rare occasion that they do sit down in silence, the television is their source of entertainment. I hadn’t ever thought of the way in which seeing Daddy and Mommy with books in hand, or discussing articles with news magazines strewn across the table, had influenced our girls.

I told the dance dad all of these things, and he confessed that he’d focused on drilling his daughter rather than making reading fun, and that she’d probably never seen him pick up a book. I had my iPad on me, so I showed him a couple of interactive books I’d installed for the girls. I told him that, in my opinion, pointing or highlighting words as they’re read is a pretty powerful tool in demonstrating that collections of letters carry meaning. Also, reading has got to be fun for kids to want to do it. I doubt my girls would have graduated to chapter books when they did if we only had books about dinosaurs. I was a dinosaur kid, but these girls of mine are all about the fairies and princesses.

I suggested to the dad that he consider letting his daughter run free in the children’s section of the nearest public library branch. She was far more likely to stay engaged with something she had picked out.

I forgot to mention one other tactic that has worked for us. The girls generally have television access only on weekends, and can watch either one full-length feature or a couple of shorter episodes. On the rare occasion that they do watch some TV on weekday evenings, the choice is invariably a nature or physics documentary, and we’re likely to follow it up by a trip to the non-fiction section of their bookshelf, or a visit to National Geographic’s kids’ webpage.

What do you do to encourage your children to develop good reading habits?

Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old identical twins maximize their bookshelf space in El Paso, TX.

MLK Day Is More Than a Day Off

Growing up in the UK and Bangladesh, I was raised on Mahatma Gandhi’s life story and words as the embodiment of a worldwide move towards civil rights and mutual respect between people and between peoples. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied those same values, and today’s US-wide commemoration of his achievements is a reminder to discuss his legacy with our daughters, now aged 5.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taking full advantage on an extra day off work and school. We let J and M stay up an hour past bedtime last night to watch The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. Do you remember the first time you heard the line, “Luke, I am your father.”? It was quite something to see the looks on our girls’ faces! We’re showing the Star Wars films to the girls in the order in which they were released. We’re old-school nerds like that.

Before I read Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, I hadn’t given much thought to talking to the girls about diversity. I figured that our multicultural, interracial, international, interfaith marriage would speak for itself. Bronson and Merryman’s chapter on talking about race influenced me deeply, however, and I committed to discussing these issues with our daughters.

M was the one to bring up MLK at dinner last night. “We watched a movie about King Martin Junior at school,” she told us.

Dr. King

We clarified Dr. King’s name, and talked about his accomplishments. We boiled it down to something pretty simple: Dr. King helped people understand that everyone could be friends, regardless of the colour of their skin. “Oh!” observed M, “Like we’re a family, but you have dark brown skin and me and Sissy and Daddy is peach?” She has previously described her very fair-skinned White grandmother as “pink.”

Sadia and family

That seemed like a decent enough introduction to the lessons of MLK Day, so we left it that for dinner time. Later, however, J brought up MLK, and I had a burst of inspiration.

Me: You’ve always had a sister, right! And that’s pretty special. Does that mean you can’t have friends who don’t have sisters?
J: No. [Classmate] has no sister, and he is my friend. I don’t know very much about having no sister and brother except you have to play by yourself and that is sad.
Me: You and [Classmate] are different when it comes to having brothers or sisters, but you can learn from each other.
J: I love [Former neighbour] and she has no brother or sister.
Me: I love her too. It would be pretty sad if you only had friends who were exactly like you.
J: I would miss [Former neighbour].
Me: What Martin Luther King, Jr. and his friends taught us was to be friends with people who are different in all kinds of ways.

I could use that reminder myself. It’s time for me to stop complaining about how rude and insular people are in our new town, and make a real effort at understanding the culture here. It’s time for me to embrace differences. As is so often the case, teaching my children reminds me to a better person.

In what ways has raising your children reminded you of your values? Are you a better person for being a parent?

Sadia is working US army wife and mother of 5-year-old twin girls. She and her family recently moved to El Paso, Texas.

Teach a Child to Grocery Shop…

My husband has a very physical job, and our daughters, M and J, are incredibly active kids. It takes a little more effort on my part to fit exercise into my day, since I have a desk job, but I do my best. I will admit that I haven’t been good about working out since we moved to El Paso, so I’m thankful for Goddess in Progress‘s weight loss contest giving me the push I need to get back in shape. I like aerobics and Pilates, with the guidance of exercise videos in the privacy of my home. The twins and our cat join in with differing levels of effort.

Alongside intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, social responsibility, and self esteem, my husband and I believe that it is our responsibility to teach our children about physical well-being.

Unfortunately, our daughters’ school isn’t helping. Although they have daily physical education, they’re teaching the kids all about junk food. Cookies and slushies are available to purchase at lunch time. No carrots. No sliced apples or bananas. After school, there are cupcakes and cookies on sale, tempting the kids right before they exit the school and are handed over to their parents. On Halloween, each child was asked to bring a bag of candy for the school trick-or-treat event. Every classmate’s birthday heralds cupcakes with neon icing.

The other day, J volunteered to accompany me to the grocery store while M stayed home with Daddy. As I reached for the box of Cheerios M had requested, J asked whether she could choose her own cereal.

“Sure,” I told her, “But you have to choose one that has 6 grams or fewer of sugar per serving. Any more than that makes it a treat cereal instead of a breakfast cereal.”

I showed J the nutrition facts on the side of cereal box I was holding, pointing out where the sugar grams were. She picked one brightly coloured sugary cereal after another, rejecting each one for having too much sugar. I suggested that she’d have better luck if she looked at some granola boxes. She finally settled on Kashi Honey Sunshine.

ServeImage“Mommy,” J asked me, “can I teach M how to look at sugar next time when she comes shopping with us?”

She had her chance tonight at dinner, when M asked for a third serving of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. My husband told her that he thought she’d had enough sugar for the day, and offered her water instead. J showed M how to read the label and exclaimed, “38 sugars! That’s a whole bunch.”

“That’s true,” I told her. “This juice is a treat. We drink it for the flavour, not because it’s feeding our bodies. It’s fine to have a treat every so often, but it’s very important to make sure that we get all the different things our bodies need. We need protein to be strong, and fiber not to have hurty poops. Our body needs some fat to stay healthy, but not too much.”

For the rest of meal, the girls pored over the nutrition label on the juice bottle, asking about the different nutrients. My favourite was J’s reading of calcium as “Colosseum.” There was something quite lovely about the image of ancient architecture bolstering our bones.

I taught myself about healthy eating in my early 20s. Both my parents developed high blood pressure in their 30s, and I didn’t want to go down that path. Rich, fatty Bengali curries with massive quantities of rice must have contributed to their cardiovascular issues and my father’s subsequent Type II diabetes.

It certainly helps that both my husband and I love to cook. It’s hard to put too much junk in our bodies when we’re aware of every ingredient we eat. We don’t tend to count calories, and we’re not averse to eating out, but we try to be responsible, while allowing ourselves our treats. I’m fond of chocolate, and my husband of red wine.

I hadn’t planned to teach our girls to read nutrition labels at 5. I imagined that the model we set at home would show them how to make good food decisions. Peer pressure, though, is a strong force, and M told us today that she had bought 6 cookies at lunch to share with her friends. We don’t want the girls to feel like they need to diet or deny themselves the occasional sweet treat. However, we do want them to understand that while eating is a social and pleasurable activity, nutrition is the primary role of food. Food for taste alone is an extra, and to be taken in moderation.

Are you surprised to hear that junk food is being sold in elementary schools? What would you do if you discovered this in the school your children were to attend?

Classroom Placement: Part I – Separate Classrooms

Who knows best whether your multiples should be placed in the same classroom or separated at school? You, right? For our family, separation in kindergarten was the right answer, but it’s different for everyone.

Many educators and school administrators believe that same-age siblings should never be placed in a classroom together. I would argue that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to all multiples. “Never say never,” I say. Like many other parents of multiples, it is my husband and I who know our daughters well enough to make the final decision regarding their classroom placement. Coming to an agreement as co-parents is an altogether different matter, as I’ll talk about next week…

We are fortunate to live in Texas, one of the 12 US states whose laws give parents the right to choose whether our multiples should stay together in public school. Oklahoma and Illinois have resolutions to the same effect. (As I understand it, resolutions involve moral rather than legal support from lawmakers, but I suspect Mommy, Esq. could give us a clearer explanation.) Another 10 states have sponsors for such bills. I wasn’t able to find information on similar laws in other countries, but my research made it clear that neither Canada nor the UK have such protections in place. Readers elsewhere in the world, where does your country stand?

Our daughters were in the same class from infancy until pre-kindergarten. Their preschool had only one class per age group, so we didn’t have the option of separating. There was one disastrous year at a larger program where we could have elected to split them up, but we kept them together there. A new school with Daddy leaving for Korea seemed shakeup enough, and we thought our 2-year-olds would be better off together.

Until relatively recently, I figured we’d keep the girls in the same classroom until they wanted to split up. By all accounts, they were well-adjusted and played with both each other and other classmates. They are horrified at the thought of having separate bedrooms, so I couldn’t imagine they’d consider separate classrooms.

The first time I considered separating J and M early was after talking to a friend. She and her twin sister had gone to college with me. My friend told me that separating them in elementary school was the best thing her parents had done for her. Because both she and her sister were in honours classes and heavily involved in their school music program, they ended up in a lot of same classes in high school by default. Elementary school was their opportunity to make friends as individuals instead of a twin pair, and that was when they grew to be as comfortable as individuals as they were as twins. She and her sister have the sort of relationship I hope my girls will have decades from now. They are close, yet pursue separate interests and have both shared and separate friends. One is married, and the other is not. I spent three years at college with these sisters, and had plenty of opportunities to witness their relationship, and my friend’s opinion carried a lot of weight.

I thought about keeping M and J together in kindergarten and separating them later in elementary school, but by the end of pre-K it was clear to both me and my husband that they should be in separate classrooms. After having been the dominant sister on and off over the years, M was depending increasingly on J. We got reports from school that M was expressing jealousy when J played with other friends. Worst of all, I noticed that M was taking less of an interest in reading independently because, “Sissy’s the good reader.” J, on the other hand, was oblivious to this, and balancing her relationship with M with her separate friendships and activities as she always has.

If this were the girls’ first foray out into the world without us, I might have considered keeping them in a single classroom anyway. After 5 years in daycare, though, they seemed ready to separate. We told the girls several weeks before school started that we would be asking the school to assign them different teachers. Neither of them expressed disappointment, or even surprise. M reported that she was a little sad about missing Sissy early on the first day of school, but their classes shared recess, lunch and PE. J said the best part of the day was seeing Sissy at the bus at the end of the day. Each of our girls introduced the other to her new friends, and they were able to be the bridge between the classes—at least the girls—on the playground.

For us, the choice to separate our girls was the right one. I’m glad it was ours to make. I don’t want an administrator who has never even met them dictating their placement based on preconceptions about multiples. After all, the twin bond is an extraordinary thing, but many who have never witnessed it consider it aberrant. I’ll admit that I held my own stereotypes about twins before M and J were born. I was convinced that fostering their independence and separate identities would be the biggest challenge of raising twins. They soon taught me that twinship was a gift, not a curse.

Have you thought about whether you want your multiples together or apart in school? What factors play into your decision?

What were your preconceptions of twinship before you met your newborns?

Hands-on Learning

I am an unashamed nerd.

(My husband, looking over my shoulder as I write, claims that he is not a nerd, and is better described as “awesome.” His high school friends would probably go with nerd-jock, though. Oh, and band geek.)

We’re the kind of people who see science and math everywhere in our daily lives. Our kids told us, with poorly disguised ulterior motives, that treats at the school cafeteria cost a quarter. Hubby took this opportunity to teach them about coin values. The first time my daughters helped me weed the yard, we discussed the purpose of the roots at the end of our leafy trespassers before banishing them to the compost pile. I try to respond to questions by showing our daughters the answers, whenever possible, instead of telling them. It often slows us down, though, and M in particular tends to dawdle, so I am learning to curb my love of teachable moments in the interest of getting things done.

Today, I felt awful. I had a headache and, according to my husband, a fever.

The girls needed their bath, though, so I asked them to climb into the cool tub. Now that they’re 5, and capable of climbing in and out of the bath themselves but still bathing together, I’m comfortable with leaving the room while they’re in there. If they were to fall quiet, I’d panic, but that’s not a problem we deal with at our house.

While I retrieved clean uniforms from the laundry, they got increasingly loud. I went in to wash their hair, and caught sight of J pouring water into a washcloth bundled into a pouch in M’s hands. I asked what they were doing, and was told that it was “an experiment.” My headache tempted me to leave it at that, but I asked what they were trying to learn. M told me that they were attempting to catch water. I washed their hair, and debated between rushing them through their bath and providing them a control to their experiment. I decided to go with the latter, and gave M a scrap of plastic wrap from the kitchen. Their glee at successfully containing water in their plastic pouch didn’t help my headache any, but was well worth it. There’s something to be said for keeping alive the wonder that one-year-olds display by chucking sippy cups to the floor time after time. After all, what is a scientist but a very large one-year-old, trying to figure out cause and effect?

I’m glad I took the time to encourage both girls’ curiosity and their partnership in discovery, but I’ll admit to that I’m heading for a long warm bath of my own, now that our daughters are in bed for the night.

When you’re pulled every which way and under the weather, how do you decide between seizing a teachable moment and making it through the day?