Classroom Placement: An Update

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When I told you that my twin daughters were now in separate grades, many of you provided very thoughtful, thought-provoking responses.

The bulk of the opinions were on the side of keeping M and J at the same grade level, rather than having J skip 75% of kindergarten and 25% of first grade to become a 5-year-old in first grade, while her twin sister M stayed in her kindergarten class.

I can’t say I disagree with any of the arguments, although we decided as a couple to skip J up.

Yesterday, J made an offhand comment that M doesn’t enjoy reading, and my husband decided it was time to take her down a peg. After I reminded J that it was M who had recommended The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales to her, Daddy told J that she was no better a reader than M was. In fact, there were hardly any skills at which any one of them was significantly more adept at than the other. M was unsurprised by this announcement, but J was visibly deflated. I think she’s better for her ego having been somewhat shrunk, but time will tell.

M woke this morning to tell me that she had had a bad dream. She had dreamed that she had to leave her kindergarten teacher to go to first grade. I told her that this was something that would eventually come to pass, and reminded her that her past teachers had, for the most part, remained in our lives after she left their classrooms.

Many of the moms who commented on our decision to move J to first grade noted that, while supporting the individuality of children is key, being a multiple is a real and tangible part of our kids’ lives. To ignore that fact is to ignore a key component of their self-image. It’s interesting that my mother-in-law and I made that same argument when we were trying to come to decision. My husband and father-in-law were on the other side of that. Could there be a gender component at play here? Are MoMs and FoMs basically different in their outlook? How would your male partners vote?

As it happens, we ran into M’s kindergarten teacher, her beloved Mrs. K, at a birthday party over the weekend. Mrs. K’s daughter is in J’s first grade class, so our mommy circles overlap. M was giddy at the sight of her teacher and firmly attached herself to Mrs. K’s leg while we talked. In the midst of smalltalk, Mrs. K told me that M wasn’t getting the benefit of interacting with peers to encourage her reading; she will be joining J’s first-grade class during reading time. She has made leaps and bounds in her time management, both at home and in the classroom, and her confidence has shot up. If she stayed on the this trajectory, Mrs. K said, she would be recommending that M also move to first grade in 9 weeks’ time. While Mrs. K can find work to challenge her, she believes that she would benefit from having peers who challenge her too. J’s first grade class is already at the state-mandated maximum of 22 students, so they would most likely not be in the same classroom.

Does the possibility of M now going through school on the same schedule as her sister change your opinions about the wisdom of having J bypass kindergarten?

To the teachers out there, is kindergarten any less critical a year to children who have attended structured pre-K programs, or does pre-K simply give them a better chance for kindergarten success?

When not pondering parenting decisions, Sadia and her husband work from home as a geek and on base as a soldier, respectively. With their identical daughters, J and M, they are exploring life in El Paso after having been Austin-area suburbanites for the majority of their relationship.

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Classroom Placement: Part II – Separate Grades

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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.

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