Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Identical twins, identical classroom: why our boys will study together

It's starting already.
Family members, friends, even strangers in malls and grocery stores.
They mean well.
I really think they do.
But they are ill-informed.
Through no fault of their own.
The lead-in could easily be mistaken for the question.
"Are you planning to send the twins to preschool?" they ask.
Then comes the question, which isn't really a question at all.
"You will separate them, right?"
Followed by the silence when I answer, with confidence.
But, like I said, the attitude isn't really their fault.
For the past few decades, the prevalent theory among educators has been that all twins fare better when separated in school. It helps them develop individual identities, they say, particularly with identical twins. It gives them more confidence, they argue. It helps them make friends of their own.
But here's the trouble: no evidence exists to support those recommendations, policies or decisions.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The few studies done on the effects of separating twins in elementary school show that most twins suffer emotionally and socially and that for identical twins, separation can be highly traumatic and might impact academic performance as well.
Consider this finding from a 2004 study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College in London:

"When compared to those not separated, those separated early had significantly more teacher-rated internalizing problems and those separated later showed more internalizing problems and lower reading scores. Monozygotic (MZ) twins showed more problems as a result of separation than dizygotic (DZ) twins."

Or this finding from a 2010 University of Amsterdam study of 839 monozygotic and 1164 dizygotic twin pairs: (This study focused primarily on the effects on academic performance.)

"There is no difference in educational achievement between twins who share a classroom and twins who do not share a classroom during their primary school time. The choice of separation should be made by teachers, parents and their twin children, based on individual characteristics of a twin pair."

The same folks who believe Matthew and Jonathan should each strike out on their own by age 3 wouldn't hesitate to put their own children in classrooms with their best friends. After all, that kind of kinship puts children at ease, makes them less clingy and allows them to be more socially confident.
So why would we separate Matthew or Jonathan from his best friend during this time of stress, excitement and change?
I was relieved today to chat with one of their future preschool teachers, a mother of 17-year-old identical twin boys. She kept her boys together throughout the younger years and, as they got older, took them aside separately to ask whether they wanted to stay together the following year, she said.
Each year, the answer was the same: yes.
As we spoke about our children, children filtered into the classroom where Matthew and Jonathan were playing. Jonathan immediately befriended two boys his age who took an interest in the same tractor that had attracted him. Matthew squatted near a child-sized sofa conversing with a slightly older girl who had sat down with a book.
A barrier of shelves separated Matthew and Jonathan.
Neither panicked at the absence of the other.
Neither looked for the other.
Both put up a good battle when it was time to leave.
And I couldn't help smiling when both boys demanded to know when they could come back.


Jill said...

Fantastic post! I couldn't agree more.

sadiejane said...

This post is thought provoking for me. I have 1 year old identical twin girls and it has always been my thought that at 3 when I send them to school, I'll make sure they are in different classes. I don't want all the kids to see them as a unit and I want for them to be able to go through what my older child has been through. However, I see that you have just as legitimate reasons to keep them together and maybe I need to let go of these ideas and wait and see how they develop. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think it depends on the personality of the twin team. Our sons, Nathaniel and Jeremy, are 3 yr-old "identical" twins and they often fight and are very competitive. Many agree that they need to be separated, and actually when it happens they are very excited and gentle when they are again reunited at the end of the day. They love to go in different directions when the 5 of us are on a walk.
Nathaniel and Jeremy go several times a week to daycare and the person who takes care of them is herself the mother of handsome 17-yr identical twins boys. As babies, her children were shy and liked to explore the world together, hence, she decided not to separate them at school and it was a wise decision. Nevertheless, she is the first one to suggest that our twins Nathaniel and Jeremy, need to spend time without each other...
My advice would be : look at your children and use some common sense. Stats and clinical trials are great but do not tell whether the tested products or concepts would benefit everyone a bit or just strongly a few people.
Thanks for the interesting discussion.

Twinsmom said...

I don't disagree with you Anonymous, but prior to the studies, parents who wanted to keep their identical twins together had to fight the unproven, unsupported, yet widely accepted theory that it is ALWAYS better to separate identical twins with their bare words. I am sure there are times when separating identicals is preferred, but these studies suggest that cases like yours are not the norm. Thanks to these researchers, moms like me now have something to show school administrators that help us all make educated and informed decisions about our children.

Claudia said...

I stumbled across your blog through BBC. Hope you don't mind my comments:

DH is also an identical twin. They always studied together and both did very well. In fact, I think it was amazingly beneficial, probably mostly for BIL, but certainly DH.

I love your blog and you insights.