Parenting Multiples: Should you keep twins in the same class?

March 8-15 is Multiple Birth Awareness Week. A common question for parents of school-aged children is should you keep twins in the same class?

Parents of multiples are often unsure of what to do when it comes to the question of whether to separate twins in the classroom or not. Australian schools in particular, have a history of separating twins as a matter of policy without consulting parents or the children. Early research in the 1960s purported that twins performed better academically when they were separated. However, it has come to light that this early research contained many major methodological flaws. Recent longitudinal research indicates that there are no particular academic, behavioural or social benefits for separating twins.

There is definitely no one size fits all answer when it comes to this decision. Some adult twins talk about the anguish of being separated in school, whereas others say they think it helped their education and sense of identity. Overall, the decision needs to consider the needs of the whole family (not just the twins).

Parents should consider

1.       Are your twins identical or fraternal?

Research indicates that identical twins who were separated in the first year of school tend to have more internalizing problems (e.g., anxiety and physical complaints like upset tummy) and that these difficulties persist over time. There is also some evidence that twins who are separated in early years have poorer outcomes on reading.

2.       Are there any signs of language delay?

Twins can sometimes be slower to speak full English sentences (as opposed to twin babble). Some studies have found that in early years, twins who share a classroom tend to show improvements in their language skills. One study in particular found that non-separated twins in Grade 2 performed better in language skills than those who were separated. Maths skills were also slightly higher for the non-separated twins, however there was no particular effect found in higher grade levels.

3.       Does either twin have any behavioural issues?

If one or both twins have significant behavioural issues such as AD/HD, or oppositional defiant disorder this can make classroom management more difficult. However, there is not sufficiently strong evidence for the argument that separating twins with these behavioural issues makes much difference.

4.       Do your children have a similar learning style and interests?

Educational research is consistently showing that children often thrive when placed in small groups with other children who have a similar learning style. Children who are more ‘visual’ or ‘verbal’ or ‘hands on’ tend to do better with children with similar skills. Children should not be denied the opportunity to interact with similarly skilled peers simply because they are related to one another.

5.       Is it possible that one or both twins has a learning disorder?

Twins who are on equal academic footing will probably do just fine in the same class. However, separate classrooms may allow each twin to develop skills at their own pace, free from comparisons. Though it would be unrealistic to expect that twins develop a broad range of skills at exactly the same pace, any sign of real or imagined delay can have parents and teachers engaging in constant milestone checking. By the same token, sharing a learning space with someone who knows you well, can read your non-verbal cues and can positively encourage you, can surely only be good thing? Remember that for a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorder (e.g., ‘dyslexia’) affected academic skills must be well below average for the child’s age, despite provision of intervention that target those difficulties. It is also difficult to establish a clear diagnosis in an early learner (i.e., younger than Grade 1) because they haven’t been at school for very long.

6.       Most importantly, what do your children say that they want?

If they want to stay together, and share a strong bond then separating them for the sake of it may simply cause unnecessary anxiety. For twins who share similar academic areas of interest, then there is the possibility that they will go on to do similar pre-tertiary subjects and the same degree at the same university anyway. In contrast, twins who are competitive, do not share similar academic interests or have a personality clash may simply prefer to have space.

Considerations if you choose separate classes or schools

Possibility of causing unnecessary upset if twins want to be together and there’s no logical reason for separating- particularly in early years

Two lots of teacher communication to keep track of

If you volunteer at school, then that’s two classrooms you’ll need to assist with

Possibility of two different sets of class rules and expectations

Different projects and homework to keep track of

If one or both children have issues with separation anxiety or school refusal, this can make morning drop-off more difficult

For non-identical twins, and children in older grades choosing different classrooms may not be any more complicated than it would be for other siblings.

In summary, it seems that recent research evidence from longitudinal studies has found no particular benefit to separating twins in the classroom. In fact, it may be favourable to keep twins together, particularly in the early years as this may improve language and reading skills and reduce unnecessary separation anxiety. Twins who are separated in the first few years of schooling should be monitored closely for emotional and reading difficulties. Parents should also keep in mind that either option does not need to be permanent, and it is acceptable to change your mind if a particular strategy doesn’t work out.

A checklist to help families decide about classroom separation is available here:

Tully, L. A., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., Kiernan, H., & Andreou, P. (2004). What effect does classroom separation have on twins’ behavior, progress at school, and reading abilities?. Twin Research7(02), 115-124.

Webbink, D., Hay, D., & Visscher, P. M. (2007). Does sharing the same class in school improve cognitive abilities of twins?. Twin Research and Human Genetics10(4), 573-580.