As a parent of twins, you’ve had your share of really big milestones from the first time your double bundle slept through the entire night to the day they both were fully potty-trained. Yet if your twins turned five recently, you’ll be passing the biggest milestone of all—the first day of kindergarten.
March is the month where many school districts begin enrolling new kindergarten recruits for the upcoming school year. And if you’re a parent of twins, I’m sure you’ll be the first in line to sign them up! (I know I was.)
Regardless if your twins are identical or fraternal, boys or girls, tightly bonded or fiercely independent, the first day of school is an exciting time but for many twins, it can be an anxious one, too. “Twins are accustomed to spending a lot of time with each other,” explained Susan Heim, author of It’s Twins!, and the mother of four sons including four-year-old fraternal twin boys. “Since they’ve always had an instant play mate, they may not be skilled in learning how to make new friends or encouraging other children to play with them.” Whether they’ll be sharing a classroom or not, Heim says, some twins may need time and a bit of guidance in learning to seek out new friendships. If your twins are socially shy, speak with their teacher prior to the first day of school. “When a teacher is made aware, she’ll have more understanding when the child is reluctant at first to play with other children or seems sad and distracted,” she added.
Stephanie Faulkner took her five-year-old fraternal twin sons past their new school frequently the summer before they started kindergarten. “We talked it up quite a bit about how they were big boys going to a big kid school. We also had an orientation at the school the week before classes started where they met their teacher, took a bus ride, and toured their school,” explains the Hazlet, New Jersey mom. Susan Heim suggests even role-playing “school” with your twins, especially if they’ve never attended preschool.
“Show them how to sit when asked, raise their hand when asked a question, and form a line when leaving the classroom,” she says. “Make it a fun game, and they’ll look forward to going to kindergarten.”
Still, many parents think twins actually have a social advantage over single-born children when it comes to transitioning to kindergarten. “Since Taylor and Jackson are twins, they have this level of confidence that let’s them jump right into new situations,” notes Heather Hopkins of her five-year-old boy-girl twins. The Scotch Plains, New Jersey mom thinks even though her twins will be in separate classrooms this fall, they’ll be less scared since they’re making the adjustment together. Pamela Damico of Export, Penn. and mother to six-year-old boy-girl twins, Anna and Anthony, agrees.
“Once that first day of school came last year, they both got on the bus and had a good day at school. It was harder for me to see them get on the bus than it was for them,” she recalls.
Twins In the Same Classroom
If your twins are sharing the same classroom this fall, it’s important for everyone from the students to the teacher to be able to tell them apart. Although her sons look nothing alike, Stephanie Faulkner deliberately dresses her boys in contrasting outfits every day to avoid confusion. “I make sure they have completely different colored and/or patterned shirts and pants on,” she says. “So if one wears blue jeans, the other wears khaki or black pants.” The idea is to simply make your twins stand out as individuals helping to avoid other classmates from fusing them together. If your identical twins are open to the idea, have them get different haircuts. Different accessories help too, from backpacks and sneakers to hair ribbons and jewelry.
And when it’s time to get down to work, ask your twins’ teacher to place them at separate tables in the classroom and pair your twins with a variety of children throughout the day so that they can socially expand their circle of friends. At home, help them to work more independently and build their confidence in the process by giving each separate chores—have one fold laundry while the other sets the table, for instance.
Most teachers, however, understand the dual role of twins. “We were really very lucky to have gotten such a great teacher that took the time to treat them as individuals but also appreciate their twin connection,” notes Pamela Damico of Anna and Anthony’s kindergarten teacher.
Twins In Separate Classrooms
For those twins heading off to different classrooms, the adjustment can be difficult for tightly bonded twins. One way to help your twins become more independent is to set up a few separate play dates so that your twins can get their social feet wet solo. Or have each twin take turns spending the night at Grandma’s house so he or she can get used to being without a co-twin.
“I’ve really not seen twins have difficulty being separated but if I did I would treat the twin like any other child,” says Jodi Fitzgibbons, a veteran kindergarten teacher in Glendale, Calif. and a fraternal twin herself. “Like with most children I would let her know when she could see her twin, mom, or whomever. I find that if you acknowledge that they miss their twin or mom and then move on to an activity, they’ll transition fairly quickly.”
Furthermore, children take their cues from their parents. If you’re feeling anxious about their impending separation, so will your twins. Instead, put a positive spin on everything. Explain that they’ll have twice the new friends and lots to talk about when they meet up at recess, lunch and finally, when school lets out for the day. If they see you excited it’s sure to rub off on them.
Handling Twin Chaos
During those first few weeks of school, parents of twins are bombarded with twice the amount of classroom chaos. To keep things organized, don’t forget to color code! Just like when they were babies and you color coded everything from pacifiers and sippy cups to tooth brushes and “blankies,” the system works equally as well for school backpacks and notebooks, pencil boxes and lunch sacks.
“If your twins are in different classrooms, it’s more difficult for you to keep track of their assignments, class trips, and teacher requests,” Heim says. “Teach your children to empty their backpacks as soon as they get home to give you any announcements or papers distributed by the teacher.” Heim even suggests keeping a color-coded calendar of events for each child.
And what about their nightly homework assignments? Should you let them work together? Fitzgibbons advises parents to let their twins work independently, in separate locations. “I need to see how each child can complete the work on his or her own,” she says. “It’s also very valuable for the parent to see if one child struggles with a certain type of assignment.”
Besides, Heim adds, if they sit together at the kitchen table they can easily distract one another or copy from each other. “Even if they have different homework, they tend to interrupt each other with questions and comments about their day,” she says.
Many parents feel that separate work spaces at home are mandatory. “If I don’t separate them, my daughter has more of a tendency to try to answer things for her brother,” says Pamela Damico. For instance, after her son was put into a supplemental reading class at school, he would bring home a special book every night to read out loud with his mom. “I had to explain to my daughter that even though she could listen to the story she was not allowed to read along with us.” Apparently Anna didn’t like that arrangement. “She would try to whisper the words to her brother instead of him figuring them out on his own,” Damico adds.
Stephanie Faulkner can feel Damico’s pain. Faulkner’s sons used to do their work together but when one son would always try to help the other, she quickly put a stop to it by separating the two during homework time. “I also felt I could do a better job working with them if I only had to work with one son at a time,” she says.
School is Now in Session
Big changes are coming down the pike. Your twins are growing up fast and learning to do more and more for themselves. Celebrate this big milestone twin style with a double scoop of ice cream! Both you and your twins deserve it.