When I was a member of my local twins group, the September meeting was always festive for that was the month that we would announce which twins and triplets had headed off to preschool for the first time. As the names of the lucky moms and her children were read aloud, shouts of joy and applause erupted from the audience.
Indeed, the first day of preschool is an important rite of passage for many harried moms of multiples but the experience is even more valuable for their young twins and triplets by allowing them to engage with other children. “Some multiples cling to their sibling, not knowing how to branch off into new relationships,” explains Melissa Mullin, Ph.D., blogger and director of the K&M Center in Santa Monica, Calif., a learning center which specializes in remediating learning differences in children. “Preschool gives both twins the opportunity to make new relationships while still staying close to each other.”
April Adams of Taylor, Mich. can relate. “My three-year-old fraternal twin girls, Brooke and Hailey, are super shy,” she says. Eager for her daughters to learn how to socialize with others as well as become more independent of each other before they hit kindergarten, Adams enrolled them in preschool. During the first two weeks of school they wouldn’t even talk to the teachers or the other children! But lately, Adams has seen a marked improvement in their social skills, playing and talking it up with their classmates. “They have grown so much in the past two months,” she says.
While many parents of multiples believe they can provide a rich learning environment at home, they shouldn’t dismiss the benefits of preschool. “When twins play together at home, they tend to instinctively know each other’s needs, likes and dislikes,” says Eve-Marie Arce, Ed.D., past president of California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC) and author of Twins and Supertwins: A Handbook for Early Childhood Professionals. But enrolling them in preschool, she explains, expands their opportunity to learn about other children. “In today’s world, problem solving through peer interaction is very important in succeeding in kindergarten, first and second grades.”
Learning the Basics
Not only is preschool the perfect environment for multiples to make new friends outside of the twinship but a quality classroom setting also helps facilitate future learning. “It’s important not to confuse preschool academics with reading, writing, and math skills,” adds Dr. Mullin. “Rather, preschool gives children the opportunity to develop the underlying skills needed for future academics.” For instance, coloring or playing in the sandbox helps to build fine motor skills, perfect for the art of writing. Learning to sit quietly and following directions is a precursor to reading. Building with blocks and climbing on play equipment promotes spatial skills, a forerunner to mastering math, while free play activities and negotiating with others is important for organization or executive functioning skills.
Preschool’s Role in Speech Development
Since multiples experience speech delay more often than singleton children of the same age with boys at an even greater risk than girls, the preschool experience takes on added importance for twins and triplets as it gives them ample opportunity to practice language.
“Multiples acquire language together,” explains Dr. Arce. “Because of it, they often imitate each other’s immature speech.” Plus, multiples have to share parental attention. “They just have less direct communication with Mom and Dad.” When one twin asks for a glass of milk, for example, Mom or Dad usually gives it to both children rather than allowing the second child to request her own. Their comprehension—their ability to understand—may be advanced but multiples are a crafty bunch and may work efficiently by completing each other’s sentences thereby cutting down on each individual’s verbal practice. All of these factors—imitating immature speech, less parental attention and speaking for the other—can compound speech problems, impacting their ability to learn to read further down the road.
Jenna Pruner enrolled her identical twins daughters, Rae and Joy, in preschool at age three due to their severe language delay. “They were not saying any words at all, and had a primitive twin language that was a series of grunts and gestures,” says the mom from Calgary, Canada. It paid off. By the time they got to kindergarten two years later the girls were on target in both vocabulary and expressive language. “Our preschool experience was important for my girls’ language and social interaction and for my development as their advocate.”
The Importance of Early Intervention
Preschool removes many of the language and social obstacles that multiples experience at home but it can also bring to light other potential problems allowing for early intervention. For instance, after Melisa Miner enrolled her fraternal twin boys, Aaron and Brandon, in a local preschool for socialization and introduction to academics, the Morgan Hill, Calif. mom noticed that one of her sons couldn’t easily adapt to the school environment. “His social behavior was very different from the other children,” she says. It was this observation that led to having her son tested. The diagnoses came back as high-functioning autism. Aggressive intervention followed, and now in third grade, Miner’s son is doing very well. Without preschool, she says, kindergarten would have been a much more challenging experience.
Kellie Asaro had a similar situation with her identical twin sons, Salvatore and Santino, when at age 30 months she noticed that their speech wasn’t on target for their age. “They were using some single syllable words, counting, and saying ABC’s, but strangely, still no ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ or full sentences,” says the Carmel, Calif. mom and owner of Trends in Twos, an online boutique for families of multiples. Furthermore, though her boys were happy kids who loved to play with the family, they never interacted with each other in a meaningful way. “They just seemed a bit off, like they weren’t where they should be socially as well as verbally.”
On advice from her pediatrician, Asaro enrolled her twins in a special preschool program through her local school district where they were diagnosed with a mild form of autism. After three years of special education classes, the boys’ progress has been enormous and they’re on target to attend a regular first-grade classroom next year. “They’re speaking pretty much like other kids in their age group, and have a much easier time transitioning into new schedules and situations,” says Asaro. “The best part has been their interaction with each other. I think as a parent, you dream of your twins being the best of friends, sharing a special bond. My boys didn’t seem to express that until just recently. Now they’re constant playmates.”
Peace and Quiet
Even if your multiples have no special issues, if you’re an overworked stay-at-home Mom, you can still reap the benefits of preschool. Just ask Courtney Ballinger. The Los Angeles, Calif. mom enrolled her fraternal twin daughters in school, Sophie and Emily, for a variety of reasons. “I believe that a good preschool helps any child with social, emotion, cognitive and physical abilities,” she explains. Yet her biggest consideration was something else. “I just needed a break!”
You won’t get an argument here.