Well, it’s just one thing after another with school kids!
When I dropped Hattie and Joe off at their classroom yesterday morning, their teacher pulled me aside for a quiet word and dropped a bit of a bombshell: she wanted to split the kids up, albeit for a few weeks. If you recall my school visits post from late last year, all of the new entrants at our school spend a bit of time in the Reception class before being funnelled out into a Year One class. The time that they spend in Reception is determined by their progress and current skill levels. And after doing a bit of testing of Hattie and Joe’s skills, she’d decided that Joe’s ready to advance to Year One, but Hattie needs another two or three weeks in Reception.
Like I said in that school visits post, this is always an issue for parents of multiples, and I know my twin mum friends have handled it in many different ways: some kids have been apart from their first day of school; many have had a year or two together before splitting up; and some have been together throughout (particularly at smaller schools, where separating multiples might not even be an option). However, the decision to keep them together or split them up is generally made by the school and the parents together.
When Tristan and I had our parents’ visit of the school, the one thing I thought I made clear was that I didn’t want Hattie and Joe being divided between Reception and Year One, unless it was for a very compelling reason (like, a difference in ability so marked that it would be crazy to keep them together). Because of this, I was quite surprised to have the issue raised at this early stage – only their sixth day at school. I asked the teacher for some time to think about it. I felt like we should do the right thing for them educationally, but I felt so uneasy at the thought of splitting them up. Hattie and Joe have made it very clear that they want to be together at school, and I’d given them my assurances that, for Year One at least, they would be in the same class. And although I know two or three weeks doesn’t seem like much time, it’s a bloody long time if you’ve had more than two or three hours apart from your twin. And I know that every singleton kid has to cope alone, but that’s normal for them: being together is normal for Hattie and Joe. I mean, look at the two of them!
As the day progressed I talked briefly to Tristan about it, and also had a good chat with my lovely twin mum friend Jacinda, whose twins are good mates with our two, and who has gone through them starting school a couple of months earlier. When I told her what had been proposed she immediately thought that the negative outcomes could far exceed any benefits from splitting them. For starters, how would we put a positive spin on Hattie being held back? She’s a smart kid, and I can’t think of any way I could gloss the news that Joe was ready to move on, and she wasn’t.
I was also very mindful of the fact that Joe’s already a fairly reluctant school kid. He hates the conformity of wearing a uniform, and although he’s dealt with it very well, he has told me several times that school is boring and he’d rather not be there. I know he’s having fun when he actually is there, but I didn’t relish the prospect of doing anything that might increase his negativity about the experience. Jacinda also pointed out that the educational benefits of Joe advancing would hardly be huge, given that it’s all play-based learning anyway, and he’d only be there for a few weeks.
When I had a chance to talk to Tristan it was clear that he’d be disinclined to split the kids up. He felt that they’ve adjusted to school incredibly well, and that it would be really unwise to rock the boat unless it was unavoidable. He wanted more information from the school, to hear about whether there really was a need to separate them.
I totally agreed with all of these comments, and I’m glad to say that the teacher saw our point as well when I talked to her again about it at school pick-up. I asked her if she could explain more why she thought splitting them might be advantageous, and she said that it was for both academic reasons – Joe is ahead of Hattie at the moment – and for social reasons. Apparently – unsurprisingly – they are glued together at every opportunity.
On the academic front she agreed with me that there really isn’t much of a difference between their actual abilities: the difference lies more in Joe’s greater willingness to try things and risk getting them wrong. If Hattie was the kind of kid who’d be spurred on by the thought of catching up with Joe, I could see that temporarily splitting them up might have its advantages. However, Hattie is not that kid: she doesn’t seem to have any need for extrinsic motivation – she does things when she’s ready to do them, and not before.
I agreed with her that the kids are very dependent on each other socially, and I do believe that they will need to move to separate classes eventually, but really – six days in?! That seems very premature to me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are many compromises that come with being a twin, so I really believe that twins should be able to take advantage of the good elements where possible – and having your best friend there to support you through the massive change of starting school is definitely one of those good elements.
So (long story short) I’m pleased to report that the teacher totally took on board our feedback that the risk of disrupting the kids’ school transition and upsetting them both by splitting them up, and Joe will chill out in Reception until Hattie is also ready for Year One. Hooray! The teacher absolutely agreed that the kids’ happiness at school is far more important than academic stuff, particularly at this tender age. It’s great to be reminded that, even though my original request to keep them together didn’t quite trickle down as far as I would have liked, the school totally understands what’s really important: happy kids who are in a good position to flourish at school.
Oh – and I spoke to the Reception teacher about Hattie and homework, and she said it’s absolutely fine to let her do whatever she feels comfortable with, and there’s no pressure to practise writing if she doesn’t want to do it. So that’s great! Yesterday Tristan did their sight words and ‘reading’ with them both, and instead of practising writing the letter of the day, we thought of as many things as we could starting with that letter. It was quite the fun dinner table activity, and helped to distract them from the fact that they were actually eating, so that’s always a big win in our house.