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Twins at School - Guidance for Parents & Teachers
Pat Preedy became interested in school issues around multiple birth children in 1992 when nine sets of twins showed up at her school in Solihull. West Midlands. England to begin primary school. This brought the number to ten sets when added to the set already enrolled. Pat Preedy embarked on a 6-year research study involving 3.000 schools in 73 education authorities and a sample that consisted of 619.633 pupils. of which 11.873 were twin children with 117 sets of triplets and five sets of quads.

The survey showed that most schools in England have no policy on the education of twins or triplets despite an increase in multiple births. The question of separation in class was found to be a common cause of conflict between teachers and parents. The survey found that only 1% of primary schools had a relevant written policy.
Parental choice
Some teaching staff thought that separation was beneficial for individual development while others felt that twins should be kept together as a natural unit. Mrs Preedy told BBC News Online: "Decisions are frequently based on assumptions. Sometimes opinions were just what a member of staff had heard somewhere or read in a newspaper."

Schools which separated twins said they did so because of requests from parents. to develop the children's independence or to tackle dominance or restriction of one twin by the other. Those which kept children together said this was to allow them to support each other. because of the wishes of parents. or simply because there were no apparent problems or reasons for separation. Schools with classes grouped alphabetically or by birth date often automatically placed twins together without considering the effects.
No Discussion
Mrs Preedy said that more than three quarters of schools questioned did not discuss this issue with parents. "The steady increase in multiple births heightens the need for increased awareness of the special consideration required in managing the children's progress." she said.

One child in 35 is now a twin. triplet or quad. according to the survey. The national increase is partly a result of fertility treatments - particularly the incidence of triplets. Better neo-natal care has led to a higher survival rate for small or premature babies.There has also been a trend towards older motherhood when twins are more likely.

Mrs Preedy, who is educational research consultant for the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba), said that there are no clear-cut answers.
Flexibility advised
She recommends schools take a flexible approach in each case and conduct regular reviews. "We are not saying there are huge problems but you need to watch for extremes and see if children need help to behave. and be treated. both as individuals and as twins or triplets." said Mrs Preedy.

Her study concluded that some children need to be together at the start of their schooling to support each other. particularly as 84% of those surveyed had previously spent very little time apart. "Others wanted to be separated or they started off together and then separated later."

Pat identified three main categories of multiples: Extreme Individual. Mature Dependent and Closely Coupled. Here are the traits as they identified them:
Extreme Individual
  • Likes own friends. doesn't share friends
  • Plays mostly alone
  • Opts out of the interaction if his co-multiple is successful
  • Polarises his/her behaviour. goes to extremes (angel/devil)
  • Is excessively competitive
  • Dislikes co-multiple(s)
  • Refuses to dress alike
  • Tries to dominate
Mature Dependent
  • Shared and separate friends
  • Are happy either separated or together
  • Supportive of co-multiple(s)
  • Has developed as an individual with own identity
  • May choose the same or different interests from co-multiple(s)
Closely Coupled
  • Unhappy when separated. want to be together most/all of the time
  • Respond to each others' names/group name. e.g. "Twinnie"
  • Cannot recognize his/her image in the mirror
  • Uses twin "language" (cryptophasia)
  • Each slows down/speeds up to keep together. especially in school
  • Few or no individual friends
  • Combines to form a unit
  • Dress and behave identically
"The main issue is not so much whether to separate children but how to help them develop as 'mature dependents'." Pat says. "These children enjoy their multiple-birth relationship but are able to choose some things the same as their twin and some things that are different. "They are able to develop as individuals. making their own friends and accepting that they cannot always be the same as their twin."
Framework policy
The results of the study are included on a website in a joint initiative with Professor David Hay of the University of Curtin in Australia. He leads specialist research into the educational and social needs of multiple-birth children.

Mrs Preedy. whose study has been conducted through the University of Birmingham. has drawn up a framework school policy and parent/teacher questionnaire. She has also devised a theoretical model to assist professionals in the personal. social and emotional assessment of the children.

Mrs Preedy. is also educational research consultant for the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba).

Assisting Multiples as Individuals Pat shares some ways to assist and support multiples in becoming individual thinkers. both by parents and educators alike:
  • Make individual eye contact so that each child is aware that you are speaking only to him/her.
  • Use the child's name at the beginning of the sentence. followed by your request or instructions. This gets his/her attention and there is no confusion for the children as to whom you are addressing.
  • Ensure that each child speaks for her/himself and that the other does not do all/most of the talking/responding.
if you are having difficulty in "getting through" to one. both or all of the children. use play to engage them in conversation. Through playing a game with them. the parent or educator can create scenarios and engage a child. asking how they might respond. or what they might be feel if such a such a situation were to arise. When done through play. most children will let their guard down and express what they are thinking. A play situation vs an actual situation permits relaxed feedback from the child.

Pat reminds us that one of the "problems" experienced by multiples is their lack of privacy from each other. For example: if the parents send one multiple on an activity holiday or shool trip (camp as they call it in the USA). they are usually sending two or three. Hence multiples do not have the same experience as if only one child was going alone. Sent together they do not have time away from each other. are not encouraged to make individual friends or develop individual interests. They are inadvertently set up to continue to rely on each other and hence experience a lack of privacy from each other.
Raising Parental & Educator Awareness
Pat stresses that both parents and teachers have the ability to assist multiple birth children in becoming the best they can be. Both need to be aware of the categories of twins as identified above and into which category each set of multiples may fall. When it can be determined as to how the multiples may be linked. both parents and educators can be properly assist and support the children reach their full potential. Pat advised that failure to recognize the challenges that multiples face from either being together or separate in their early schooling years is "unconscious incompetence."
Multiple Births Canada Conference 2003
Pat addressed the Multiple Births Canada Conference which was well attended by 100+ delegates. mostly parents. whose children are at or near school age and whom want to make the right decisions regarding their children's class placement. Even though advance notice of Pat's presentation was made several times to the local School Boards. attendance by educators was disappointing and pretty well limited to those with multiple birth children.

Schools don't yet realise the part they can play helping/supporting multiple birth children and their parents with placement challenges. Nor do they recognize their important support role in assisting multiple birth children in making the transition into school and in separating from each other. The lack of representation for Pat's Key Note and Workshop presentations from daycares. educators. principals and School Boards reinforces for me. that Boards underestimate and may not recognize the importance of their roles in class placement decisions. in being informed regarding the issues around multiples in school and therefore indeed function in an "unconscious incompetence."

Resources: Lynda P. Haddon Multiple Births Families Pat Preedy. Ph.D. - Key Note Speaker - Multiple Births Canada Conference 2003 Interview given by Pat Preedy to BBC News Online Aug 2001

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