Sunday, August 1, 2010

The School Search Begins

One of the more daunting tasks faced by parents of multiples is the search for schools. This is stressful for any parent, but when you have twins (or more) it can seem completely overwhelming. The process begins, for many of us, while our kids are too young to even have any sense of a developed personality; so saying that you are choosing a preschool that is right for them is a bit of a joke. You choose a preschool that is right for your family as you perceive it to be. You choose a school that is conveniently located, that has a director and teachers whose philosophies are like yours (or like what you aspire to have), and that is hopefully affordable. Some preschools are part of a school that goes all the way up through, say, 6th grade; which makes life simpler, assuming you love the school past the first year. Most preschools only take you through Pre-Kindergarten and then the process begins all over again.

Applying for school for twins means you have to think a little smarter and, perhaps, do a few things you might not have to do were you applying for a singleton. Same sex twins make it even more complex. Schools like to balance out their classrooms by gender and by birthdays; so asking a school to give not just two spots to one family, but also two girl (or boy) spots and two birthdays in the same month, can be asking too much for some schools. But obviously, not for all. There are things I would suggest considering when looking at schools for your twins that go beyond the basics:
  • Are there other twins at the school? The presence of other multiples shows that the school is open to it and that they at least have had some experience in handling the nuances involved in having twins in the classroom. 
  • Is the school large enough to have your children in separate classrooms? This isn't a necessity, but as your children age you may feel more drawn to this idea. As I have written before in posts such as "Getting To Know You", giving your twins time apart from each other is one of the best ways to help them develop their individuality. If you absolutely love a school, but it isn't physically possible for the kids to be in separate classrooms, get some concrete information from the director or whomever you are in contact with, on how they will help your children have their own space and how they work to individuate twins. You will often get the standard "we separate them into two classrooms", but treating twins as individuals is so much more than just physically separating them; get a sense of their sensitivity towards the issue.
  • Start early. At some schools it's never too early to start looking. We looked at one very popular preschool here in Los Angeles which has a true waiting list that the director schedules her tours from. Friends of mine were on that list when their children were 4 months old. I toured another highly recommended LA preschool with a pregnant mother. To me, all of that was a bit ridiculous and you can easily get very anxious if you get wrapped up in the hysteria. All that being said, starting your research and your touring early isn't a dumb idea; with twins, it is a good idea to apply to more schools than your singleton parent friends are applying to and you have extra issues to consider. Additionally, you want time to develop your plan of attack when applying! I started the search when our children were about a year old, maybe a little younger. 
  • Assess your needs, define your desires. By this I mean, do you have visions of your children frolicking under shady trees and in sandboxes or do you picture them being geniuses who can read and write by the time they're two? Or maybe a little of both? Structure or less structure? Traditional or Progressive or Developmental? Reggio? Montessori? The list goes on and on and when you're new to the game, everyone might as well be speaking some crazy foreign language. Do a little research and define the terms, think about what you loved most about school and what you disliked most as this will be a good guide for what types of schools are going to appeal to you, consider how at home you feel in the environment when you tour. After all of this, think about whether you need a school that you can drop off early or pick up late at; a school that has a five-day a week schedule or one that has a 2- or 3-day a week schedule, will a school that is a 5-minute walk be best or will one that is a 20-minute drive be OK for you? Really give some thought to how much driving you are willing to do (and how much your children will be able to handle).
  • What is the school's approach to the transition? Those first days of school are particularly tough as you try to separate from your "babies" and teach them that these teachers/strangers are now going to fulfill all their needs. Who is it harder for, the children or the parents? Sometimes it's hard to know. Here's where having twins actually makes you feel a bit more secure! In most cases your children will be starting the first year at school together so it is somewhat comforting to know that they, at least, have each other to help feel secure. Regardless, the transition can be quite difficult; one twin may blend in easily, while the other is clinging to you like a barnacle (and you may be surprised by who the barnacle is)! You want to find a school that makes you feel comfortable throughout the process. You may be the type who needs a lot of contact from the director and teachers to let you know what they are doing and how your children are faring and may not want to feel pushed to transition before you're ready. On the other hand, you might appreciate a little tough love and respond well to being told that transitioning only lasts a few days and after that you will leave your child with a quick hug and a kiss. Different schools do it differently. Feel it out, ask questions and know what works for you.
  • Make your case. One of the most important aspects of applying to school with twins is to make it clear that you understand that you are not expecting a "two for one" deal. You may want to impress upon the admissions director or head of school that you understand what it means to have twins in the class. One aspect I had never considered before starting school was that the teachers with twins in their classrooms have to deal with sibling rivalry on top of everything else; this can be a big deal if your children have a particularly hard time in this area. I think acknowledging your children's personalities and how they interact and discussing in a positive way how you have chosen to handle these matters shows that you're proactive, involved and willing to do the work. I have written previously about a blog I love called Beyond The Brochure and an article she wrote on twins which, in part said the following: "The important thing to impress on the admissions folks in the interviewing process--and throughout the application process-- is that you, as parents, are not trying to get two children through their school as if they were one. You must let them know that you understand that you will be partners with them on each child, seeing your children individually, contributing to the school with your volunteer efforts for two, supporting the school financially beyond tuition for two, etc." You can read the full entry here. Christina Simon, who writes the blog has great insight into navigating the application process.
There is so much that goes into the search for preschool for your twins. We worried about the playground equipment and the coziness of classrooms. We worried about hot lunches and the parking situation. We compared large schools and tiny schools, fancy schools and "less fancy" schools. In the end, for us, it boiled down to the director of our school. We loved her philosophy and the methods she employs to teach the children (I wrote about some of it in a post called The Superhero and Princess Epidemic"); we felt comfortable with the other families, we liked the school's approach to having twins in the classroom, we felt at home. One year into it and I know we've made the right choice. Now I am starting the search for Kindergarten and beyond....more to come!

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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