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School placement and separation of twins: a review of research.

The preschool director smiled as she glanced at the 2-year-old twin sisters, Caroline and Grace. She looked at me, their mother, and said, "It's our policy to separate twins, so they develop their own personalities. Caroline and Grace need to be separated before age 3. Caroline is more mature--and she will be placed with the 3- to 4-year-old class, while Grace will stay with the 2- to 3-year-olds." Breathe. Maintain composure. Try not to faint. Those were the only thoughts I could manage.

The preceding vignette is not an unusual experience for parents of twins during their early schooling experiences--in child care centers, preschools, and elementary schools across the world. Many families experience frustration, anger, and fear as they contemplate the forced separation of their children. This column provides a synthesis of research studies to support why educators should maintain a flexible policy on school placement of twins.

Classroom Separation Research

Twin births continue to increase (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1999; Hays & Preedy, 2006; Martin et al., 2006). According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 133,122 twins born in the United States in 2005 (Martin et al., 2006). Since 1990, the twin birth rate increased by 42%; since 1980, there has been a 70% increase in twin births (Martin et al., 2006). Across the world, twin separation decisions are often made by schools without any input from the parents--a traditional approach in education since the 1960s (Faulkner, 2008; Gleeson, Hay, Johnston, & Theobald, 1990). For example, in the Netherlands, the Dutch Society for Parents of Multiples (NVOM) generally believes that separation is better for individual development of twins (Geluk & Hol, 2001; van Leeuwen, van den Berg, van Beijsterveldt, & Boomsma, 2005), consequently influencing parents' decision-making. Educators in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States who believe twins should be separated often do not have any research support in forming their decision, although they may be basing their decision on Koch's widely cited research study on the issue (Koch, 1966; Tully et al., 2004). Koch's study found that separated twins performed better in school than did twins who were kept together, based on IQ scores and speech development. Although researchers now view Koch's study as flawed (Beauchamp & Brooks, 2003; Tully et al., 2004) because of research methodological problems, schools today may have similar philosophies because of the lack of practical articles written for educators on twin placement research (Banks, 2004; Katz, 1998). For example, one study showed that the principal was the individual who most often decided on twin school placements (Alexander, 1987); of 169 principals surveyed, 83% favored separation and 9% recommended separate schools, if possible. Many research studies report that parents are seldom consulted on their twins' placement in school (Beauchamp, 2003; Gleeson et al., 1990; Ingalls, 2008).

Recent Research and Twin School Placement

Numerous opinion pieces address classroom choice and twins, primarily printed in publications for mothers of twins (Blevins, 2001; Franklin, 2006). Until recently, however, few scientific studies examined the effects of twins' classroom separation. Over the past few years, several studies have investigated the effects of twin separation (Beauchamp & Brooks, 2003; DiLalla & Mullineaux, 2008; Tully et al., 2004; van Leeuwen et al., 2005), and it is important that educators carefully examine the research literature and make informed decisions when deciding on twin placement in school. Tully et al. (2004) document the damaging effects of forced separation on twins' behavior and progress within school. This particular study took place with 15,906 twin pairs born between 199495 in England and Wales. Tully et al. (2004) found that the twins who were separated had significantly more teacher-rated internalizing problems. In particular, they found that monozygotic (MZ), or identical twins, showed more problems than their dyzygotic (DZ), or fraternal twin, peers, and the problems experienced by the MZ twins continued over the course of the study.

Those twins separated in the early childhood years of school may suffer anxiety or fear, since twins, especially MZ twins, are very much attached to each other (DiLalla & Mullineaux, 2008; van Leeuwen et al., 2005). Another researcher, Rose (2002), found that twins are likely to nominate one another as their own best friend, and the twin relationship is often considered an intimate, attachment relationship (Tancredy & Fraley, 2006). When a problem or stressful situation arises in school, one twin will often look to the other twin for security and reassurance (DiLalla & Mullineaux, 2008). Other studies (Hays & Preedy, 2006) support the Tully et al. (2004) study by explaining that special consideration should be taken when placing multiple-birth children into separate classrooms, since it will typically be the first time that twins have been separated from one another. These researchers also caution that "before deciding whether to separate multiple birth children, parents and teachers need to meet to discuss the development and experiences of the children" (Hays & Preedy, 2006, p. 399). Having discussions between parents, teachers, and school leaders becomes especially important, because no evidence exists showing that separation helps the intellectual or emotional development of twins. Even common sense tells us that no two children are alike. Therefore, each set of twins should be evaluated individually. With this research in mind, it is important that schools provide flexible choices for families as they decide on the school placement for their twins (Lacina, in press).

Advocacy for Twins and Their Families

The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC, 1998) issued a position statement advocating for a flexible school placement policy, which calls for a collaborative decision between schools and families. Across the United States, parents have lobbied state lawmakers to pass laws that prohibit the forced separation of twins; in 2005, the first such "twin law" passed in Minnesota. Currently, 11 states have twin laws, including Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia (; Lacina, in press). Beyond advocacy statements and state laws calling for flexible school placement policies, educators and parents have resources they can use when deciding on classroom placement. For example, "Together or Apart: A Checklist for Parents and Teachers of Multiples" provides a comprehensive checklist for parents and educators to complete together ( Additionally, NOMOTC presents a series of guidelines for the education of multiples (, which advocate for a school environment that fosters an appreciation for the bond between twins and other multiples, and a flexible school placement policy throughout the elementary school years. Twins who are separated should be closely observed to ensure that they are adjusting to being separated from their twin (Lacina, in press). Parents and teachers should monitor each child's ability to make new friends, their dependence/independence in their newly separate classrooms, and their behavior in class and at home.

Similarly, teachers should welcome twins into their classrooms, just as they welcome diverse children of all backgrounds. For example, teachers can include books in their class library that feature twins as main characters, while avoiding books that promote stereotypes of twins (Lacina, in press). A wide variety of books is published that feature twins as main characters, and these books are available for both young children and adolescents. Table I highlights a few popular books for these two age groups.


While there is no simple solution to this issue, schools should maintain a flexible twin placement policy, working with families to best meet the needs of each individual child. Instead of viewing the placement of twins only in terms of separation, educators need to reconsider the many benefits of having twins within their schools, just as they welcome other forms of diversity. In the book Two Times the Fun, well-known children's book author Beverly Cleary (2005) celebrates the special qualities that twins have by noting how fictional twins in her book are alike but different. With a growing body of research to support flexible school placement policies, there is a need for educators at all levels to welcome this group of students into their schools.


Alexander, T. (1987). Make room for twins: A complete guide to pregnancy, delivery, and the childhood years. Toronto: Bantam.

Banks, R. (2004). Classroom placement of twins. Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting. Retrieved from

Beauchamp, H. (2003). The perceptions, policy, and practice of educating twins: A review. Psychology in the Schools, 40, 429-438.

Beauchamp, H. M., & Brooks, L. J. (2003). The perceptions, policy, and practice of educating twins: A review. Psychology in the Schools, 40(4), 429-438.

Blevins, E. (2001). Classroom choice: It's your decision. Twins Magazine, 20-23.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1999). National Vital Statistics Reports, 47, 1-17.

Cleary, B. (2005). Two times the fun. New York: HarperCollins.

DiLalla, L. F., & Mullineaux, P. Y. (2008). The effect of classroom environment on problem behaviors: A twin study. Journal of School Psychology, 46(2), 107-128.

Faulkner, C. (2008). Guiding parents on whether to separate or place twins together in school. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 25(3), 1-6.

Franklin, R. (2006). Breaking the barriers: The secrets to controlling your twins' classroom placement. Twins Magazine.

Geluk, A., & Hol, J. (2001). Samen of apart? Meerlingkinderen naar school, peuter-speelzaal of kinderopvang (Together or Apart? Multiples to school, playground or daycare) [Brochure]. Bergen, the Netherlands: NVOM (Dutch Society for Parents of Multiples).

Gleeson, C., Hay, D. A., Johnston, C. J., & Theobald, R. M. (1990). Twins in school: An Australian-wide program. Acta Geneticae Medicae et Gemelloglogiae: Twin Research, 39, 231-244.

Hays, D. A., & Preedy, P. (2006). Meeting the educational needs of multiple birth children. Early Human Development, 82, 397-403.

Ingalls, V. (2008). The school experiences of multiple birth children. Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research, 2, 111-120.

Katz, L. (1998). Twins in school: What teachers should know. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved from content_storage_01/0000019b/80/16/f2/fd.pdf

Koch, H. L. (1966). Twins and twin relations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lacina, J. (in press). Best practices for twin placement in school. Young Children.

Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Sutton, P. D., Ventura, S. J., Menacker, F., & Kirmeyer, S. (2006). Births: Final data for 2004. National Vital Statistics Reports. Centers for Disease Control, 55(1), 1-104.

National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs. (n.d.). NOMOTC's guidelines for the education of multiples. Retrieved from

O'Hair, M., & Courtin, T. (2003). Twin to twin. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Rose, R.J. (2002). How do adolescents select their friends? A behavior-genetic perspective. In L. Pulkkinen & A. Caspi (Eds.), Paths to successful development: Personality in the life course (pp. 106-125). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tancredy, C. M., & Fraley, R. C. (2006). The nature of adult twin relationships: An attachment-theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(1), 78-93.

Together or apart: A checklist for parents and teachers of multiples. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tully, L. A., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., Kiernan, H., & Andreou, P. (2004). What effect does classroom separation have on twins' behavior, progress at school, and reading abilities? Twin Research, 7(2), 115-124.

Van Leeuwen, M., van den Berg, S. M., van Beijsterveldt, T., & Boomsma, D. (2005). Effects of twin separation in primary school. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 8(4), 384-391.

Jan Lacina is Associate Professor, College of Education, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.
Table 1

Books That Feature Twins as Main

                                      Age Level:
                                      Primary (P)
                                      or Middle
                                      Childhood (M)

Avi & Vail, R. (2004). Never mind!    M
A twin novel. New York:

Cleary, B. (2005). Two times the      P
fun. New York: HarperCollins.

Creech, S. (2003). Ruby Holler. New   M
York: Scholastic.

Cussler, C. (2007). The adventures    P/M
of Vin Fiz. New York: Philomel

Doyle, C. (2003). Twins! New York:    P
G. P Putnam's Sons.

Harper, J., & Berkeley, J. (2008).    P
Uh-oh, Cleo. New York: Penguin

Lewison, W. C. (2006). Two is for     P
twins. New York: Viking.

Rotner, S., & Kelly, S. M. (1999).    P
About twins. New York: DK Ink.

Rubel, N. (2004). Twice as nice:      P
What it's like to be a twin. New
York: Farrar,Straus, and Giroux.

Voake, C. (2006). Hello twins.        P
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
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Title Annotation:review of research
Author:Lacina, Jan
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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