students

What's the best course of action for educating twins?


twins in class

There comes a time that, as the parent of twins, one has to make a crucial decision:

Should I keep them together or should I separate them?

This is a particularly pressing decision to be made in the case of identical twins.

Think about it: they share the same DNA, they look exactly alike (to most people outside of the immediate family) and they are, by most accounts, at the same stage of development. The natural course of action that is taken is to keep them together, at least for the early days of preschool and Kindergarten.

My boys are figuratively joined at the hip, doing almost everything together including bathing, playing, sleeping and fighting. They are each other’s best friends and worst enemies, depending on the day and time. They love each other. They despise each other. And if they had the maturity to provide some perspective on their relationship, I have no doubt that they would not have it any other way.

Yet, like most parents of identical twins, I’m acutely aware of the natural inclination to treat the children the same. After all - it’s easy to get lulled into thinking that the kids are two parts of a whole, that they are more or less the same, because of the simple fact that, to the untrained eye, they look the same.

In spite of this fact, they are individuals, reality that becomes increasingly important to them as they navigate the world, correcting those who think that they are their brother - and vice versa. Without being an identical twin, it’s hard to imagine always being mistaken for someone else, or, on the flip side, having someone who looks exactly like you. It must be simultaneously annoying and amazing.

Fraternal twins are often grouped together by outsiders as well, though not as much, especially if the twins don’t look alike, or are of different sexes. While the incidences of comparison are not as high as they are with identical twins, the tendency to do so by outsiders exists nonetheless. Teachers who have a pair of twins in their class - identical or fraternal - often naturally make comparisons between the siblings, as it is human nature to do so.

During the early stages of socialization, e.g. preschool, daycare and Kindergarten, it makes sense to take the simple route and put them together in the same class. This way, there’s no trauma at the prospect of being alone in a new social environment without the comfort of that sibling that will be their guide, confidante and friend, no matter what.

But the time will come where a choice must be made: should they remain together, joined at the proverbial hip to offer support to their sibling, or should they part ways, venture into the world (or classroom) alone and gain their independence?

The right answer is not an easy one, and as a parent having to make this choice, its particularly stress-inducing.

Like any critical decision, the pros and cons must be weighed in order to make the right decision. This is a tricky one, as there good arguments on both sides of the fence - a fact that doesn’t make it easier for the parents in making a decision. As a parent struggling with making a decision about what the right choice is for my kids, I know I’m not alone. Knowing that the choice made will have long-reaching effects on my kids makes the decision to separate the twins - or not - even more daunting. To this end, I thought it would be a good idea to list both the positive and negative implications of separating twins at school. Here’s what I came up with:

Pros and Cons of Separating Twins at School

Pros:

  1. Each twin is better able to foster a sense of individuality
  2. Dependency on each other is decreased, allowing each twin to gain confidence in their own abilities
  3. The incidences of being compared to or confused with the other twin is eliminated
  4. The absence of the other twin provides an environment where each twin can “grow” into their own personalities and characters
  5. Competition between twins will decrease when they’re not in the same classroom daily
  6. The absence of the other twin as a “built-in” friend and companion will allow each twin to form friendships with other children

Cons:

  1. The comfort of knowing that their twin is immediately close by is removed, a fact that may increase anxiety amongst some twins
  2. Twins often rely on each other to provide support emotionally; twins who are separated may have increased difficulty relying on others for a certain level of emotional support
  3. The effect of emotional distress and anxiety that some twins may feel being separated from their sibling may affect their academic progress in school
  4. Parents of twins separated at school will have to navigate double the amount of school-related activities on behalf of their kids (two separate parent-teacher interview appointments, two separate parent volunteer days at school, etc.)

Conclusion: While I’d love to say what the definitive answer is to this question, unfortunately the jury is out. While it may appear that solely on the basis of pros and cons, the scale tips on the side of separating the twins, this is not necessarily the case. Each set of twins are individuals and their ability to positively advance in school, separated or not, depends on a number of factors. These include the personalities of each twin, their ability to adapt to change, and the level of mutual reliance on each other. It would be great to have a “one-size fits all” answer but as we all know, most important decisions related to kids are not ever simple.

On a related note, here’s an extreme case of twins being separated at birth with an incredibly positive outcome:

Separated at Birth, Reunited on Facebook

So what are your thoughts and experiences about separating twins at school? Is it a good idea to keep them together or better to separate them? What are your reasons for the choices that you made? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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boy reading on grass

School’s out and the kids are taking it easy. For many, the morning rush, homework and studying may now seem like distant memories. With the spectre of fun in the sun, summer camp or days filled with inordinate amounts of play on the horizon, schoolwork is one of the last things on the minds of most kids.

Yet, for parents, there’s often a fear that much of what has been learned over the school year will dissipate in the face of what the kids may view as more worthwhile activities. Let’s face it: there are competing priorities happening and as far as the kids are concerned, the fun and games are going to win.

For parents who have spent much of the year making sure that their kids are on track with their studies, there is often a fear that the summer break will “undo” all of the hard work and learning that was achieved during the previous school year. While the chance of this happening is unlikely, what is likely that kids will put much of what they’ve learned on the back burner, replacing it with more pressing pursuits.

Fortunately, the summer holidays don’t have to be a time where all learning goes by the wayside. There are many ways that parents can keep their kids on track for the coming school year without dampening the fun during the kids’ summer vacation. Parents who are interested in keeping their kids’ minds active over the summer break should check the September curriculum for their child’s upcoming grade so that they know what to expect when school starts again. Having knowledge of what will be on your child’s agenda is enough to start the ball rolling in terms of having your kids learn through the summer months. Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean that kids have to lose the momentum of learning that has been built up throughout the year.  With a little planning, children can still enjoy their summer holidays while continuing to keep their minds sharp.

Following are 5 things parents can do to keep their child’s minds active over the summer holidays:

1) Library Time - The summer months provide a great opportunity for kids to catch up on their reading or for new readers, to build their skills. To encourage a love or reading, make trips to the local library a regular occurrence. Many libraries have summer programs that are specially geared towards young readers that focus on the joy and fun that reading brings. Programs may include story time, reading in a group or incentive-based reading goals to inspire kids to pick up a book or two. For older kids, encourage them to spend a few hours at the library each week, reading for both fun and learning.

2) Outdoor “Classes” - The warm weather is the perfect backdrop for learning. Who said that schooling has to happen in a classroom? Visit your local park, have a picnic and encourage your child to kick back with a good book or learning-related materials in the great outdoors. Set up a picnic table with paper, pencils, and any workbook materials and watch your child become refocused on learning. They’ll enjoy the change of pace and will be more motivated in the new environment.

3) Fun and Games - Was your child struggling with math or spelling during the school year? Why not make it fun over the summer while encouraging learning? Playing card games that provide an opportunity to learn math or word games such Scrabble that support spelling are a great way of passing the time during the summer holiday break. Play one-on-one with your child to support and answer questions during the games so that you can focus on the areas of learning that your son or daughter needs. You can also encourage them to play these games with their friends for additional learning opportunities (and time away from screens!).

4) Science Learning - Use the great outdoors and nature as an opportunity to teach your kids some basics about science. Activities can include a nature hike with frequent stops to discuss plants, critters, bugs and anything that may cross your paths. Warm summer evenings are a great time for star-gazing and learning about the planets. As well, many cities have a local science museum that supports summer learning for kids. Check your local listings for details on child-friendly events that are available.

6) Community Events - Education doesn’t have to include classrooms and book reports. Children can often learn many important lessons through exposure to cultural and local festivals and events. Whether it’s trying a new food, learning about different cultural customs or even being exposed to a new language, attending these events will provide a great opportunity for discussion and learning. Make a plan to check out local community activities over the summer break with your kids and watch them learn while having fun.

What other suggestions do you have for keeping your child’s mind active over the summer holidays? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below!

Image courtesy of www.sheknows.com

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VIDEO: Have School Rules Gone Too Far?

by Samantha on November 2, 2013

NoCandy

School’s not so simple anymore.

These days, almost everything is under scrutiny, including some of our most beloved holidays and traditions.

First up? Halloween. I wrote about an Ontario, Canada school that was banning Halloween celebrations in the apparent spirit of “inclusiveness” and not wanting to have certain children apparently feeling left out. You can read the full article here:

A Politically Correct Nightmare: The School That Cancelled Halloween

Following the article’s publication, I was asked to appear on a news program called Square Off to discuss the trend towards banning not only candy and Halloween in some schools, but pictures, video at school concerts and treats in kid’s lunches as well. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll probably guess where I stand on these issues. If not, it’s pretty clear in the video clip below.

VIDEO: Have School Rules Gone Too Far?

 

Do you think schools have gone too far with their rules and restrictions? Why or why not? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

Image courtesy of http://startwiththeinside.blogspot.ca/


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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Back to School Stress

by Samantha on September 10, 2013

back to school stress

The lazy,  hazy days of summer have passed and the kids have returned to school.

It may be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for parents but for kids, this is not necessarily the case.

More often than not, back to school signals the beginning of a very stressful time.

Regardless of age or grade, returning to school can be anxiety-causing, to say the least. Between homework, bullies and the fear of not succeeding in class, is it any wonder that our kids are stressed-out? And don’t fool yourselves: this anxiety is not only the domain of the young. Older kids - teens and university or college-bound students - have their fair share of worry about what the coming semester will bring as well. For those going off to university and living in residence for the first time, “back to school” is a whole other ball of wax, and a stressful one at that.

I returned to CBC’s studios to discuss this subject and provide some simple advice and tips for parents and kids who are dealing with back to school stress. Following is the audio of the full interview as well as some of the questions and answers that were discussed (click to listen).

Back to School Stress - How to Help Kids Deal With Anxiety

1) What are some of the key causes of back-to-school stress for kids?

There are many but some of the ones that seem to cause the most stress are the spectre of homework and studying, bullies/bullying, separation anxiety for younger kids and for middle school and high school kids, peer pressure and popularity.

2) Things move fast in this day and age—do you think today’s kids are more stressed than in previous years?

I think that kids today have a lot more on their plates. We live in an information age and as a result, they have information coming to them from a multitude of different sources. In some ways this can add fuel to the fire as they have more input on how things may or may not work out well, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Add to this the very real problem of cyberbullying by school peers and it’s no wonder that some kids are stressed.

3) How does back to school anxiety and stress manifest itself for kids of different ages and grades?

There are many factors that add to kids stress, and they’re different for each age and grade. For elementary school kids, some of their primary fears are separation anxiety (kindergarten and first-graders), homework, studying, fear of the unknown, and having to deal with the structure of a full day of school. Gone are the lazy dog days of summer and that’s a hard lesson to experience for some kids. For middle and high school students, cyberbullying is unfortunately a very real problem, as the Internet, digital communication and social media makes it very easy to bully and tease certain classmates. Older kids also worry about their grades, making the track or soccer team or other extra-curricular activities that are important to them. One other issue is sleep - older kids often have difficulty getting back into a scheduled routine where they have to get up early and head out the door for school. Ironically, worrying about sleep often results in not being able to sleep.

4. You’re a mother yourself…how challenging is it to get your kids to TALK to you about their school-related anxieties?

It’s challenging, alright. My twin boys are 4 and just started Kindergarten, so my husband and I had a good talk with them about what to expect. We toured the classroom before they started last week, so they were pretty prepared. As well, they’ve been in daycare so they’re not completely immune to the whole “structured” environment of school. My nine-year-old daughter was feeling somewhat anxious, more about being prepared for the first day, not knowing who her teacher was or classmates were, that type of thing. Again, I found that being open and creating an environment where she could voice her stresses was really helpful. We talked through all of the various things that were on her mind well before school started so by the time the first day back rolled around, she was excited, not scared.

5) What can parents do to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses associated with going back to school?

There are a number of things that parents can do. Firstly, parents of stressed kids should talk to their children and make themselves available to hear their children’s concerns and fears. Sometimes just knowing that your parent is taking the time to listen can be a huge help to kids. As well, parents can take some concrete steps to alleviate fear of the unknown - for younger kids, taking the kids to school and speaking to the teacher about what’s on the curriculum agenda for the school year can help. Parents can then discuss homework or class work plans and expectations and listen to their kids concerns, perhaps offering solutions in the process. Preparing your kids for their days in school, whether that means helping them stock their knapsack, planning their wardrobe or helping them with homework - all of these actions show the child that their parents care and that they’re there for their kids during this stressful time. Finally, teaching a child to trust their own abilities and to be confident in who they are - this is key to kids ultimately being able to handle any situation that’s put in front of them. Learning how to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety through active mindfulness - whether it’s meditation in the classical sense, or just supporting the child having some quiet “down time” will do wonders for the child’s overall sense of well-being, regardless of their age. Recent studies in the U.K. have shown that teaching kids mindfulness techniques to be used in the classroom have been successful in addressing kids’ anxiety and stress.

6) How about teachers? What are their responsibilities in alleviating their students’ stress?

Most teachers want to have a classroom full of anxiety-free kids, so I know that they do their part to make it as comfortable as possible. Similar to what parents are doing, teachers can create an open and welcoming environment in the classroom that encourages kids to discuss their feelings and concerns. As well, teachers can facilitate a classroom where two-way communication and interactivity amongst students and with the teacher is the standard. Doing so will go a long way in making the kids feel comfortable and less anxious.

7. We haven’t talked about the stress that college and university students can face…especially first year students. They’re often some distance from home. Any thoughts on how parents can help in these situations?

Again - fear is of the unknown is often the reason behind feelings of anxiety and stress. Not unlike the strategies used with younger kids, older students can benefit from having discussions with their parents as well. If first-year students are in residence and living away from home for the first time, make yourself available to them - perhaps more available than you usually would. They may already be in their new dorm room and feeling stress, so keep those lines of communication open. Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time - these are all technological tools that allow parents and kids to remain connected over distance. As well, help your child research their support options at their actual school. These may include guidance counsellors, peer or student groups or similar community resources. A lot of colleges and universities set up student support groups and assign student leaders to shepherd the new students through the first few weeks. Help your child find these resources and always let them know that you’re there for them, in spite of the distance.
What strategies do you recommend for alleviating back to school stress with your kids? What works best? Provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

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Samsonite

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The Death of Cursive

by Samantha on August 5, 2013

cursive is important

It’s all over, folks.

Some of you may remember the time in public school when you got your first pencil. On a specially-lined piece of paper, you tentatively set the lead to the page and pressed. As you moved your hand slowly while concentrating on the script, shape and feel of the letter, you felt a wave of both excitement and pride in your discovery.

You were learning to write, and isn’t that what older, smarter and wiser people did?

Writing, you knew, was a way of having the world open up to you because with this tool, you could convey your thoughts and feelings and receive the same in return. Writing was the currency of thought, knowledge, investigation and revelation. Writing was going to allow you to express yourself in a way that had previously been impossible.

Even at your tender age, it was evident that the power behind the written word was unmistakeable. And that power would start with the simple stroke of a pencil, and later a pen.

But as with everything, all things must come to an end and the desire learn to write - literally - has all but disappeared from our cultural conscience. Children these days emulate their parents and elders and aspire to do what they see their esteemed role models doing. One doesn’t have to look very far to see that what is being done by these people  rarely includes anything close to the act of writing, of bringing pen, or pencil, to paper. No, what is being done involves keyboard strokes, texting and video or voice messaging. Writing with a tool such as a pencil or pen, is nowhere in the mix. As a result, is it any wonder then that cursive writing - once a standard of the elementary school experience - is in its death throes?

Cursive - the ability to join letters via script in a conjoined or flowing manner is a lost art. Even amongst those of us who were schooled during a time where this skill was mandatory there is a large contingent of messy writers, whose attempts at using script is often mistaken for “chicken scratch” or worse. So reliant have we become on the keyboard and our digital methods of communication that the need for old-fashioned handwriting on those rare occasions that arise elicits feelings of incredulity, annoyance and often fear. Now seen as an anachronistic vestige of days gone by, script produced by one’s own hand is a skill that is being phased out of many school boards. Kids today apparently don’t need it, therefore it’s rapidly being removed from the curriculum.

“So reliant have we become on the keyboard and our digital methods of communication that the need for old-fashioned handwriting on those rare occasions that arise elicits feelings of incredulity, annoyance and often fear.”

Cursive appears to have become obsolete. The thought of communicating a message “by one’s own hand” - literally - is only seen as an acceptable form of interaction in the absence of more recent technological tools. Those who write are often scorned and “snail mail” is seen as an inferior and archaic method of connecting with others despite its once important role in our lives.

Yet the gains that we used to make by learning script and painstakingly writing each and every letter of the alphabet in a certain format has been lost in our zeal to make our lives easier. We love our tech tools and as a result we’ve got less patience, more anxiety and little time to learn a skill that may take a bit longer than crafting a quick text message or email. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater by reducing cursive to an old-fashioned way of doing things that has no place in the modern world.

The repercussions of our actions? Well, there are many:

  • The manual dexterity, precision and fine-motor control are skills that children gain from the act of using cursive will be in short supply
  • Our children’s academic abilities will be hindered when cursive writing is replaced by keyboard strokes
  • A large part of our cultural history will become lost as a result of cursive being phased out in schools
  • Children’s ability to read important historical documents or letters from grandparents or older relatives will be severely hindered
  • Our children will never know the sense of achievement felt after finally “getting it” following many months of earnest practice of each and every letter of our alphabet

What may on the surface seem to be a vestige of a less advanced time, cursive is, in fact, more that it may appear. Yes - it may look “quaint” in the face of our latest voice-recognition software that transcribes our aural words into text. It may not have all of the convenient shortcuts, bells and whistles of the most recent iteration or version upgrade available for quick and easy download. It may not even have the “wow factor” of being able to type without care, as sloppily as possible, only to have your super-intelligent A.I. clean up your dirty work, making you look like a precise and competent writer. Cursive and all of its inherent benefits provides us a link to our past, connectivity within our present and a portal to our future. So much of our history has been documented only through cursive script.  And moving forward, our future leaders and generations to come may be better able to understand each other - and themselves - as a result of the communications skills learned via cursive.

For these and so many other reasons, cursive is a skill that must remain within our schools and our cultural realm. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater in our efforts to appear “advanced” because by doing so, we’re only hurting ourselves…and our children.

Do you think that cursive should continue to be taught in schools, or should we phase it out altogether? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

To read this article on Huffington Post, CLICK HERE.

Image courtesy of http://cursive-handwriting-worksheets.pom-pom.net

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Top 5 Summer Safety Tips For Kids

July 23, 2013

School’s out and the kids are antsy. Is it any wonder that parents worry about their children getting into trouble during the dog days of summer? I recently had the opportunity to provide some simple yet important advice to students who were just heading out of class for their summer holidays. During the last week […]

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Monday Musings - How Do You Talk To Your Children About Tragedy?

December 17, 2012

I frankly wasn’t sure that I wanted to put together a Monday Musings blog post today. In light of the events in Newtown, Connecticut,  it’s hard not to ponder on the appropriateness of even putting up a blog post at all, let alone one that may be viewed as gratuitous. It’s safe to say that […]

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How to Get Your Child to Do Their Homework - Top 6 Tips

September 10, 2012

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten past the “first day of school” jitters and “back to school shopping” it’s time to pull up our bootstraps, buckle down and get going with the school year. Your child has settled into some semblance of a routine even if you haven’t, and it’s quite likely that they’re now […]

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Parenting in the Digital Age: Technology in the Classroom - Pt 1

April 23, 2012

Technology in the classroom is here. Are you ready? Can there really be “too much of a good thing?” Apparently there can be, according to the educators in South Korea. A recent Wall Street Journal article shed light on the country’s decision to cut back on the amount of in-class digital technology exposure that the […]

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