The transition of a child’s education from the family to the institutional sphere tends to influence society’s perception of the factors responsible for children’s education. For many parents, the idea that kindergarten, school, and church are primarily responsible for the education of their children is increasingly common.
The transition to private education strengthens this perception. School fees and, consequently, expectations regarding the quality of educational services tend to accentuate both the demands that parents place on educational institutions, and their excuses in the case of negative results. In fact, regardless of any institution’s contribution, a child’s education is still primarily the parents’ responsibility.
Whether they choose institutional help at the age of two or at the age of six, the Romanian Civil Code designates to parents both the authority and the responsibility for their children’s education. “The father and the mother are obliged, jointly and severally, to provide maintenance for their minor child, ensuring their basic needs, as well as their education, teaching and professional training.” If, during the commander phase, in the 0-3 years period, children were educated exclusively by their parents, starting at the age of two or three children make their first contact with formal education.
Children enrolled from the age of three
The fact that, under the law amending the National Education Law no. 1/2011 from April 2 2019, “school, high school and kindergarten become compulsory by 2020 at the latest, pre-kindergarten by 2023 at the latest, and preschool by 2030” is worrying.
In the context of these new provisions, will parents’ role be limited only to the choice of nursery, kindergarten, and school? Even this decision is conditioned by the options offered by the Romanian state. Whether we are talking about state or private schools, they operate in a legal framework only if they adopt the national curriculum, and if we refer to the forms of education, parents have no alternatives. Even if basic human rights defends the idea of the parents’ freedom to choose the curriculum, method, and form of education, in Romania, parents have only one option. There are no alternative programs, and the unschooling and home-schooling options are not regulated.
The school-family partnership
Beyond the responsibility of choosing the institutional educational factors that contribute to the development of their children, parents have the primary role of providing education within the family. Regardless of the institutions we refer to—school, church, library, culture house, the media—the success of the educational process depends on the partnerships between each institution and parents. Concepts such as school-child partnership, church-parent, and educational clubs-parents, have shown that children’s performance is directly proportional to their parents’ active and informed involvement. Educational methods within the family largely determine the socio-moral manifestations of children, school performance, and personality development. 
The school-family partnership can multiply and develop the educational factors of the family in its own unique way.
Parents can be made aware of the role they play in educating their children. They can be helped to identify their children’s destructive behaviours and attitudes and, at the same time, how to correct them. They can be guided in learning the psychological characteristics of children. They can learn new methods of communication adapted to the different stages of their children’s lives. All this can be done through meetings with parents, through private discussions with teachers, in parents’ associations, or by organising courses for parents. This new approach within schools, although rarely encountered in practice, is becoming an important factor in defining the concept of parenting school.
Starting with a child’s first enrolment in the educational system, kindergarten and school should become partners and counsellors in the family education process.
Coach phase: children between 3 and 7 years old
The period between 3 and 7 years is the period in which children have their first contact with formal educational institutions. Most of the time, these are nurseries and kindergartens. This period can be called the “coach phase” because it is the stage in which children acquire abilities and tools to distinguish between value and non-value, pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad. A child’s dominant character traits are born in this period.
In Jewish culture, children up to the age of seven are in the mother’s care, and parental concerns are especially directed toward their moral-behavioural formation.
The Romanian phrase which roughly translates to “the seven years at home” is more than a general reference to common sense. The seven years at home represent the period in which the foundations of a child’s education are laid, which will largely determine their success or failure. This Jewish heritage may also be one of the reasons why, of the 855 Nobel Prize winners, as of 2012, 173 were Jews and another 20 were descendants of Jews. This indicates a different approach to formal education, an approach that leads to amazing results.
Moral values as the foundation of education
Parents’ efforts to get their children to accumulate a lot of information in the first years of life can lead to the opposite result to what they intend. There are many for whom the age at which their child speaks, writes, counts, or masters a foreign language is very important. The faster children accumulate this type of knowledge, the smarter they are considered to be. This paradigm reveals a greater interest in acquiring information than in the psychological development of children, and their guidance in the development of creative, independent, and critical thinking.
Unfortunately, the dangers of an approach emphasising the acquisition of information in the first years of life can only be understood in the subsequent stages of the child’s development.
Age-inappropriate content, tedious learning methods, misunderstanding the meaning of learning certain information, excessive memorisation, a loss of joy in learning, depriving children of free time, and the suppression of creativity are methods and risks of such an approach. On the other hand, teaching children to acquire values prepares them to perform throughout their life. By learning perseverance, patience, punctuality, altruism, compassion, truth, love, beauty, and goodness, children acquire the tools necessary for their development, their professional training, the acquisition of information and, at the same time, increase their probability of success in a wider range of arenas.
Learning without joy kills the thrill of knowledge and curiosity. Excessive memorization and studying at an early age deprives children of the free time which provides the framework for the development of creativity. Learning without perseverance encourages opportunism, making studying a superficial and short-lived experience. Learning without love, altruism, and compassion inhibits social, relational, and emotional intelligence. All these values are necessary for the education of a child, not only to bind them to the learning process, but also for their future prospects. How children acquire these values influences their eventual success.
Truth: an incomprehensible, abstract concept
Truth and falsehood are concepts that children in the coach phase cannot understand. However, this is the age when they are defined. The way children assimilate the value of truth depends on the adaptability of their parents in understanding the psychology of children at different ages, and reacting appropriately to the child at each stage. Children in this phase (meaning 3-7 year-olds) are perceptive beings rather than receptive ones. They cannot understand abstract notions very well. Sounds that form words or concepts are not attached to inherent meaning, because they are learned only through education.
In this sense, children can express information that is false in the adult reference system, but true in their own. Children believe that their fears and desires are real. Little minds understand the world and relate to it by filtering the information acquired through their needs and desires. The temporal or spatial concepts that refer to days, minutes, or geographical areas are abstract terms that have no meaning. For example, a child can respond affirmatively to the mother’s question about washing hands before a meal without having actually washed their hands. They didn’t wash them then, but they did before one of the previous day’s meals.
Not understanding the thinking mechanisms of children according to their age can create a vicious cycle in the education process.
After several occasions when children say something which is a lie according to an adult’s thinking system, parents may call them a liar or may react with sadness or anger. This approach inhibits children’s natural development. At the same time, because they feel misunderstood, children will attribute the heavy reactions of the parents to a different concept. Their creativity and imagination become sources of guilt, and the consequences of lying are attached to these values. The guilt is the real lie here. Such reactions, caused by the desire to teach the child the truth, can materialize precisely in the results we condemn.
Lie or imagination?
Children perceive the world so differently from adults, that they even attribute human feelings to objects. The doll cries, the wood suffers, and the fork is sad. These images define children’s natural growth process. Imagination and reality have no clear lines of demarcation in their minds. Understanding this fact is the parents’ first step in the dynamics of children’s education at this age.
Parents should try to identify the real problems in their children’s behaviours and encourage their positive tendencies. A little boy can tell his friends that his father bought him 300 cars and that tomorrow he will build a garage for each of them. His intention was not to lie but to boast. His boastfulness must be treated according to his age. Children in the coach stage need to be acknowledged when they achieve beautiful things, and be appreciated for them. The adults’ tendency to not encourage children to communicate their achievements by asking for appreciation and reward is preposterous. However, negative behaviours are quickly punished. Education by example, by appreciating and by emphasizing good behaviours, is the best way to learn values, not only during infancy, but especially then.
The first “lie”: a sign of intelligence?
Proverbs that claim children are the worst of liars and statistics that show that pre-schoolers lie at least once every 90 minutes make sense in a mature reference system. In reality, labelling is formative, and children become what we tell them they are. Fables and exaggerations are considered by psychologists to be the first steps in the development of self-awareness and, at the same time, a sign of cognitive development.
At what age is a child able to tell their first lie? The answer to this question depends on the psychological age groupings. If between the ages of three and seven a child cannot make a clear distinction between a story or a game and a real lie, this playful period is followed by a period of a mixture of lies and imagination. During this period, if a child is not corrected, the intentional lie will become a tool for avoiding life’s challenges.
Punishment, discipline, and consequences
The role of punishment in family education is much debated in current psychology, but even in the case of moderate corporal punishment applied in a balanced emotional environment, the correlations with negative effects such as violence and crime are difficult to determine. Punishment is a sanction imposed on someone for violating a rule and its purpose is to correct. It causes discomfort, pain, suffering, or sadness. The principle of operant conditioning underlies any form of punishment. Even many automatic processes of the human body operate according to the observation of behavioural consequences, based on which the body designs new behaviours.
The discomfort caused by the consequences of behaviour diminishes the chance of its repetition, but the punishment cannot be categorised exclusively as a direct and immediate consequence of the behaviour. In many cases, the negative consequences cannot be observed immediately, but instead are preceded by illusory positive results. Sometimes, lying frees you from difficulty, theft saturates your lust or desire, and cheating puts you at an advantage, and so on.
Is there discipline without punishment? There is, but not always and not at all ages. The coach phase is the most favourable stage for the application of discipline and punishments in their many forms.
The earlier the punishments are applied, the more likely positive effects will be seen. If up to the age of one year old, there is no need for a child to be punished in any way, and for children aged 1-3 years distracting their attention works better, between 3 and 7 years, children need discipline, both by reward and through punishments. As much as possible, punishments should represent the natural consequences of deeds. Parents should not fully assume the consequences of their children’s actions. If a child always gets the mirror dirty, it is enough to teach them how to clean it. If a child does not put away their toys, crayons, or clothes, it is enough for them to be shown how to put these away. Combining behaviours, according to the children’s age, with their consequences, is the best form of punishment.
The more punishments of any kind are applied at older ages, the less effective they are, and, at the same time, they have the potential to inhibit children’s personality and self-confidence. That is why parents need to be taught about the psychology of ages and about effective ways of relating to children and their life situations.
People don’t become parents at the moment their children are born, but by educating them. Regardless of the partnerships through which adults are taught to become parents, parenting school is a necessity.
Ștefăniţă Poenariu is the president of the Holistic Christian Education Association, which operates Transylvania International School.