Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Maslow and Montessori: Education of the Human Potential

[The child] learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. ~Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Abraham Maslow developed a humanistic approach to psychology in the early 1940’s. Rather than focusing on behavior as a result of stimuli and reinforcement or the psychoanalytical idea of unconscious instinct, Maslow focused on the capability of humans to reach their fullest potential. Rather than looking and trying to make sense of the dysfunctional brain, he searched for what it was that made humans exceptional. In a sense, he looked at what it was to be human.

Maslow created a set of hierarchical needs that best describe the growth of the human psyche. By analyzing the environment, he synthesized that given the right environment, humans will develop to their fullest potential, that of self-actualization. If the environment is not right, therein lies the potential for damage to the human spirit.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is usually portrayed as a pyramid, with the most basic needs providing the supporting foundation. He theorized that if these basic needs were not met the higher needs, such as loving others, contributing to society, and expressing unique talents, could not be actualized.

Maslow’s Hierarchy in the Montessori Environment

Educational humanism is a philosophy which believes that developing the human intellect is what makes humans stand apart from the rest of the animal world. Humanists, such as Maslow and Montessori, believe it is necessary to study and develop the whole person over the course of his or her lifetime. Teacher candidates in traditional training programs are often asked to look at how their classrooms and lessons are addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The same can be done in the Montessori environment.

* Physiological – A Montessori environment is full of movement. Children are free to move about the classroom at will. In addition, the activities of Practical Life provide the opportunities to develop both gross and fine motor movement.
* Safety – The Montessori Environment is prepared with the child in mind. The classroom and materials are beautiful, simple in design, accessible to all children, and kept in a tidy, precise order. The Montessori environment is organized which allows the child to feel safe and secure, knowing his or her world is in order.
* Belonging – There is a sense of mutual respect in the Montessori environment. Children learn to develop friendship through the lessons in Grace and Courtesy by being helpful and kind to others.
* Esteem – Success builds self-esteem. The materials and lessons in the Montessori environment are self-correcting with a built in control of error. This allows the child to immediately see mistakes and learn from them rather on relying on others to point out his faults.
* Self-Actualization – Montessori said “No one can be free unless he is independent.” (The Absorbent Mind). By helping a child to develop independence and autonomy, the Montessori teacher is helping the child reach self-actualization or his full potential as a fully functioning member of society.

The Role of Education

Maslow and Montessori both felt that traditional education systems had the potential to be more of a hindrance than a help to development. Both recognized that children are to be respected as fellow human beings. Indeed, Maslow’s ideas on educating children coincide with Montessori’s own philosophy. He believed that education should help children:

* Be authentic.
* Transcend their cultural conditioning and become world citizens.
* Find their vocation and right mate.
* Know that life is precious.
* Be good and joyous in all kinds of situations.
* Learn from their inner nature.
* See that basic needs are satisfied.
* Refresh their consciousness; appreciate beauty and other good things in life.
* Understand that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad.
* Transcend trifling problems.
* Grapple with serious problems such as injustice, pain suffering and death.
* Be given practice in making choices.

~Abraham Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation (1943).

Is your Montessori environment meeting the needs of all your children? Observe closely and ask yourself how you are addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs within your Montessori environment and what you could add to make sure you are reaching and following all in your care.

The word education must not be understood in the sense of teaching but of assisting the psychological development of the child. ~Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

NAMC’s Upper Elementary Health Sciences manual contains further related information and activities.

North American Montessori Center: http://www.montessoritraining.net/


  1. Interesting facts...

    Montessori is expensive here...but then money shouldn't be a factor when you think about the kid's future.

  2. Colin,ya too expensive for children education,hope our 1 Malaysia can sponsor for all kids in future!

    I am learning the Early Childhood Education Diploma Course..about 3-4 years ..fee over 10thosand too :(