Applying Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human needs” theory to a “Montessori Environment”

Abraham Maslow proposed a theory  called “Hierarchy of needs” in his psychology paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”in 1943. It can be simply represented in a pyramid form as shown below:maslow-needs(1)

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This can be effectively applied to children in  a Montessori primary classroom.

Our ultimate goal as a Montessori guide is to have a “Normalized” classroom where the children have reached the stage of “self-actualization”.

In order to achieve this, we need to remember the above pyramid and ensure children have their needs met starting from the base of the pyramid.

  • Physiological needs are food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, air quality etc.
  • Safety needs are a “sense of protection” from fear, elements, order etc. and having a stable environment.
  • Love/Belonging refers to a sense of belonging to the community , feeling accepted, being a friend, receiving and giving love/affection etc.
  • Esteem needs refers to independence, achievement, mastery and recognition of respect from others in return.
  • Self-actualization refers to realizing one’s full potential. This can be achieved when the above ‘4’ layers of needs are met.

For example, A 3 or 4 year old child in a primary classroom can’t really work well when they are hungry, haven’t had sleep the previous night and if they are ordered to do stuff without explaining the facts etc. If they are labeled and not given an opportunity to make mistakes, always told what to do without letting them think on their own to problem solve, a child can’t achieve independence and may not be able to achieve their full potential. This hampers the child’s growth and will prevent their “self-actualization”.

So, what can a guide do to help a child achieve their full potential ?

Understand that children are all different.

Every child’s developmental needs are different. Meet them at their appropriate need level, not based on their chronological age.

Understand the child – see what works for them, what gets them frustrated? How to word it right to get them to do what is needed?

Has anything changed at home with regards to their schedule? It is probably better for a child to “sleep” for 1/2 hr during work time because they didn’t get enough sleep the previous night rather than have them run around and throw a tantrum because they are tired.

Did the child eat/drink? Ensure the child is fed and have their thirst quenched first, make them feel safe in the classroom and encourage children to be nice & kind to everyone in the classroom.

Prepare the environment to ensure each child is independent while performing the tasks.

Provide an encouraging environment.

Challenge each child to reach their full potential.

Practice Grace and Courtesy.

Encourage children to be kind and helpful to one another.


According to Montessori, no one can be free unless he is independent (Absorbent mind).

A Montessori guide can help a child reach self-actualization or his/her full potential by providing a nurturing environment where the child is fed, loved, feels secure and has tasks to perform to gain independence, feels respected and encouraged

. Let’s all try to be such a guide each and every day in our own classrooms.  


Published by

Geetha Nagarajan

My name is Geetha. I was introduced to Montessori as a parent and then choose it to be my career. I have over 13 years of experience in a Montessori primary classroom. I have a Masters Degree in Plant Sciences from India and a Masters in Educational Leadership from UNT (Denton, TX) and my Montessori Early childhood certification from American Montessori Society (AMS).

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