Early Childhood and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Every weekday children are dropped off at early childhood centers to be cared for and assisted in their development for anywhere from one hour to 12 hours. Children spend a significant number of their 24-hour day in the care of early childcare professional, yet as educators we tend not to think too deeply about their life outside of the center. When they are misbehaving, we tend to blame it on a child’s natural demeanor, rather than think systematically about their familial, social, and community life outside of the center and how those factors may be influencing their actions.This blog post focuses on conveying how childcare providers can more successfully assist in a child’s development by viewing children in their care in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 which argues that humans have different levels of needs. The needs are tiered as displayed in the image below. At the base of the pyramid are basic human needs (food, water, clothing, etc.), and at the top is self-actualization (the finding of purpose). A picture of the pyramid can be found below. Each intermediary level builds upon the level below it. In other words, in order for a child’s safety and security needs to be met, their basic human needs need to first have been met. Once basic human needs are met, then relationship needs be met, then once relationship needs are met, than achievement needs can be met, and finally once all other needs are met, then the need for self-actualization can be met.

 

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (picture credit: Mendix.com)

How does this apply to early childhood education?

As educators we need a comprehensive understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, because it provides us with a larger context to relate their behaviors and actions. We often view the way a child behaves as singular rather than as a part of their broader life. Are they hungry? Is their home safe? Have they had access to water in the last few hours? By thinking about these questions it forces us as educators to ponder whether or not there may be other reasons for a child’s behavior than the events that have just occurred.  When more immediate needs are not met such as one’s needs for food and safety, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a child will be able to behave, learn, and listen to the best of their ability.

Overview of each each of Maslow’s Needs:

Basic Human Needs: These needs are at the core of what is needed to function as a human being. They are essential to our survival. They include but are not limited too: food, water, shelter, and clothing.

Safety and Security: To thrive and live healthy lives humans need a sense of safety and security. The Mandt System (development tool) asserts that safety and security can be summarized as “consistency and predictability.” Humans, and especially kids thrive in routine, and in an environment in which they are comfortable.

Healthy Relationships: A life without healthy relationships is not a healthy life. Children rapidly develop, and a caring adult can make all the difference. Healthy relationships can be defined as relationships that are emotionally, physically, psychologically or spiritually appropriated.

Achievement: We think of achievement as something that adults seek out, but not kids. This is not true. Kids need to achieve just as much as adults do, but their achievements are different and developmentally appropriate. For example an achievement for a five year old may be coloring a picture “within the lines,” which often provides a feeling best characterized by the phrase, “I did it!”

Self Actualization: This sometimes confusing phrase can be thought of as a child’s ability to rise, to act creatively, to dream, to act without fear, and to find purpose.

Additional Resources:

  • What IS: Maslow’s Pyramid-The Hierarchy of Needs (happiness.com)
  • Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Our Classrooms- (changekidslives.org)
  • TED Radio Hour- What do we really need? 6 Speakers explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (NPR.com)

The next blog post will focus how to utilize the information conveyed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to provide the best early childhood education possible to all children in our care.

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