How does the Performance of Children in the Classroom Relate to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In (1943) Abraham Maslow proposed the idea that we all had a hierarchy of needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” However it was not until (1954) in his book “Motivation and Personality” that the idea was fully expressed. Maslow believed that every human being had several layers of needs, beginning at the base each layer need must be met before someone can meet the needs of the next layer. The top need is the layer known as “self-actualisation,” Maslow spoke about how he believed that we all have the potential to reach the highest layer but our journey is often disrupted with a failure to meet the needs required in the lower layers. Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized. This is because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs. Often people get caught between layers moving up and down due to life experiences such a divorce, loss of job or social rejection.

When we think of the hierarchy of needs we often envision a pyramid structure represented in layers as mentioned previously. However Maslow never actually described the hierarchy in such a way or mentioned its representation as a pyramid in any of his writings. The idea of using the pyramid has become the known method of explaining the hierarchy of needs and the visualisation that it allows helps people to understand the concept. Maslow (1954) explained that his hierarchy was a five stage model and he said “the basic needs arrange themselves in a fairly definite hierarchy on the basis of the principle of relative potency.” Therefore each stage is based on the way in which we as human beings develop. For example the physiological needs of a person come before the need to be safe because if we were unable to get food, water or even breathe then the idea of having a house or employment becomes redundant.

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Each stage that is found in the hierarchy is applied to human beings and how they live. However considering Maslow’s theory we can apply it to an educational context and more specifically to children. Do these layers or needs affect how children learn, their development and understanding of what is being taught? All children have a set of needs that if met with the help of parents, friends and teachers can help mould a child and build a good foundation for adulthood. If there is a deficiency in the needs or any are neglected it can result in hindering a child’s performance and behaviour in school. If we break the hierarchy down into its five stages we can evaluate the impact they have in the lives of children and their learning.

The first stage is “physiological needs,” considering this stage in terms of a child we can see that just as adults do children require breathing, excretion, food, water and sleep. The other element of this stage is sex, but for a child this not yet relevant. Considering the need for sleep and food further we can see areas of this stage that can seriously affect how a child performs in school. Without a proper diet and reasonable amount of sleep children’s concentration will decline and their minds will be focused on other things such as hunger. As a direct result of this the child will lack the energy required to actively participate in activities throughout the school day and this could affect their performance in the classroom. Problems such as these are often linked to children who come from troubled homes and many schools have set up initiatives to combat some problems that can affect the performance of children in school. School have introduced breakfast clubs where children can receive food before the school day for a cut price or free in some cases.

Once the physiological needs of a child are met they can move on to the second stage which concerns “safety.” The idea of safety is often a second thought to adults however children often worry about their safety and what is going on around them. This is a broad area to consider and needs for physical safety, a secure environment and emotional safety need to be met. Children who live in unstable homes may not have the same sense of safety other children may have. For them the idea of safety is getting through the day without having thoughts to worry about like “Will mummy hit me” or “Will daddy be there when i get home.” Unfortunately in some cases children live in perpetual fear of their home life and school is their only escape. In terms of their education children who come from unstable homes or places where they do not feel safe can often bring their problems with them to school. Reflecting back on Bandura’s (1977) theory of social learning children who observe violent behaviour or abusive language are more likely to replicate the behaviour elsewhere. As a result this means that children may act out and become more troublesome in school not only disrupting their own learning but the learning of others. In these cases good behaviour management and support from the school can help to move the child forward in a positive way.

Moving on to the third stage of the hierarchy “belonging” this is the point where a child wants to feel loved and accepted in several areas of their lives. Their family can provide them with unconditional love which may be enough but many children will want more than this. Schools can provide children with many extra-curricular activities such as sports, creative activities and homework clubs that encourage a child’s sense of belonging to a community. Extra-curricular activities, whether in or outside of school help children to form friendships beyond their family members and in turn provides children with more avenues of support. Belonging to these types of clubs can help children develop many new social skills and other abilities that can aid them in the classroom and in the future.

The fourth stage children seek to meet their needs for self-esteem. This area of their needs can work in tangent with the previous stage as children seek to gain the respect of others in aspects of their life. At this point in their development the idea of achievement is one of the most forward of a child’s thoughts; the take pride in their accomplishments. It is important that as teachers we provide children with the opportunity not only to accomplish goals but also receive praise and recognition for meeting those goals. The thought of working at something that was difficult or very time consuming and completing the task is one that children thrive under. Moreover knowing that someone will take notice and recognise what they have achieved is even more inspiring for a child.

The final stage of the hierarchy of needs is “self-actualisation” according to Maslow (1954) his theory suggests that it is impossible for a child to reach this point in their development. However I want to consider the idea of self-actualisation further; can a child claim to be self-actualised? Firstly, Maslow said that self-actualisation was not possible to all of the previous needs detailed in his theory were met; I believe that children can potentially meet the required needs outlined in the other stages of the model. In addition according to Sprenger (2008) self-actualisation suggests that someone has achieved “what they were born to do.” Now to an adult this might be a specific job or accomplishment that they have worked all of their lives to master or complete. I would agree with Maslow that a child can claim to be self-actualised; however this does not prevent a child entering that level of thinking or need. Considering a child again, they too set goals for themselves and in some cases children aspire to achieve something later on in their life from a very young age. So if a child for example believes that they are born to be a doctor, if they know what they have to do to achieve that and set themselves goals that act as milestones along that journey are they not self-actualising?

Sources, References and Further Reading

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Sprenger, M. (2008) Differentiation through learning styles and memory. London: Sage

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3 thoughts on “How does the Performance of Children in the Classroom Relate to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  1. [...] Taken from the blog: Christopher Nesbitt Don’t forget to visit the original author’s post here and leave a comment. [...]

  2. [...] work of Maslow but to approach it from a teachers point of view, writing a blog thinking about “How the performance of children in the classroom relate to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” My final blog looked into the “Presentation of self in a digital life” allowing me to think [...]

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