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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and How it Relates to Your Child’s Education

Our school runs a regular series of workshops for parents so we can better understand what programs and methodologies they employ. I have never been able to attend them in previous years because I was always busy when they had them. This year, I made it a point to make time for them and I am glad that I did. Although I have already heard much of the material that was covered, it was reassuring to see that the school practices resonated with my own expectations for my children’s education. It also showed me that the school is constantly evolving to keep up with new findings on education and child development and they are committed to make the necessary changes to stay up to date.

These were some of the topics of the workshops that I was able to attend:

  • Mindsets for learning – which was based on the work from Carol Dweck on Mindsets.
  • Progression in Calculations – which was reminiscent of the JUMP Math practice of breaking down Math into small manageable steps to help students understand the basic concepts before moving them to the next level.
  • Positive Behaviour – which was about the way the school implements Restorative Justice and how they deal with bullying.

It interesting to note that the Math workshop was so packed that more chairs were required, while the character building workshops struggled to fill the room. Given the growing awareness that our children will require more than a perfect academic transcript when they are done with school, I am surprised to see so few parents attending the workshops that talk about developing our children’s soft skills and emotional intelligence.

Children need more than good grades after they leave school

There was an article I read some time back on The Washington Post written by Heather Wilson, who served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship for most of the past 20 years (at the time of writing the article), and she wrote about her concerns about the new generation of graduates:

“high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.”

Our children will be entering into a world that will require much more from them than simply good grades. I won’t go into them here, but feel free to refer to our previous articles on this topic:

Even if we aspire for nothing more than to make our children walking encyclopedias, we still need to be concerned about the psychological and emotional needs of our children at school because they have a direct impact on our children’s ability to learn.

The Role of Maslow’s Hierarchy in Education

Maslow's Hierarchy
Image Source: 21st Century Tech

A long time ago, I wrote about how Babies Need Love to Learn, but really, I should have titled it: “children need love to learn”. What is love but the feeling of belonging and security? If we can’t fulfill those needs, our children shut down and they cannot take in what they are being taught. It won’t matter how great the school’s reading program is, or how interesting the math program is – it simply wouldn’t reach our children.

Think about a time when you were really upset – when someone made you really angry or scared, or when you were very sad – how well were you able to focus on your work? Chances are, not very. If we as adults, with all our years of experience, struggle to focus on the task at hand when we’re emotionally upset, imagine how difficult it would be for our children who have even less experience dealing with difficult emotions.

It is also important to remember that while our children’s problems at school may seem small to us, in our child’s world, they are mountains. When I was a child, I had a fight with my best friend at school. I cannot remember what it was about but I remember feeling very upset about it. I was so upset that my Dad noticed. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He laughed it off and told me it was a small matter and I shouldn’t get so worked up over it. Well, I didn’t stop worrying about it, but I learned never to tell my Dad about my problems after that.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Fulfilling the Basic and Psychological Needs First

What is the relevance of all these other issues to how our children learn? It relates back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – our children’s ability to learn, to excel in school, and to realise their full potential depends on whether their basic and psychological needs have been met. They can only move up the pyramid to the level of self-actualisation when the needs at the base of the pyramid have been provided for. And that’s where those workshops on mindsets for learning and positive behaviour come in. They are about meeting the basic and psychological needs of our children so that they can go on to attend to their self-fulfillment needs.

Education can never be just about shaping your child’s mind because everything is inter-connected. To unlock your child’s full potential, you have to address the development of the whole child – physically, emotionally, and mentally.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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