Maslow and Montessori fight Covid-19

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Education and Social Care
Category: Staff

28 May 2020

As a Montessori nursery owner (open for key worker children) and Course Leader for the Early Childhood Studies course at Anglia Ruskin University, I spend much of my day listening to staff and their experiences educating and caring for key children in their settings. Listening to parents and their experiences of home schooling and to students sharing their experiences of learning of their independent learning at home to complete their studies.

At first during this lockdown period I began to despair, questioning my own ability to support all the different elements of this rich educational tapestry, knowing that all along we would be facing a time when we would have to emerge back into some form of normality, whatever that maybe, having all had quite unique experiences that would shape how we would reappear. 

So,  at a time where we are now busy writing risk assessments, new COVID procedures, receiving updated new COVID policy directives and facing our own individual anxieties, I made myself step back and reflect, putting the most important element of all this back at the centre ‘The Child’. 

There are two very important fundamentals to our practice in the nurseries and to my theoretical teaching;

  • Montessori at the foundation of our philosophy advocated the importance of place, empowerment and respect for the child! These are the threads that draw together everything that we do in our settings on a daily basis.
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory (1943). The triangle that we are aware of day in and day out, often innately and without awareness. 
    Consider this analogy in relation to today's situation and what is being asked of us …. let’s risk assess with Maslow in mind, with positivity and with Montessori as the foundation.

A Comprehensive Risk Awareness Statement – A message for the Montessorian

Many of you will be very concerned about the proposed return to work for our Early Childhood Sector on 1 June. We can view this from a positive or a negative standpoint, as you all know me well, we always look at the positive outlook and also consider our role and what we have committed to in our job as early childhood educator.
We need to keep our children, their families, and staff safe. We ask ourselves, is this possible in the current situation? We know we can limit the risk; we also know that we have successfully had one setting open over the last 8 weeks without any critical cases of the Covid-19 virus and without compromise to our philosophy. 
Yes, there will be a very comprehensive risk awareness statement created by our organisation. Yes, we will also create a very comprehensive Covid working policies and procedures, but all of this will be created with the basic fundamental needs at the heart of our practice. It will come back to the fact that our role is to keep children safe and happy, that they need us, particularly now, to help them build resilience and to learn how to overcome fears.
In 1943 Maslow theorised that people needed to have a series of needs met in order to be content and begin to achieve a level of self-fulfilment. In an educational context, children would need to have every area of his hierarchy met in order to achieve and learn effectively. Montessori constantly advocated that a Montessori teacher should adapt, to change, she acknowledged that as changes to science and society progressed, so must our work (Montessori, 2002), this has never been truer than it is today. 

Our main aim from 1 June, if we go back, will be to continue to support children to achieve a level of self-fulfilment in the current times because “within the child lies the fate of the future” (Montessori, 1966, p208). Their future will look different to ours, even more now, than before, so we must prepare them for this. We must ensure we provide an environment in which the child can learn all the skills  they will need to keep themselves safe, we must ask ourselves  “if education is to prepare for the child for the present, and the immediate future, he will need a new orientation towards the environment” (Montessori, 2012, p93). We cannot protect them from what they will have to face and the experiences they will have, but we can prepare them for the change. With “adaptation our environments” (Montessori 2012, p93) environments, we can the children opportunity to practice the skills they need in the safe environment of the nursery, enabling them to protect themselves in the future, it is important that they know reality. <
To begin we need to reflect on what we know, on what we already do and what the children already know. Our Montessori environments have prepared our children for adaptations. Montessori founded her approach on preparing children for their current and future life experiences. At the very root of this is the activities for everyday living; reflect on grace and courtesy; care of the environment and care of self. For the children in your care the seeds have been sown,  for them to confidently adapt to the changes, so long as you involve them, to respect the changes, so long as you are a role model for them, to own the changes, so long as you empower them.  

Maslow (1943)

So let’s start at the bottom of the triangle and those very basic of needs….

Physiological Needs

These are the most basic needs of our children, the need for food, water, rest, clothing and most importantly at the current time fresh air. We can meet all these needs in our environment, easily. We can support the children in the little changes to routines that will teach them to keep themselves safe and we can encourage lots of time in the fresh air, whatever the weather, the importance of hand washing, keeping ourselves and our clothes clean and eating healthily to protect our immune system. Remembering and reminding all that a healthy body= a healthy mind.

Safety and security

These elements are important to consider because they provide links with family, health and stability. We can keep children safe, to the best of our ability. We can show them in practice and in reality how the guidance can help protect them and in turn protect their families and ours. We embed this in carefully managed changes to the routines of the environment, so they become a natural everyday task and not just the one of looking after themselves, but also how to keep looking after the activities and the toys that they use. Keeping their environment safe and stable is also part of keeping themselves safe and healthy. They will have fears as we have fears, but remember for children they learn from us, so a fear is something to be overcome, changes to our daily routine and self-care will help with this. Children adapt quickly and a consistent change in routine will not phase them, if we manage it with the children and NOT for the children, remembering the child’s most basic inner need “help me to do it by myself” (Montessori, 1946).

Love & Belonging

The bigger picture is still out there. We know there is a Cosmic Plan (Montessori, 1946), change is ongoing, and man has a natural “instinct for evolution” (Montessori, 2012, p95). The current change is fundamental, but it can be managed, this is particularly true at the moment. Children need to find their place, they need to know how, why and where they belong, they still need to understand their friendships, family and connections and how these have and are changing at the moment. From belonging comes confidence, from confidence comes empowerment, and empowerment in the child creates a vehicle for bringing change (Montessori, 2012). This involves redefining key relationships with our children and giving them time to redefine their relationship with the world around them. I think we can rest assured that they will adapt better to these changes than we will. They will quickly learn that the new learning environment, which as we know involves much physical and emotional contact will need to change in order to help them to understand how to stay safe. Social distancing will prove impossible, to support the children in meeting this need they need to be kept safe from infection, to the best of their ability and ours. We must also remember to support Maslow’s hierarchy of love and belonging a baby needs to be held, a toddler needs to be changed, a child needs to be reassured.


Well, where do I start? Now, like no other time we have so much opportunity to empower the child. As Montessori taught us only practical tasks and experiences can lead the child to maturity. Guiding and empowering them to manage their current situation, to have control over how they manage themselves in the new environment we provide for them and enabling them to wash, clean, practise, experiment, play, socialise in new ways and this will increase their understanding and their knowledge. This in turn will build their confidence, sense of achievement, respect for others and themselves, connections and most importantly sense of self. The children will quickly learn to understand each other, understand the new environment and learn to “act together” (Montessori, 2012, p101). They will know why they are being asked to do what they are doing; we will be doing our job by keeping enthusiasm and interest alive as this is the secret of real guidance. No task to the child will prove difficult, provided our attitude to towards the child is one of respect, calm and waiting, and providing so that the child is free to move and experience our support we offer in the favourable environment. We must remember that we cannot guarantee that children will be safe at all times, not from something we cannot see, but we can empower children to know what safe looks like, how to manage risk and how to be happy. Threaded through the heart of our philosophy, our procedures and our policies must be the what I often term the ‘The Golden Thread’… The child. We trust them to know themselves, we trust the journey they take, and we trust where they lead us.


Yes, we can satisfy all the new COVID legislation and requirements to support our children of today to achieve self-actualisation.
Yes, we can provide the right environment in which to learn the skills they need to achieve in these new times.
Yes, we are still in a position to provide education and high-quality care for the most important little people on our planet.
Yes, we will be re-opening the settings with a slightly different mindset, but one that is rooted in the foundations of our philosophy.

A little story to finish….

We have been open for 8 weeks, during this time we have been asking ourselves, how, why, what and how again, we have written and we have re-written and then as if by magic we are led there by a child…We took the step and role  modelled to children to wash  hands at the beginning and the end of the activity cycle, part of our new safety procedures. Equipment was then cleaned at the end of each session, the we watched and after a couple of days the children had changed their own activity cycles to include the new element of handwashing, then the magic, a 3 year old, after completing his activity he asked for a cloth, he then wiped the activity down and placed it back on the shelf, went and washed his hands and then announced “now you do not need to clean it” .

Years ago a soldier’s job was to fight for us and the Country; over the last few months it has been nurses and doctors job to care for the sick… to protect us and the Country; now it is our job care for and share knowledge with the children for their present and future, trusting where they will lead us.


Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.
Montessori, M (1966) The Secret of Childhood, Fides Publishers
Montessori, M (2002) The Discovery of the Child, Clio Press
Montessori , M (2012)  The 1946 Lectures, Montessori-Pierson Publishing


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