True Montessori

Module 1: Montessori Philosophy

Human Needs and Tendencies

Human Needs and Tendencies

A requirement that is must for survival and to grow is termed as need. Human needs are classified into two different groups. The first group is that of the physical needs which are must for survival. These needs include food, clothing, shelter, and protection from harm. Our physical needs are tangible and tend to be self-centred. The other category of human needs is that of spirituality; needs such as religion, embellishment, love, art, and trust. Needs that are spiritual in nature provide us with the fuel we require to grow as people and seek our own paths in life. Spiritual needs tend to be intangible, and bigger than oneself.

Physical and spiritual needs are two sides of the same coin. They cannot be separated. They provide a balanced framework for the healthy and natural growth of all people. For the growth, variation, and diversification, we must openly share these needs with the children that fall within the scope of our daily lives. There is always a confusion between Needs and Wants. Wants are things that we crave but are not important for our survival.

All humans have the same instincts or ‘tendencies’ that help us satisfy our basic needs. These tendencies are a potential for who we might become, depending on our early experiences. If the tendencies can unfold, they will become fully operable. No matter where we live, no matter our culture or ethnicity, we all follow the same natural laws that lead us to act or react in a specific manner.

“The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.” – Dr. Maria Montessori, Secrets of Childhood, Page 195

Montessori was able to identify distinct tendencies that have accounted for man’s survival since the beginning of time. These are things we all share, but that need to be acutely offered to children. Montessori believed that these tendencies operate as a single force. She also said that complement each other. The tendencies appear together in clusters, in a sequence building towards adaptation to our culture. Montessori based her method on the tendencies within the child to explore, move, share, be independent & make decisions, create order, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use creative imagination, work hard, repeat, concentrate & perfect one’s efforts & creations.

There is a natural desire in human to trace progress over time. This leads to an even more successful adaptation to the environment. Mastery of the environment leads to independence. Guided by the tendencies, following the sensitive period, children experience great joy in educating themselves. They become normalised & reveal characteristics seldom seen in young children. 

Montessori identified following behavioural traits that she called the ‘tendencies of man’.

  • Exploration, Order and Orientation
  • Observation, Abstraction, and Imagination
  • Perfection, Self-judgement, and Repetition
  • Calculation and Control of Errors
  • Gregariousness and Communication 


Exploration, Order & Orientation:
The first is the tendency to explore. Children explore the world around them with their senses. They explore to construct inner knowledge of their universe by experiencing their environment through interacting with it directly. These interactions will be the foundation upon which they construct their understanding of life. The second basic tendency is that of orientation. According to Maria Montessori the “child’s sensibility to order has two simultaneous aspects; the outer, which concerns relations between the parts of his environment, the inner, which gives him a sense of the parts of his body, their movements and position. This latter aspect we may call inner orientation. 

The outer orientation is a reference to the relationship between the child and the environment that the child interacts with. The inner orientation speaks to a relationship within the child’s body, pertaining to the coordination of the mind and the muscular system with regard to movement. Exploration puts man in contact with his environment. However, orientation & order are necessary for us to find our way back. We need to have a mental map to give us an internal sense of direction, distance, time sequence. The aspect of culture associated to this tendency is NATURAL HISTORY. Children are exploring from the moment they are born. Their goals are Finding their own body and Adaptation. Humans explore from their point of origin. However, they have orientation to return to their starting place. Without orientation, freedom & independence is impossible.

Observation, Abstraction, and Imagination:
What do I do with what is out there? Allows us to make new creations from what we see around us. Abstraction helps us to understand our experiences & establish relationships. Curiosity provides the need to know ‘how’ & ‘why’. As man understands he makes changes. Abstraction is the separating of characteristics from the physical environment within which we exist. Colour is an example of an abstract idea. We may be able to see and pick up a purple crayon. The colour purple itself, however, is an abstract characteristic of that crayon. Imagination is another intellectual tendency. The ability to picture objects, people, or places in our minds without those things being physically present yet based is the power of imagination. This power enables us to change our environment to suit our needs and tendencies and gives us the ability to adapt to new situations as they occur in our lives. Intellect & imagination create the image. The hand brings this image into reality. This is done through manipulation of objects.

“This strength of imagination in the child under six is usually expended on toys and fairy tales, but surely we can give him real things to imagine about, so putting him in more accurate relation with his environment.” – Education for a New World, Page 73

Perfection, Self-Judgement, and Repetition:
Another creative tendency is that of repetition. The repeating of work or activities is done in an attempt to attain knowledge, develop the habit of perseverance, and to strive for perfection by working through our own mistakes. This repetition leads to perfection of a task, which enables the child to concentrate on his/her chosen task. These are circular procedure. This leads to repetition of manipulation leading to perfection & precision Repetition is our feedback to achieve exactness. This increases concentration and focus. Through abstraction man modifies the environment. However, he aims to perfect those modifications. He seeks beauty & combines it with the abstract. For this, he requires creativity.

Calculation and Control of Errors:
Calculation is done in all walks of life knowingly or unknowingly. The innate tendency of the Mathematical Mind helps the child leads to understand and judge distances, Dimensions, Precise quantities. It encourages logical analysis. Humans can find and distinguish what is right and what is wrong. his mathematical mind is the driving force behind the inventive nature that is inherent in the human race. This tendency drives us in our pursuit of precision, accuracy, and logical thought. It is this mathematical mind that aids in the abstractions that allow us to create through imagination and invention

Gregariousness and Communication:
Gregariousness is the tendency to sociability. This leads to communication. Without it, new generations would have to rediscover all knowledge & wisdom. The child has a natural tendency to communicate. Absorption, coordination, order, and abstraction are very necessary for building the tendency towards communication. Communication is both a need and a tendency. All people have the need to form relationships with other people. These relationships are formed by interacting with other people and participating in functions that are social in nature. The ability to communicate makes possible cooperation, collaboration, and the passing of knowledge between individuals. The language that the child will use to communicate is a product of the culture that the child lives in and is developed through the interactions of the child and it’s environment, which includes the people involved in that environment. This reflects the universality of children’s ability to acquire language.

“The child’s conquests of independence are the basic steps in what is called his “natural development”. In other words, if we observe natural development with sufficient care, we see that it can be defined as the gaining of successive levels of independence.” – Absorbent Mind, Page 76

The tendencies operate throughout our lives. They are universal to the human experience. We can recognize them in ourselves. We only need to look for them in our daily behaviour. These tendencies, which are operative from birth, continue into the later planes of development. They enable the child to become a full functioning human being. They supply the energy & enthusiasm for the essential, continuous relationship with the environment throughout our lives. When they are fully operative in our daily lives, we feel joy. How we respond to life is directly related to whether the environment encourages our tendencies. Therefore, we can say that children need that encouragement from their environment, in addition to the opportunity. To develop humanity, we must nurture the tendencies of man in all of us.

These tendencies are not simply part of the young child, they are the child’s master. The child is a slave to these tendencies. He must follow them because they are his nature. But that is not a problem because these tendencies lead us exactly where we should go. They drive us to learn, to improve ourselves, to master knowledge. They are our inner guide, and we can trust them to help us learn the truth of our existence.

When the human tendencies are blocked or somehow prevented from manifesting, children will exhibit abhorrent behaviours like temper tantrums, anger, an inability to concentrate, excessive violence or excessive shyness. When we see a child exhibiting upsetting behaviours, we must look to see where the obstacles lie. What is blocking the expression of his/her human tendencies? How can we remove those obstacles?

Humans are also empowered or enabled by their tendencies. Children are born with certain predispositions that drive their behaviour and are inherent to human nature. These tendencies motivate children to engage in activities that will aid them in reaching their full human potential. Educational practices should embrace the distinct.

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Montessori Philosophy
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