Over sixty years ago, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) theorized that a specific series of needs must be met before any child could learn. Current brain research confirms his theory. Below is a brief explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
- Physiological needs: nutrition, sleep, exercise, health;
- Safety needs: both physical and emotional;
- Love and belonging needs: affection shown to the child, trust of those around him, someone who listens, daily order, a right to privacy, unconditional love;
- Self-esteem needs: someone affirms the child’s worth, child is given the opportunity to achieve, to make choices, to be successful;
- Self-actualization needs: child is developing abilities and strengths, problem-solving skills strengthening.
A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is stressed cannot learn. A child who is in an environment absent of unconditional love cannot learn.
In fact, the brain of a child who feels emotionally or physically threatened produces chemicals that actually inhibit learning.
Threat or stress put the brain in survival mode at the expense of higher order thinking skills, and lasting threat or stress reduces the brain’s capacity for understanding, meaning, memory, and analytical thinking. Therefore, it is vital that we assist emergent readers by ensuring that, first, the conditions necessary for learning are in place.
If, upon occasion, your child is not learning, perhaps he does not feel safe. Talk to him about your family’s faith in God. Talk to him about how the adults in his midst care for him.
If your child is not fearful about issues of safety, but is still having a difficult time learning, look to his sleep patterns, nutrition, relationships with peers, or other physical or emotional needs. Help him construct a firm foundation for learning.
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