Human Tendencies

Because humans are born in such a dependent state of infancy and remain in that infancy for around a year (which is a long time when compared to most other species), they come into this world with enormous potential and capacity to adapt to a wide variety of situations – to construct ourselves in the unique time and place we are each born into; a freedom of spirit so to speak. As humans grow and evolve, this ability to adapt to one’s surroundings so completely has become increasingly necessary as our world is ever changing at such an exponential pace. Our survival as a species is much more complex than other animals and in order to fulfill our needs throughout life, we must rely on what Montessori called human tendencies.

These human tendencies are universal and constant. They never change and they last throughout the entirety of one’s life. Everyone shares them. The outcome, or how these tendencies manifest in the individual, however, is different for each person. And that is where they become a little confusing. Each tendency needs the others, working together and constantly building upon each other in a way that is evolving and intimately connected and dependent on each other. To begin naming them is to limit them and some of the cause of confusion comes in attempting to pull them apart to analyze independently.

As far as Montessori is concerned, human tendencies are basic to our survival and development as a species. These tendencies echo the process of civilization, guide our natural behaviors and help us all to work in a way not only for our individual good, but also the good of our group. They allow us the ability to evolve together as a species. Montessori firmly believed that everything existing in nature has it’s place in nature and that everything within the universe works in a harmonious and orderly way; she believed humans to be part of a greater cosmic plan.

Exploration is necessary for fulfilling basic human needs. Humans are natural explorers. We explore in order to orient ourselves to new environments, find the best route, learn what we need to survive, what to eat, where to live, in order to survive happily and comfortably. Children explore to adapt, for security, and for a sense of accomplishment because the child has to construct himself through his experiences with the environment. Accepting and incarnating the world as it is, is what allows the child to adapt so completely to any society.

Orientation comes through exploring one’s environment and having concrete knowledge of where one is within that environment. This includes all experiences one has within this environment. By orientating ourselves, we are able to establish a sense of security, which allows us to let our guard down and to move on to performing other tasks necessary for survival. As one becomes oriented in his environment, he feels more confident to explore further. It is an ongoing process.

Order is gained through orientation and exploration. We collect our experiences, take our discoveries into consideration, and then categorize and make sense of them. Through order, we create a sense of predictability and security and therefore establish order within ourselves. External order helps create internal order. Without order, there is no quality to life because we’re completely lost all the time. Along with security, order is one of the most important things we can give a child because this is the only way we can establish points of reference and begin to make sense of our environment.

Communication allows us to share our thoughts and feelings with one another. We are an emotional species and we need to be able to share our thoughts with one another effectively in order to understand ourselves, those around us, and the world we live in. Communication is closely connected with the human need to work or be active; we need to act together with our environment, other people, plants, animals, things, and ourselves. Through communication, we learn from each other, share our thoughts and emotions and allow for an opportunity to think differently than we had before communication. It allows us to be connected.

Activity/Work/Movement is something every living creature does. We work to improve our situation. All life exists because of the environment in which it lives and we never simply stay in one environment because through work, we continually use and change that environment. We work to construct what we need to be comfortable. It is the intrinsic motivation to act in a purposeful and meaningful way that engages the whole self. Children work to improve themselves and therefore will learn to improve the environment. A child’s work is not to maintain life, but to construct it. Humans need to take hold of their environment to understand it. To make things work for us, we must use the hand along with the brain. This leads to self-control and self-mastery.

Self-Preservation/Self-Development has to do with basic survival, basic physiological needs, physical and psychological safety. Humans may forget that we are not just a body, but a body, mind, and spirit together as one and we must work to assimilate the three. When our work is fulfilling on all levels, we should feel rested and energized because of it. A large part of being human is the feeling of needing to belong to a group or feel loved. As humans, we need both mental and emotional support. Humans need to construct a social life because we need to interact and have the support of our culture. It is through having a social life that we learn what we need in order to function as a society. Collective rules provide us with an understanding of what we’ve collectively determined to be right and wrong. Spiritual needs are also an important consideration — art, music, dance, religion — all give people a sense of belonging to one’s community and all influence each other.

Abstraction/Imagination come at a higher level of intelligence and set us apart from animals. Our imagination seems limited only by our bodies and is not possible without a firm foundation in reality. Through using our imaginations we are able to visualize events that have not occurred, feel and express emotions that are not tangible, or imagine something that does not exist and then make it happen. In order to create, man has to abstract concrete things from observations of reality and has to imagine how he could use this knowledge he has developed in order to survive to the fullest extent. Abstraction has led us to have the ability needed to create the world as we know it today.

These tendencies mentioned thus far are all creative tendencies in that they assist in constructing mind-body-spirit wholeness. The next couple are more process-oriented, guiding how one actively engages with the world.

Concentration/Repetition/Perfection happen as the result of doing work. At some level, the individual has some drive to be interested in his environment, to reach out and touch it. Once that happens, he begins to concentrate, take focus, collect energies, and repeat. Through repetition, we master the skills we need for survival. When we are efficient, we begin to strive for self-perfection. This is something we never reach, but continually aspire to anyway. The idea of perfection can be different for all humans everywhere and what matters is feeling confident in one’s own decisions and doing what is necessary to feel fulfilled to your own individual satisfaction. It is possible to obtain that degree of perfection that satisfies one’s own spirit. The greatest possible satisfaction one can have is to become a conscious master of himself. If what you have achieved satisfies your spirit, you are bound to feel happy, fresh, and not tired. If the spirit is behind the work, after one has finished the work one is rested, because that which the spirit wanted has been achieved. Because of this continual striving for self-perfection, man has become extremely efficient in his endeavors. And sometimes, even after mastery, a person may continue to repeat an activity for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

Exactness/Precision is the ability to get what you need quickly and efficiently. Through control of error, man proceeds towards self-perfection thereby performing tasks more efficiently, conserving energy by doing things faster, better. Doing something exactly right brings enormous satisfaction and is necessary in order to enable the child to control himself consciously.

Understanding these tendencies are what help us, as teachers and parents, to better understand the development of each individual child. As adults, our main goal for the young child should be to provide as much stability and consistency as possible in order to help the infant develop to his fullest capability. This is because a child cannot possibly concentrate on any task unless there is consistency in his environment. Without a stable environment, the child will constantly be wondering what is going to happen to him next – he will constantly be thinking about survival rather than the task at hand. He can never move forward, making it impossible for him to realize his individual potentials and aspirations.

Children must adapt to the environment by being able to explore it and therefore understand the consequences of his actions in such a way that fears are not constructed within him. A child in today’s world unconsciously displays the same traits that early humans did and, without necessarily realizing it, we often stand in the way of their exploration and manipulation because it is an inconvenience in our modern lifestyles. When we are able to give the child a safe environment, remove any hindrances to these basic human tendencies, the child will undoubtedly surpass our expectations through their own explorations and discoveries, thought processes, and limitless curiosities.


By:  Jamie Pettit, Toddler Lead