human tendencies
Montessori theory

Montessori Theory: The Human Tendencies

“There is in the soul of the child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as he develops”. Maria Montessori

As human beings we hold a set of characteristics that function throughout our lives. Montessori believed that these characteristics lead us through our lives, guiding our behaviour and development. She called these human tendencies. Human tendencies are potentials that are developed over time, not necessarily innate abilities. These distinctivetraits are both universal and timeless.

Why are they important?

Montessori believed that “natural development is a series of rebirths”, the urges that lead us through these rebirths are the tendencies. At Hatfield Montessori, we look out for the human tendencies in each child and reflect on how best we can meet these needs. These tendencies can help us sieve through behaviour and reactions. And in turn learn from our
children as they work to share their secrets of development with us.

We use the framework below to observe behaviour and to best understand where the child’s reaction might be coming from.
Read below about the 9 human tendencies Montessori stipulated and observe how they are seemingly interconnected.


human tendencies

Every being is a curious one. Be it discovering your new neighbourhood, another country or even taking the brave steps of going up the attic.

Exploration lies within us all but is projected in unique ways.

For children we can observe this exploration when they climb up
the big tree, or find new avenues in the garden. We need to support this exploration by offering them safe and productive experiences – only then will they be able to develop the
gift of exploration.


human tendencies

Tied quite closely with exploration is the tendency to orient oneself. Orientation speaks to how the child relates herself to the surroundings. If she is in the attic; how high is she from the ground, how many steps did she climb to get there, or even how does she get back? In order to become fully comfortable in a space she must know where she is and what is necessary of her there. As a parent you can support this by setting limits for certain environments, the more consistent these limits are the more comfortable and oriented the
child can be.


human tendencies

We have many connotations of what an attic can be like. It can be dusty, musty or even a little scary. The only reason the attic can be scary is because the child can imagine a scary scene. The tendency to abstract results in holding an understanding in your mind without needing to see it physically. Children develop their abstract mind over time. The 3-6 year old
is a sensorial learner, the abstract mind develops in the second plane (6-12 year olds). Beingv grounded in reality first results in the take-off to abstraction. As parents you could support the power of abstraction by telling stories, creating stories together or encouraging abstract


With a mind so rich with questions of exploration and orientating oneself on this planet, a sense of exploring the mind appears. Spiritual Life is closely linked to abstraction in the way that it is felt in the body but it is seen and discovered in the mind. When the child is in the attic she might be scared of the possible creature up there but her tendency towards spiritual understanding could be to know she is brave, confident and capable to do it independently. It is the urge to explore the ineffable and once that need is satisfied it brings a sense of calmness about the troubled mind. As parents you could support the potential for spiritual understanding by introducing them to the basic manifestation of spirituality – art, music, dance, community.


human tendencies

The human wants to understand. And with understanding comes order. The tendency to structure the uncontrolled. Following the analogy of the child in the attic, in order for her to feel safe in the attic she needs to know what is happening and how she can arrange it. A way of doing this could be to organize the area. If she has been up the attic before and the space isn’t the same way as before, she might feel uncomfortable or agitated and might try to reorder the space. As carers we need to offer a space that is ordered, only from their experience of order can they refine this potential.


The next tendency ties in with order, it is the motivation to perfect something and to have everything in its place. This is an urge that all humans have, it just projects itself differently from person to person. The child in the attic will continue to work by moving the furniture
around the attic and dusting the cupboard until her memory and her reality coincide again.

It is the repetition of work to satisfy not only her tendency toward order but perfection as well. After this, peace will be achieved. Supporting perfecting ones movements can be a tough job. Only with patience, kindness and encouragement will this be a smooth development for the child trying to perfect their capabilities. One does not expect perfection, but rather making space and time for them to refine.


human tendencies

As the child continuously repeats work in order to perfect it, she is constantly moving. We are breathing in and out, we are walking, talking and even carrying objects. The child can only achieve the exactitude by repeating a certain motion of feather-dusting a cupboard to remove all the dust. She is moving her arms in a particular way to clean, which becomes work. We have the motivation within ourselves to work, move and be active. It is just the specific environment that we place ourselves in that will determine how much that need will be recognised.


human tendencies

Movement can surpass just the physical state but can enter our hearts. Our hearts are stirred by a meaningful conversation. And the way this occurs is done by the tendency to communicate. It is the urge for us to share what we have experienced. It is the urge to tell stories, to know how someone else is doing. As we return to our child in the attic we could
possibly see that once she has returned from the attic her first thought might be to tell her parents about her adventure, or even write a story about it in her journey. Life wouldn’t be life if we could not share it with others.


human tendencies

The final human tendency is self-development, the child is the only one living her life and so she has the natural urge to sustain it. She wants to keep learning and changing so that her intelligence, her mind and her love will keep growing. She needs no external guide for this as it is all within her already. Self-development is the urge to go up to the attic again and
gain even more knowledge about the unknown. It is the urge to respect her body, mind and heart. As carers we can support this by being patient. Self-development goes on for a lifetime. By role-modelling and communicating what sort of self-development you do, your child can strengthen this potential as well.

Reflecting on these nine tendencies one can see how much we share with our children. Our responsibility lies in how we support and encourage the development for each. Montessori helps this by writing:

“ Individual differences depend on inner tendencies productive of interest, and this is something, which people come to possess in differing degree. In other words, we all have inborn attractions which cause us to grow and to develop, in accordance with that nature which is ours alone” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.

How wonderful it is to know that we have collective potentials shared with our children, and we get to see how they develop it in accordance with their nature.

Food For Thought

Below are some more resources that speak about more human tendencies. Feel free to come to us any time if you’d like to read more about these tendencies as written by Mario Montessori and Maria Montessori.
Montessori, M (1952) The Absorbent Mind, Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company,
Volume 1 page 163
Newman, D (2017) The Human Tendencies. Montessori Institute Northwest [accessed at: ]
Tuckova, M (n.d.) Fundamental Human Tendencies. Montessori [accessed at:]
Anon. (2012) The Human Tendencies Cross of Life Montessori School [accessed at: ]

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One Comment

  • Fasiegha Arendse

    What an amazing piece of writing explaining the human tendencies. Beautifully and succinctly captured for parents. Thank you Anki (Ellen-Anne) for bringing this to light. 🙏🏽🤗

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