top of page

Why Maslow Matters in the New Normal

What strange times we are living through, 4 weeks into lockdown and 'social distancing'. We are quickly learning how incredible local communities can be, how we can all work together to try to support and protect the most vulnerable in our society when we need it most. Forget social distancing, what we have is physical distancing and social solidarity.

As we have moved into this unprecedented time at home, huge changes are taking place in everyone's lives. Very few Forest School leaders are still working and all independent Forest Schools are closed for the foreseeable. We and our families have been experiencing a huge sense of loss, of our time in the woods and the beautiful, strong communities we have built over the years. I feel so much sadness to think of what we have lost, very suddenly, even for a relatively short period of time. We are also seeing parents adapting to working at home or learning not to be working, both of which can be equally hard. For me, the overwhelming feeling is a loss of my independence and worth to my community. Then there come the expectations on children who have been very suddenly removed from their own friendships and support networks. I hear lots about how this is hard for children who attend school, but it is equally hard for younger children and home educated children who often have a bigger and more diverse social support network. On top of all that is the expectation that parents feel that they have upon them to keep up the school work, stay on track, provide this constant stream of education and engagement.

Wow, that's a lot to process and a lot of expectation.

Over the next few posts I am aiming to explore the feelings and emotions we are all currently going through, look at our needs and requirements in a crisis. To look at child development and play theories to hopefully support some of you through this time at home.

Forest School training introduces students to the important of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. I recently wrote a blog post covering how the hierarchy applies to Forest School with a focus on building communities and helping children to be able to live their best lives. You can read it here. This is a good place to start when we are thinking about children's needs in a crisis as it equally applies to the adults and helps us to recognise we are all going through huge changes.

Maslow's theory describes a pyramid which starts with Physiological needs at the bottom, then Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, Self esteem and self actualisation. Maslow argued that we need each level to be fully met before we can move up the pyramid towards self actualisation. Ideal learning is set within the top two sections of the pyramid, which means that, in order to be ready to learn well, we first need to have physiological, safety and love and belonging needs to be met first.

So there we all were, working in our communities at work, school, forest school, nursery and other social groups, feeling like we belong and all of a sudden a pandemic hits.

In a time of crisis our needs suddenly change and very dramatically. Remember the panic buying of toilet roll and pasta? That was the time where people were trying to get their physiological needs met so that they could feel safe. We were right back down at the bottom of the pyramid. That's okay. That's normal and to be expected in a crisis.

For so so many of us, adults and children, we have been knocked from somewhere near the top of this pyramid to somewhere near the bottom. If you are reading this post you are most likely at the point where your physiological needs are being met at this point, but for many this part of the pyramid is a place where they are no longer feeling fully secure. Having enough food, enough rest, even enough breathing may be a struggle for many at the moment. At the end of this post is some pointers for how you can help those struggling to even meet basic needs. So next, once the base to our pyramid is secure, we can move up to start thinking about safety. Do you feel safe in this crisis? For myself, there are constant worries on safety every time I need to do some shopping to meet my physiological needs. Security in your job also comes under the safety aspect of the pyramid and for many this hangs in the balance.

It's so important to remember that in order to work towards the top of the pyramid we need to make sure that the foundation is secure. Let's stop, let's focus here, let's give ourselves a break trying to do everything and realise it's okay not to be our ideal self in a time of crisis.

What does this mean for our children? This means making sure they are are having all of their physiological and safety needs met before we do anything else. Make sure they are fed and given water, have sleep and are healthy. After that focus on helping then to have a sense of safety and security. This can be hard right now, especially for older children who will have an idea of what is happening outside of their home. Keep your environment as safe as it needs to be for them. This may be as far as you can get up the pyramid for now. That's okay. After that we can focus on love and belonging within the family, creating connections and trust, giving them a voice and with as little anxiety as possible. This is as new for them as it is for us, they have most likely lost connection with many of their peers and they will take time to adjust. If this means ditching formal learning and focusing on connection and just feeling safe and loved, that's fine and perfect. That's what they need. We are all living through trauma and we have all been dropped down the pyramid right to the bottom it will take time to rebuild. That's okay.

This is not the time for perfectionism. This is a time for survival, for coping and authenticity.

Next time I will look at Tuckman's Model of Forming, Storming and Norming. For now, if you are lucky enough to still have a regular income and the abilty to support others in their basic physiological and safety needs then please consider donating to the following.

1,931 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page