There is a saying in education, “Maslow before Bloom.” If you’re familiar with our free resources or training, you recognize Bloom’s Taxonomy as a way of moving students to higher levels of understanding of, in our case, the Bible. It’s a great tool to use to move Bible students beyond remembering Bible facts to actually understanding and using the things God wants them to know.
Abraham Maslow, on the other hand, is famous for his own hierarchy he developed in psychology. His theory was that to reach higher levels of growth and development, a person’s basic core needs must be met. Although the theory is not without controversy, there are some valid points to consider when trying to teach young people the Bible.
Food is perhaps the most obvious yet often unmet basic need of young Bible students. Ministries aren’t always aware of families living in food insecurity. Even middle class and wealthy families can fail to feed their kids as they rush out the door to church. Often this unmet need for food is only discovered because the student is lethargic or complains of stomach aches, feeling faint or a grumbling, hungry tummy.
On that first, most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy, you will also find water, warmth and rest. As with food, these basic needs often go unmet for children in our Bible classes…even if their families have plenty of money. You can’t do much about rest, other than encourage parents to give their children 9-12 hours of sleep each night.
As for water and warmth, making sure students are adequately hydrated and are learning in an environment with a comfortable climate will improve their attention to the lesson and activities. You can’t always meet their needs fully, as they vary slightly from child to child, but being aware a room where kids are literally shivering will hamper learning and by extension possible spiritual growth, can encourage you to make needed adjustments quickly.
The next level of Maslow’s hierarchy deals with safety. If students don’t feel safe in your class, it will be difficult for them to learn. It’s important to understand safety goes beyond mere physical safety. Most children feel safer when their is a stable routine, the teachers are familiar and rules and consequences are reasonable, understood and consistently enforced.
The next level according to Maslow is the need for loving relationships. These can be with friends, family or even teachers. When a child feels loved and welcomed in your class, he or she will relax and be able to learn more. Conversely, if a student feels like those in the class don’t love or even like him or her, they will feel uncomfortable and may even choose to stop attending.
The two highest levels according to Maslow deal with a feeling of accomplishment and reaching one’s potential. If students believe your Bible lessons and activities are helping them accomplish the things God wants them to accomplish and reach their godly potential, they are more likely to fully engage with your lessons and activities. On the other hand, if they believe your lessons and activities are wasting their time, they will tune out or stop attending.
Being aware of the impact Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can have on your Bible students is important, even if you don’t agree with other aspects of his theory. It can help you better understand how to engage some of those students who seem uncomfortable or uninvolved in learning during your class by providing those basic needs.