Montessori conjectured that there are several consistent human tendencies or "guides" all people have.* They can be seen across cultures, demographics and times.
They help people to survive and adapt to the place a human finds themselves in. More importantly Mario Montessori pointed out that "inner development precedes independence" (Mario Montessori, 1976). A prepared Montessori environment meets these tendencies so that the child can construct a healthy ego and become normalised (A normalised person is a person who can concentrate, has internal peace, tranquility, is secure in themselves and is considerate of others) .
When the human tendencies are prevented or gated off children may exhibit behaviours like anger, an inability to concentrate, or an over willingness to please others. As a parent of a child with ADHD I'd like to point out behaviours such as anger or tantrums could also be related to sensory overload or other neurobiological differences so a specialist, teacher or parent needs to be able to observe and think about why a behaviour is manifesting.
In the list below I've given some examples of how these tendencies might look and how our class environments can help children with these tendencies. If you are looking for ideas for home check out Onetree Montessori's post here.
A child or adult could show several tendencies at the same time and there is no "right" or "wrong" specific tendency or "wrong" time for a person to be showing a particular need for a tendency.
Order: The desire for predictability in events and place.
Example: A child lining up objects from smallest to largest without prompting to do so.
This child lined up numbers after being given them at random.
To find oneself in new situations and know where they belong. The organised environment of a Montessori classroom where children know where things "live" and know where to get information helps with this orientation.
To be curious and want to explore through play, learning, experience and so on. Exploration can be both spiritual (knowledge of self, friends) or material (food, tools). The open-ended nature of the Montessori curriculum allows for this exploration through various lessons and the ability for children to explore on their own or ask for further lessons or materials on a topic.
This child was fascinated by plants that live in water. They wanted to touch the leaves and wanted to know how this plant was growing.
This tendency is for humans to want to share, receive information and be understood. Traditionally we may think of communication through writing, reading and listening however humans may also communicate through the arts, gesture, action and how they use their time towards another. Our classrooms are set up in a way where children can grow their communication skills and "read" the communication skills of others.
Ability to Abstract Ideas:
The power to abstract ideas from one situation to another becomes especially obvious when the child enters the second plane of development, or around ages six to nine. This tendency enables people to make connections from one piece of knowledge to another seemingly unrelated topic. This may be noticed when a child says unprompted "Oh, is this like....." Montessori felt that with enough concrete experiences at an early age this abstraction would come naturally when the child was ready. It is important we don't push the child towards abstraction too quickly.
People like to be active. For children, activity such as movement is something to be enjoyed in the moment without necessarily having an end goal in mind. People around the world find ways to keep busy in a myriad of ways. In our classrooms if we find children are not actively engaged in meaningful work we will likely find them involved in some other type of activity.
Humans need to understand the world around them. Coming after exploration is the human desire to want to use the things around them and to see what those things can do.
Work is related to the tendencies of activity and manipulation. Work allows for independence. Work allows for the children to help develop themselves and as educators we must allow plenty of uninterrupted time for children to work at their own pace on topics that are interesting to them.
This happens when a person does an activity over and over. The goal usually comes from a desire to get better at a task or from the joy of completing the task. Materials in a Montessori class are designed to be used repeatedly while simultaneously allowing for exploration.
You probably know of someone that has a particular 'eye for detail.' Sometimes this manifests itself in interesting ways for example a child may want to push all square boxes on a shelf to line up with a corner as that is where it 'fits.'
*There are several different lists of Human Tendencies, in some people combine certain tendencies together and in others some concepts have been extracted!