Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, rights of the child, and the joy of learning to play music

A policy post here (originally posted on the Get Healthy Start Facebook page, 22 Mar 2015): on helping Scotland to become the best place to grow up. I have been prompted to dig this out after seeing some recent tweets about Maslow’s hierarchy in the workplace and in schools. See these recent tweets here.

This post looks at UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, article 31 of UNCRC, and the particular gains from teaching more kids a musical instrument. Sources at end of post.

The Scottish Government Children and Young People Act (2014) states an ambitious aim that Scotland will be “the best place in the world for children to grow up”. The Act is constructed in a large part around the UNCRC and a shift towards thinking about “wellbeing”. The UNCRC covers everyone under 18 years of age, but would not exclude work with young adults in vulnerable groups such as throughcare and aftercare for looked after children.

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Different countries are at different stages in meeting their UNCRC commitments. The great majority of the articles in the UNCRC should be met already in modern developed nations such as Scotland. Nonetheless, systematically identifying and addressing those articles that are only partially met is an important step in responding to the Act.

Comparing the UNCRC with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is instructive. Currently, much of the focus in children’s services is on “safety” and “belongingness” (e.g. through child protection work, screening, support by statutory agencies and the voluntary sector). While that work is clearly important, and no doubt needs to be strengthened further, we know that access to high quality education and rewarding employment, creativity and the arts, play and sport have a huge impact on health and wellbeing, both for individuals and society. Access to safe places to meet and socialise is also limited for many young people, and the consequences are also clear, in substance use, alcohol use and sexual health statistics.


Access to leisure, play and cultural opportunities is required both to meet the overall aim of the Act and to meet esteem and self-actualisation needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. Scottish Government, community planning partners and wider society therefore need to think more ambitiously to address the UNCRC articles that will help children and young people meet their “esteem” and “self-actualisation” needs.

Meeting such ambitious goals will require investment, imagination, inspiration and infrastructure. Examples should include:

Securing and expanding opportunities for children and young people to meet, socialise, learn and experience a range of opportunities in a safe environment outwith school hours (e.g. youth centres, voluntary organisations, schools, leisure centres and other settings).

Extending opportunities around:
– cultural development such as the Simón Bolívar Orchestra inspired Big Noise in Raploch, existing programmes such as the Creative Scotland funded Youth Music Initiative, and the work of third sector organisations already delivering youth orchestras, choirs, drama groups. There’s a magic to music, covering everything from fine motor skills to brain development, happiness and physical activity. The brain graphic from
– sport, play and physical activity (e.g. work of Active Schools Coordinators, local clubs, work of sportscotland, Winning Scotland Foundation etc)

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Improving access to green space, transport and leisure opportunities for children and young people, addressing the particular challenges of doing so in deprived urban and remote and rural communities, but also considering free travel and access for all young people (as for Old Age Pensioners).

Such provision already exists in some areas, but can be expensive to access, patchy and often with uncertainty about continuing funding. It is time for us to become ambitious about children and young people as well as ensuring that we meet their more basic needs.

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Dr Graham Mackenzie, Consultant in Public Health, NHS Lothian, 23 October 2017



Maslow basic triangle is adapted from: and has been annotated to demonstrate the links to UNCRC

UNCRC articles from: Child Rights Coalition Asia website

Music is a treat graphic:…/music%20is%20a%20treat…

The Why Teach Music graphic is from Pennsylvania Music Educators Association:

Scottish Parliament Children and Young People (Scotland) Act:

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