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Montessori vs Waldorf – a comparison

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There are lots of Waldorf and Montessori similarities and they are both among the fastest growing education systems in the world. They both respect the child as an individual and emphasize the need to educate them as spiritual and creative beings.

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The difference between Waldorf and Montessori

What is the difference between Waldorf, also often called Steiner approach, and Montessori methodology?

I am going to help you take a look at the two a bit closer so you can understand the philosophies and see which one is right for you.

Obviously, being a Montessori trained teacher, I am biased. 

There are lots of Waldorf and Montessori similarities and they are both among the fastest growing education systems in the world. They both respect the child as an individual and emphasize the need to educate them as spiritual and creative beings.

They also both encourage the importance of a natural learning environment and limit the child’s exposure to technology and television, while including lots of access to the arts.

The Difference between Waldorf and Montessori

There are a few key differences between the Waldorf and Montessori methodology that may affect which one you decide is right for your family.

The Waldorf system was created by Rudolph Steiner who was a scientist and philosopher and is based on seven year cycles of spiritual development. It delays any formal learning such as reading, writing or math until the age of seven and instead focuses on the arts and make believe.

The Montessori system was developed my Dr Maria Montessori by observing and supporting the child’s natural development. Learning is based around real life play but is led by the child so reading or writing are introduced when they show an interest in it.

The children in Montessori schools are grouped in three different age ranges: 3-6, 6-12 and 12-15 but are taught individually, whereas in Waldorf schools the set up is more traditional with children kept with others of their own age and each group’s activities are led by a teacher. 

A key difference between Waldorf and Montessori teaching is the focus on make-believe or real life play. Waldorf believes children are naturally imaginative and teachings are based around storytelling and fantasy.

Montessori believes that children prefer to replicate the activities they see around them and create any imaginative play from real life experiences.

Why did I choose Montessori?

I chose and feel more comfortable with Montessori as it is based on the observation of the child so it is more in line with their natural needs. Dr Montessori said:

“It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method. I have studied the child, I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method”

She had no preconceived ideas about children and education – she observed the children entrusted in her care and from those observations, designed her system.

If we truly observe and follow the child, some of them will eagerly read and write and count before they turn 6. Some of them will not. In Montessori, there is no need to reach a standard by the end of the year or push or delay their learning.

I also believe that many children struggle with fantasy. They find it difficult to understand the abstract and in fact, can be quite sensitive to, or scared of it, preferring reality based stories.

Young children’s play is influenced by their experiences and although they may take one thing and turn it into something else – a wooden block becomes a sandwich – they rarely create scenarios beyond what they know.

Learning from Waldorf and Montessori similarities and differences

Choosing a Waldorf or Montessori approach for your child is an individual choice and both have many benefits. You might decide that one fits your child best and place them in a preschool or school that follows that methodology. Due to the fantasy-based aspect, the lack of scientific evidence and the connection with racist ideas, I chose not to send my children to a Waldorf school. When it comes to choosing an alternative method of education, it’s not simply about choosing something that it’s not mainstream.

I invite you to visit schools, Montessori or Waldorf schools, and to question them about their principles, their curriculum, the way they make their school inclusive. 

Waldorf at home

Otherwise, when it comes to learning at home, parents can choose elements from both that they think their child will benefit from.

Many families like the beautiful wooden toys inspired by the Waldorf philosophy and others appreciate the Art activities suggested such as painting wet on wet, watercolour and modelling with wax etc. 

And establishing a rhythm is a positive aspect of the Steiner education but not exclusive to that philosophy. 

Actually, in my opinion, these 3 positive aspects are already embedded in the Montessori philosophy.  

When it comes to choosing one or the other, I don’t believe you have to be exclusive. It’s all about respecting the individuality of the child and there is no rule saying you have to strictly follow or abstain from principles of both.

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