Montessori vs. Waldorf | Which Method Will Work For Your Family?

Jan 09, 21
Montessori vs. Waldorf | Which Method Will Work For Your Family?

It's the tale of two preschools. You've decided to check out alternative school options for your child, but you're unsure if Montessori or Waldorf schools fit your family's style. We're breaking down the educational models behind each method, helping grasp the similarities, and uncovering the differences between these two approaches to help parents decide which school (if either) is right for your child.

The Two Methods at a Glance:

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) - Maria Montessori was the medical doctor, anthropologist, and founder of the "Montessori Method" in 1907. The method supports the principle that young children naturally absorb knowledge better from their surroundings when given the freedom to self-direct their education. The word "work" is used to describe the child's activities instead of "play."

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) - Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf School at Stuttgart in Germany in 1919. In Waldorf Education, the learning process centers around thinking, feeling, and doing. Teachers work to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum blending academics, arts, and practical skills.

How Does the Curriculum Differ?

MONTESSORI: Montessori focuses on real-life experiences, where Waldorf emphasizes the child's imagination and fantasy. Dr. Montessori found when children were given a chance to do "real life" work like cooking, cleaning, or caring for themselves; they lost interest in make-believe play. Keep in mind this isn't to say fantasy and imagination are part of the creative process; they very much are. However, the world is seen as this beautiful creation where children can be introduced to it as they wish. In the Montessori approach, children direct their educational experience, similar to the Reggio Emilia method, if you're familiar with it. Hands-on exploration dictates learning. Teachers often only help when the child needs them.

Children are not kept in a group with other kids the same age; instead, they're grouped in a 3-6 year age span. The teacher will often give one-on-one attention, and lessons are frequently taught by another child in the form of play.


In Waldorf's philosophy, play is viewed as the work of the young child. There's a lot of storytelling and fantasy involved in the curriculum. Teachers often lead groups - much like you would see in a traditional classroom. You'll often see a teacher talking with the children being taught in a group setting. Children are also kept in a group of children of the same age. Ideally, in the Waldorf approach, children will have the same teacher during their six years of early childhood education.

Traditional academic subjects like math, reading, and writing are taught at a much later age than Montessori. While the approach completely recognizes the importance of these subjects for a child's overall education, they believe in putting off learning the "less enjoyable" subject for as long as they can. Instead, days are often filled with art, music, and a lot of make-believe. The focus on arts means putting off reading, writing, and math until age children are around age seven or so.

Similarities of Montessori and Waldorf Education:

They're both ranked the fastest growing educational systems in the world today.

Students can choose their own activities and tasks.

Both believe children need a connection to the environment,

Both show great respect for the child as an individual, spiritual, and creative human being.

They believe in sheltering children from the stresses of modern life, overuse or misuse of technology.

Both methods emphasize the education of a child as a whole. Their spiritual, mental, physical, and psychological needs are met.

Both provide a wide variety of art, music, dance, and theater for various ages.

Where Does Your Parenting Approach Fit?

Many parents are opting to practice parenting techniques like RIE and the Pikler approach, each focusing on building a kind and respectful relationship between an adult and an infant. If your child is used to playing with toys like the Pikler triangle and others based on the Montessori, Pikler, Waldorf methods, they'll probably get along well in a Montessori or Waldorf classroom. Being familiar with the toys from home will likely help make the transition into "big boy or girl school" a little easier!