Waldorf and Montessori schools are among the fastest-growing educational models in the world. Both systems of school are unconventional and tend to differ from mainstream public schooling. My daughter is bright and eccentric, but faces many challenges that would make public schooling inappropriate for her. For this reason, I looked into both Waldorf and Montessori schools as possible choices for her early education. After talking to several educators and parents with experience in both school systems, I found out that– while Waldorf and Montessori schools are similar in some ways– they differ tremendously in other regards.
Here are a few of the key differences between Waldorf and Montessori school systems. The right choice for your family will depend on your child’s needs as well as your own educational philosophy.
Philosophical View of Nature
Both systems stress the importance of natural materials and respect for nature. At both Montessori and Waldorf schools, a significant amount of time is spent learning about the natural world. Recycling and environmentalism are part of both curricula. While Montessori methods stress the importance of minimizing television and unnecessary computer use for children, Waldorf models entirely reject the use of “screen time” for young children. Waldorf schools teach earth-based philosophy, including anthroposophism and a form of animism, while Montessori schools have no specific religious or spiritual affiliation.
View of Academic Subjects
Montessori and Waldorf methods diverge widely in this arena. Although both methods teach the importance of meeting a child’s own specific academic needs, Montessori schools introduce academic curriculum early, while Waldorf schools do not teach academics until age 7 or later. In Montessori schools, children begin to learn reading skills during preschool, with most fully literate by kindergarten. In Waldorf schools, more emphasis is placed on fun, imaginative play, and children do not learn reading, writing or mathematics until far later than average.
Arts and Creativity
Montessori schools value the arts and creativity, but Montessori educators believe that children learn and grow best while focusing on the “real world” in all its beauty. Waldorf teachers disagree; they believe that fostering early creativity is essential for a child’s long-term development. In Waldorf schools, art, music, make-believe play, and imagination are paramount in all lessons. In Montessori schools, creative and artistic play involve tactile experience and real-world tie-ins to math and science. In both systems, creativity is viewed as a lens through which other subjects can be learned.
View of “Work”
The Waldorf philosophy teaches that “work,” including chores and academia, are necessary evils that threaten to taint a child’s early development. For this reason, children in Waldorf schools are encouraged to spend most of their time just “being kids,” engaging in the fun, creative, imaginative activities that kids are naturally inclined to engage in. Montessori schools view work not as an evil, but as a delight. Montessori educators believe that children naturally enjoy learning and helping. While they do not force children into piles of paperwork or housework, they encourage kids’ natural inclination to help their parents and to learn academically valuable skills.
There is no right or wrong answer to whether Montessori or Waldorf school is “best,” since all children and families have individual needs. For many children, homeschool and traditional school models are preferable to either. If you are interested in Montessori or Waldorf educational techniques, get in touch with local private schools in your area.