Montessori vs. Waldorf Education

Montessori vs. Waldorf Education
Montessori vs. Waldorf Education. Image source: Pixabay

There are many different approaches to teaching children. Both Montessori and Waldorf provide a child with enriching forms of education that can be taught through homeschooling and at private schools. If you are thinking of one of these approaches to educate your child, you need to know the similarities and differences of both to determine the best learning path for your child.

A Waldorf Education

Created by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century, Steiner believed a person was made of three parts: The spirit, soul, and body. All three work together to form a child’s development. According to Waldorf education, children before the age of seven learn through imaginative and fantasy-based play.

Steiner believed children are “naturally imaginative” and that imagination before the age of seven will help build the groundwork for traditional academics. Once children form the imaginative groundwork for academics, the program focuses on academics with particular emphasis placed on the following subjects:

-Oral language


-Constructive and creative play

Notice how oral language is emphasized instead of language? That’s because written language is excluded from the curriculum to allow a child’s fantasy-based play to flourish. However, that doesn’t mean written language like books and writing are not introduced when the child becomes older.

In a typical Waldorf education, you will see that a teacher provides direct instruction. But it’s not the traditional lecture style of teaching children. Instead, teachers act as “performers” creating a calming classroom environment similar to the home.

A child’s day in a Waldorf school may include the following activities:


-Baking bread

-Listening to fantasy-based stories

-Singing songs

-Imaginative play with hand puppets


-Building with blocks

Remember, Waldorf education focuses on fostering and building a child’s imaginative play skills. Therefore, any toys like puppets and blocks are made of natural materials and with few details. Along with fantasy-based activities, incorporating nature is essential as well.

A Montessori Education

The Montessori program was founded by Maria Montessori, who believed children are independent thinkers who learn by observing other children and the environment around them. Because children are natural learners who do not need help with guided instruction, children are grouped into three age groups to keep children with others their own age. This is done so children can learn through play and life as a whole by observing their classmates.

Unlike Waldorf education, children learn four main academic areas in Montessori education:

  1. Practical life skills- pouring; stirring; painting
  2. Sensorial- shapes; sound; touch; color
  3. Language and reading- finger tracing letters; sounding out words
  4. Math-threading and counting beads; stacking blocks to count

The Montessori classroom looks much different than a Waldorf classroom mainly due to the type of instruction provided by the teacher. While a Waldorf teacher provides instruction through a performance type of style, Montessori teachers instruct very differently. Montessori teachers are seen more like observers.

A Montessori teacher does not provide instruction through guided activities. Instead, he or she will help “guide” a child toward discovering the child’s interests and helps a child learn only when the child is struggling with a concept. Because of this, a Montessori teacher is an observer in the student-led classroom.

Montessori children are allowed to pursue their interests and find activities they would like to do for the day around the classroom. Much of a Montessori classroom is set up for easy access to activities and those activities are set up into stations throughout the room.

Some typical Montessori activities children participate in include:

-Cleaning tables

-Pouring rice into cups and bowls

-Washing windows


-Threading beads

From the activities above there are two important aspects of Montessori education. First, there is an emphasis on work or practical life skills. Skills like mopping and window washing are a regular part of the Montessori curriculum. Second, teaching children an appreciation for nature is also included in the curriculum. Such nature activities as gardening and nature walks are frequent activities for children participating in Montessori education.

Both Montessori and Waldorf education offer many benefits to children. But how do you pick the right education for your child? Two of the main differences between the programs are the style of instruction taught by teachers and the values of the education program itself.

While the Waldorf program believes children need only imaginative play before the age of seven, Montessori believes children need to observe and interact with others in order to learn. Sometimes the best way to pick an educational program for your child is to see how your child learns best: through imaginative play or through observing other children.

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