Friday, May 25, 2012

Waldorf vs Montessori

“Viking Mom, we are so frustrated with the state of the states schools. We need something different. But, what is the difference between this Waldorfy thing you do and Montessori that my neighbor kids go to?”

“Viking Mom, we need a private school to send our children too but don’t want anything religious.”

Viking Dad and I are asked this question a lot and we hear these comments as well. My heart goes out to these families because I’ve been in their shoes.  When exploring alternative programs Viking Dad and I looked at many. While we do have a spiritual path of our own schools with a religious foundation didn’t appeal to us. 

Waldorf Kindergarten classroom.

What is Waldorf?

Waldorf education was established in 1919, by Rudolf Steiner. Emil Molt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, asked Steiner if he would undertake to establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Emil Molt had been inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on how to build a better society. The Waldorf Astoria Cigarette factory was the first sustainable school using Steiner’s philosophies.  To read more about what inspired Emil Molt check out this link….

 Waldorf Education is based on a profound understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.  Waldorf teachers educate to the soul of a child and not to the outer shell.
Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child. They achieve this in a variety of ways. Even seemingly dry and academic subjects are presented in a pictorial and dynamic manner. This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behavioristic rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning. It takes a lot of energy for the teacher to create this kind of atmosphere. Rudolf Steiner encouraged teachers to take time to rest and breathe so that they can be authentic and true teachers.

An element that is unique to Waldorf schools and this model is found throughout the world in every Waldorf school, is that the grades teacher stays with a class from 1st grade all the way to their 8th grade year. This consistency is amazing! This time allows the teacher to really know a child.

To learn more about the history of Waldorf Education start here.
One of my favorites quotes from one of my mentor teachers, “We teach children with reverence.
 Rudolf Steiner’s Archives.
Threefold Social Order (This is NOT about Socialism!!) Check it out here 

Montessori classroom

A mural being painted at the Waldorf School of Hawaii.

Maria Montessori

What is Montessori?

Montessori is an educational approach that was developed by the Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Maria Montessori opened her first school in 1907, called Casa de Bambini.  Montessori education is described as having an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, as well as the need for understanding and learning the technological advancement in society. (This is in direct conflict with Waldorf since they theorize that modern technology is the leading cause for ADDHD, ADD, emotional disturbance, and other related health impairments in children. Technology is introduced in the last semester of the 8th grade year in the Waldorf schools.) 

The Montessori classroom and pedagogical approach is structured differently then a traditional classroom.

v     Students are in mixed age classrooms. The most common is a combination of 2 ½ or 3 to 6 year olds.
v     Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options. (There is a myth that children are allowed to focus on just one topic and never allowed to progress beyond that topic. This myth isn’t true!)
v     Uninterrupted blocks of work time! (Awesomeness)
v     A “Constructivism” or discovery model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instructions. (Student wants to learn how a volcano works; they build one and watch it blow.)
v     Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators.

Teachers in a Montessori school design their programs using Montessori’s model of human development, use of pedagogy, lessons and materials introduced in Montessori teacher training programs.
Maria Montessori’s first school, Casa de Bambini, was established in a “slum” area of Rome. According to her biographers, “Dr. Montessori filled her first school of 3-6 years olds with dolls and other traditional make believe toys but found that when children were given the opportunity to do real work such as cleaning, cooking, and caring for themselves, each other and the environment, they completely lost interest in make believe and preferred real work. She later, at the request of the parents who were impressed with the new cleanliness, happiness and good manners of these slum children, invented manipulative language, math, and other academically oriented materials and studied the children’s responses to these new stimuli.” Based on these observations academics are offered but never forced. 

Children's artwork from a Montessori school

To learn more about Maria Montessori and her methods go here.

Rudolf Stiener The Father of Waldorf Education

Children's artwork from a Waldorf School

I belong to several Mommy Blogs and Homeschooler blogs who’s Mommies, and some Daddies, share their experiences about homeschooling. There are a few who home school using religious curriculum but many use either Waldorf curriculum or Montessori. Our Viking Son’s Pre-School teacher is Montessori trained and had home schooled her four boys using Montessori’s methods. I was intrigued and fascinated at how much the children learned from her methods and creativity. Personally, I think she is a Waldorf teacher at heart.
I do know that many Montessori parents send their children to Waldorf schools because for some reason many Montessori schools in America do not go beyond 2nd grade. What I have heard about transitioning is in regards to technology. Waldorf is very technologically light. While the Waldorf schools recognize that technology is part of the 21st century they do encourage parents to limit the amount of time on technology. In contrast Maria Montessori did recognize the need to be technologically savvy.  Many Montessori schools have computers for students to access and use as part of their learning.

While researching about the difference between the two schools I found Michael Olaf’s page. He’s a very pro-Montessori supporter so his page is a bit bias in that direction. But, I am kinda of bias toward Waldorf. Check out his site here.

A huge similarity between the two that is so radically different from public school is the focus on a holistic and therapeutic approach towards teaching children. The hurry up and race to the finish line of standardized testing is not present in either philosophy.

We chose Waldorf education because it aligned more to our values, ethics and lifestyle then the other schools. 
Typical Waldorf grades classroom

Bless Bless


  1. I loved your text. I just move to san diego and I'm a super doubts.
    I saw a Montessori school (mission bay) that I loved very much, but has the waldorf sd which is also wonderful. I am in search of which way to go. My daughter was studying (in my country), the waldorf ... but especially loved the Montessori saw that.
    thanks for sharing

  2. Welcome to San Diego Karina!
    I have a great deal of respect for both Montessori and Waldorf.
    However, for some reason Montessori schools only go as far as 1st or 2nd grade. Transitioning to public from Montessori and Waldorf can be tough for kiddos. We have a Viking Family that started at a Montessori school and they have comfortably and beautifully transitioned to the Waldorf School of San Diego.
    Good Luck
    Bless Bless

  3. commenting on the Montessori classroom picture above, as it is not the best example to true Montessori...I would recommend a low Calendar. At the chikds reach so that the writers may use it. Perhaps magnetic as well as chalk. That way the younger non-writers can use magnetic numerals for there work. If it is truly Montessori, than the calendar work is the child's, not the adults.....And correction on comment above regarding technology in a Montessori classroom....a true Montessori classroom does not use the computer or such technology that I think your referring to.
    Another difference between Montessori and walddorf education is that while woldorf is ver focused on what's make believe and imaginative in the child's mind Montessori focuses on realism and what the child enjoys learning about real life preparing him or her for adulthood and the acedemics and mannerisms that go along with there future.

    1. Hi Julie, could you please post or send a picture of the calendar you were talking about. I haven't seen one in any of the Montessori schools I visited. The Waldof Schools do believe in teaching realism but at age appropriate stages. Both Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner were concerned about the health and well being of the children of the time. They both wanted children to stay as children and not become "little adults."
      Thank you for sharing.....