One of the toughest decisions as a parent is making the right choice when it comes to your toddlers’ education and future development. It can often be overwhelming considering the many philosophies and education styles out there – so how do you know what’s right for your child and for you as a parent? This easy breakdown of the Montessori and Waldorf education systems will give you some insight into two of the most common pre-school learning methods being used today.
What is the Montessori Method?
Based on the principles of Maria Montessori, this educational method has been around since the first Montessori school opened in 1907. Focusing on child-centered learning (meaning, kids often choose what and when to work on something), this philosophy pays attention to imagination and play while encouraging freedom of thought and action. Reading, writing, and math are introduced at preschool age, using fun and tactical methods meant to inspire a love of learning. Teachers and parents act as a guide rather than an instructor and children work at their own pace while being encouraged to set their own goals.
What is the Waldorf Method?
Developed by Rudolf Steiner, the first Waldorf School (or Steiner education school) was opened in Germany in 1919. While the Waldorf method is also child-centered, it is much more focused on imagination and creative expression, encouraging children to spend more time with nature and less time with technology. Reading, writing, and math are delayed until around the age of 7 to encourage better creative and critical thinking later in life. Children follow a maintained schedule of activities to develop a sense of structure and safety in routines. Homework, grading, and testing are not features of the Waldorf method, even when children are older.
Similarities between Montessori & Waldorf
There are many other educational philosophies around to be sure, but the Montessori and Waldorf methods have both been tried and tested for over 100 years. They have many similarities in their core values that have made them a popular choice among parents and educators.
- They focus on educating the whole child, spiritually, mentally, physically, and psychologically, as opposed to placing emphasis on academia.
- They believe a child should be shielded from the stress of modern life and the overuse or misuse of technology like video games, television, and computers.
- They stress the importance of maintaining a natural environment free of plastic, keeping in touch with nature, and using natural materials for toys and activities.
- They provide a rich variety of music, theatre, art, and dance, at all ages of a child’s development.
- They base their education methods and philosophies on the needs of the child.
Key Differences between Montessori & Waldorf
While these two philosophies have a lot in common, the curriculums and methods used by each differ in a few important ways.
In Montessori, children have a lot more freedom with what they choose to do, from which activities they want to work on to when they want to eat their meals.
In Waldorf, while the activities themselves take place in groups and are teacher-led, the child has more freedom to decide how to perform these activities and is encouraged to be creative and let their imaginations wander.
Montessori offers children the opportunity to perform reality-based “work” like reading, maths, cooking, and cleaning at an early age. A child is never forced to perform any task and imaginative play is actively encouraged.
Waldorf introduces children to traditional academics much later at around the age of 7. Before that, a child will focus almost exclusively on the play, imagination, socialization, music, and the arts.
Montessori schools more closely mirror real-life social situations by grouping children together in wide age ranges (3-6 yrs, 6-12 yrs, 12-15 yrs)
Waldorf schools group children of the same age, encouraging bonding and kinship. The children learn together and move up in classrooms together, ideally with the same teacher.
Fantasy vs Reality
While Montessori encourages imagination and play, activities are also grounded in reality until the child is old enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
Waldorf schools on the other hand heavily engage a child’s imagination with lots of storytelling, pretend play, and fantasy elements are woven into the curriculum, with reality-based activities introduced later.
We all want to give our kids every opportunity to grow into happy, positive, independent adults that can navigate the many ups and downs of life with confidence. There really is no ‘right’ decision, when it comes to choosing how you will develop your child’s education and there will rarely be a setting that will have everything you want, in the way you want it delivered. What we can do as parents and caregivers, is to make the best decisions possible based on our lifestyles, parenting styles, values, and most importantly, our kids and their individual personalities. The internet is a great resource to find out more information about traditional or alternative philosophies and what options we can give our kids – but don’t just stop there. Visit preschools you think would be a good fit for your needs and ask them plenty of questions. It will give you a chance to see first hand what their learning environment looks like, what methods they use, and what values they convey – the more information you have, the more equipped you are to make better, confident decisions.
What style of education did you receive and what would you choose for your kids? Share your stories, experience, and advice in the comment section below.