Updated: May 24, 2020
So which is better, Montessori or Waldorf?
For those familiar with the philosophies they will often have a favourite and sometimes fiercely defend their chosen curriculum. But if you're new to alternative education, how do you choose?
Here is my take on Montessori Vs Waldorf.
What is Montessori or Steiner education?
To know which is best for your child, we first need to know some history.
The Montessori philosophy was created by the Italian physician Maria Montessori.
Born in the late 19th century, Maria was an advocate change, promoting women's rights and even joining an all boys technical school in hope of becoming an engineer.
After her extensive work and research with children experiencing cognitive delays, illness, and disability, Maria went on to create the Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) where she began implementing her learnings.
The Montessori Method as it became known, was the method of education for young children that stressed the development of a child's own initiative and natural abilities, especially through practical play. This method was largely popularized in the early 20th century and today is adopted across multiple countries and nationalities.
Steiner education or Waldorf as it's better known was created by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Born in the mid 19th century, Rudolf soon become known for his spiritual ideals founding the Anthroposophy philosophy. It aimed to develop mental faculties of spiritual discovery through a mode of independent thought and sensory experience.
The motive behind the first Waldorf school was in response to a request from Emil Molt, the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany. Emil wanted to provide an education for the employees children and employed Rudolf Steiner to build and implement the curriculum based on his previous teachings.
Waldorf education as it became known gained momentum in the 1970's and is now one of the largest independent school movements in the world.
Compare the Pair
After some brief history of each philosophy you may have detected some slight differences.
Below I have identified some key features that help define each pedagogy.
Planes of Development
Though the term "planes of development" was coined by Maria Montessori, it helps to use this phrase to identify the developmental age groups in each philosophy.
Maria saw different learning modes in each of the four age brackets, birth to 6 years, from 6 to 12, from 12 to 18, and from 18 to 24. Finding the need for different activities to progress through each plane. Today, it's common to see Montessori toys and activities targeted to these specific categories.
Waldorf Like Maria, Rudolf also identified particular age groups that required different activities for development. In his iconic spiritual fashion, Steiner believed human beings develop in seven-year-long spiritual cycles. Each age group was assigned a different "sphere" - the Moon (0-7 years old), Mercury (7-14 years old), and Venus (14-21 years old).
Every educator knows how important the environment is to a child's eduction. Both Maria and Rudolf identified the need for the natural stimulation, particularly in the 0 - 6 year plane. Though sometimes it can be hard to tell which one is which?
Montessori observed the ease with which children adapted to their environment.
Creating learning activities that helped the "absorbent mind" progress through each phase of the first plane. These phases such as acquisition of language, sensory refinement and social behaviour would form the foundations of each child's education.
To achieve this, Maria provided structure to her environment, with toys and activities that incorporated guidance such as "control of error". This allowed children to complete tasks without the intervention of an educator.
To the uneducated eye, traditional educations can often resemble a Montessori approach. Though they often miss the mark using generic and pre-fabricated activities, leaving children with insufficient skills in some phases.
Though Steiner's pedagogy also saw the need for early intervention in the first plane, the approach was quite different.
Rudolf promoted a complete immersive environment where children can learn through unconscious imitation of practical activities. He achieved this through regular daily routine that included free play, artistic work (e.g. drawing, painting or modeling), circle time (songs, games, and stories), and practical tasks (e.g. cooking, cleaning, and gardening).
Colloquially referred to as "free range" education, sometimes the Waldorf style of teaching is unfortunately lost on many. But there is much to be gained for those who subscribe to the Waldorf approach.
A quick google search for Montessori or Waldorf toys will give you a plethora of options. Due to the popularity of these philosophies in combination with large scale commercialisation there is almost unlimited amount of toys to choose from.
But can you trust the marketing?
Maria produced many toys with the purpose fulfilling the requirements of her pedagogy. Some iconic examples include the pink tower, knobbed sorting cylinders and sandpaper letters. All these served to help children progress through all phases in each plane.
You would be forgiven for mistaking some toys as Montessori aligned, as it seems by simply selling a wooden toy gives permission to slap a Montessori label on it.
Before purchasing your next Montessori toy ask yourself "does this align with the Montessori method".
If asked you to think of one toy that reminds you of Waldorf, what would it be?
Let me guess, the Rainbow Stacker. Often referred to as the Grimm's Rainbow, (from the company Grimm's Spiel und Holz Design) this toy reflects the principles that underpin the Waldorf methodology. Other iconic toys such as the Waldorf peg dolls are also a window into the open-ended and imaginative philosophy that Steiner intended.
Waldorf toys will often come with a premium and for good reason. Producing natural and sustainable toys can be expensive, though many would say the investment pays off in the long run.
Sooooo, Montessori or Waldorf...
By now you should have a crystal clear idea of which philosophy is better, right...
Well not quite. I have only shown you a small insight into two robust and sometimes complimentary pedagogies.
The truth is, many of the elements that make up each methodology overlap and are transferable.
My advice, one is not better than the other. Your child is unique, so pay attention to how they learn, why they do things and most importantly what makes them happy. From there you can make an educated decision as to what philosophy is best for them.
Always remember the most important thing is for your child to have fun, keep learning and love life!