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Montessori vs Waldorf

Montessori and Waldorf are two very popular private school for K-12. When comparing Montessori vs. Waldorf we found some interesting differences. Keep reading to learn about Montessori and Waldorf preschool, private school, and homeschool options.

What Are Montessori and Waldorf?

Montessori and Waldorf are two distinct pedagogies used in the education of children, both in Europe and the United States. They are similar in that the each originated with an individual, that they are often used in private schools in the kindergarten through eighth grade years, and that they have both been adapted to homeschool use. But they are distinct in many other ways.

Introduction to Montessori

The Montessori method (pronounced MAWN tih SOAR ee) was created by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first Italian woman to become a physician. The Montessori method focuses on what is now referred to as child-centered learning. Growing out of her scientific observations of children learning was Montessori's understanding that children interact with their environments to teach themselves. Based on this observation, Montessori set out to design an environment that would provide the child with age- and developmentally-appropriate choices of activities. The method was first put into practice in her "Casa dei Bambini" (children's house) in Rome in 1907. Today, the Montessori method is used primarily in preschools for children age 3 to 6, but it is found up through the high school level.

In the first years of Montessori's own school, she discovered that children preferred to do real things rather than pretend to do them. This can lead to a perceived lack of creativity in Montessori schools, as in many areas (workshop tools, musical instruments), one has to learn how to handle the equipment and materials before one can be creative with it.

The Montessori method differs from other pedagogical approaches in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably by changing the dynamic between child and teacher. For children up to age 6, there is an emphasis on self-paced learning and student-centered choices of objects of study. Although teachers help introduce students to the available materials, there is no scheduled hours of teacher-led instruction, textbooks, schedule, or requirements to participate in the same activities as the rest of the group: the choice to work alone or with others is made by the students themselves.

Children 6 or older take field trips, conduct research, act, interview experts, perform music, do science projects, and learn what meets their interests in any reasonable means, including from their classmates.

Introduction to Waldorf

Waldorf schools are sometimes called Steiner-Waldorf schools because they were developed by Austrian Rudolf Steiner. Asked by the owner of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, located in Stuttgart, Germany, to establish a school for company employees, Steiner created the first of his schools, Die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) after establishing four conditions. He insisted that the school accept all children, that it educate girls as well as boys, that it have a twelve-year course of study, and that the school be run by the teachers.

The pedagogy of the school was based on Steiner's philosophy, often referred to as anthroposophy. Steiner saw people as meldings of body, soul, and spirit who developed in three stages that could be characterized as early and middle childhood and adolescence.

Waldorf schools aim to help students learn to find meaning in life and to understand literature, music, theater, and dance from experience, not just observation and study, while fostering a lifelong love of learning and use of the child's imagination. Free play, especially with natural objects, is strongly encouraged, and much consideration is given to the function and beauty of every aspect of the school environment. Concepts such as class rank and competitive testing are eschewed.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are introduced in first grade, which begins when the child is ready. Children move from this point up to puberty under the guidance of a single teacher, with the input and assistance of others, providing continuity, as children continue their imaginative activities in a variety of media (words, song, paint, musical instruments, dance, etc.), and learn literacy, numeracy, foreign languages, social studies, sports, knitting, and carpentry. The curriculum aims at depth, rather than breadth.