Montessori vs Waldorf: Examining the Core Values of Each Approach

Montessori vs Waldorf

High-quality education during your child's younger years will benefit them for a lifetime. Studies show that well-educated children have better outcomes in the long run. Specifically, these studies show that children who attend a high-quality preschool have higher academic attainment and social–emotional wellbeing than those who don't.

If you are your child's teacher, you probably feel a lot of pressure to get it right. And, one of the first steps in the process of homeschooling is determining which methodology or philosophy you want to employ.

Two of these methods are known as Montessori and Waldorf homeschooling. Let's dive deep and see which appeals to you more. Read on to discover the difference between Montessori vs. Waldorf teaching styles.

What Is the Montessori Teaching Method?

The Montessori method has been around since at least 1911. That was the year Maria Montessori opened her first school in New York. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician turned educational philosopher.

The aim of Montessori-style homeschooling is to teach children to learn independently. That way, the child guides and enjoys the learning process, while gaining a sense of independence and self-reliance. Through this process, children become intrinsically motivated. To make all of this happen, Montessori homeschoolers: 

  • Allow children choice in their education (the choice of activities based on a prepared environment full of educational options)
  • Encourage children to focus and work hard on subjects they love
  • Present lessons, but thereafter limit adult intervention unless absolutely necessary

For new Montessori homeschoolers, it will help to think of yourself as the guide and your child as the teacher. You will create and display structured activities for your child, but your child will choose and direct their learning process.

Another integral aspect of Montessori classrooms is the carefully prepared learning environment. The learning environment should grow with your child. But it should always be orderly, uncluttered, and free of potential stressors.

The Montessori method focuses equally on physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. The child determines which will be cultivated and at what time. The guide prepares the child so that he or she is able to do so.

Ultimately, the Montessori method enables children to grow into resilient and self-motivated individuals. They gain these attributes through experiential, hands-on learning.

What Is the Waldorf Teaching Method?

The Waldorf method came about in the early 1900s. An Austrian architect and philosopher named Rudolf Steiner invented the original principles. These principles are still integral to the Waldorf teaching style today.

A proponent of the arts and sciences, Steiner based his educational theory on child development. He strove to create a teaching method that flexed with the needs of children. Ideally, it would change as students advanced through their school-aged years.

This focus on childhood development is one of the main tenets of Waldorf education. Other characteristics of this teaching style include:

  • Building strong social support systems
  • Fostering healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Encouraging diversity of thought and experiences
  • Promoting a lifelong love of learning

Two essential skills for any Waldorf student are creativity and practicality. Kids hone these abilities through experiential learning. Teachers encourage creativity by incorporating the arts into every academic subject offered.

The Waldorf method emphasizes cognitive and emotional intelligence equally. It is not enough for students to memorize facts. They must also understand how to apply these facts to their work and relationships.

Additionally, the Waldorf school of thought does not view teachers as merely instructors. Instead, they are mentors, guides, and authority figures.

Similarities Between Waldorf and Montessori Methods

The Waldorf and Montessori methods arose around the same time. Their founders also created them using shared political ideologies. So, it should be no wonder these theories have much in common.

Below, we describe the similarities between these two pedagogies.

They Are Both Individual-Focused

The Montessori and Waldorf methods both aim to make the world a better place. They approach this goal by focusing on the individual. The belief behind this approach is that the proper development of each individual child is the secret to the betterment of society.

Fostering this individual-focused environment is accomplished through warmth and respect. Teachers model behaviors they want to see in students. This includes a gentle tone, polite manners, and adult-like language.

They Both Value Whole Child Development

The Montessori and Waldorf approaches both differ from traditional education. The biggest distinction is that these methods do not value cognitive development alone. They equally value physical, emotional, social and cognitive growth.

This is why the Waldorf method does not introduce children to core subjects until age seven. Similarly, Montessori schools have an increased focus on experiential learning and practical life activities at earlier ages.

They Both Enable Students to Use Their Imaginations

Montessori and Waldorf classrooms use a "less is more" approach. As such, you won't find computers or other forms of technology in use during lessons. Instead, children use educational and nature-inspired toys.

Waldorf schools place a quite a bit more emphasis on using fantasy and play to cultivate imagination. Montessori schools encourage imagination differently. Namely, they allow students to imagine based on real world / real life experiences, images and objects.

Differences Between Waldorf and Montessori Methods

With all their commonalities, the Waldorf and Montessori teaching styles are distinct. The Waldorf method has more in common with traditional educational formats. Meanwhile, Montessori school is far more flexible.

What other differences separate Waldorf and Montessori schooling? Here are five of the most important ones.

The Curriculum

Montessori education creates a careful balance between play and educational activities. The emphasis leans slightly toward real-life skills. These skills may include cleaning, cooking, and caring for the self and others.

The Waldorf method also encourages children to learn these life skills. However, children primarily learn through play until they reach a much older age than in Montessori classrooms. Usually, children begin incorporating academic and real-life learning at age seven.

At this point, students incorporate practical lessons. They may learn to prepare their own meals or practice serving others. These real-life skills change as children advance through their school years.

Core Academics

Montessori students begin learning core academic subjects in preschool. This is when the child is around three years of age. And by core subjects, we mean language arts, math, and science.

Of course, students do not have to participate in core subjects more than a bare minimum. For the most part, students are free to choose which subjects they would like to learn. Then, they do not have to adhere to a set pace but can go at their own. You will often see Montessori students working at a variety of different grade levels, because their interests and abilities lead the way in their education. That said, most Montessori schools - and homeschools - require a certain amount of learning in the basics (reading, writing and arithmetic). This lends itself well to homeschooling because homeschooled children enjoy diving deep into areas of study that really interest them without restriction.

Waldorf school introduces core subjects much later. Students may not begin math or science classes until age seven. But at that point, these lessons are not optional in the way they are at Montessori schools.

Classroom Age Grouping

Waldorf classrooms are similar to traditional classrooms. Specifically, they consist of only one age group. These students advance through school together, forming a close-knit community of similar-aged peers.

The Montessori method groups children of multiple age groups together. Students who are within three years of each other in age learn in the same classrooms. So, a three-year-old may share a classroom with a six-year-old.

This structure can be particularly beneficial for homeschool classrooms. You may have multiple children of differing ages. Using the Montessori method can make it easier to teach all your children at once.

The Role of Teachers

Waldorf-style schooling shares another quality in common with traditional schooling: the teaching style. Teachers lead lessons and direct activities. Meanwhile, children work on the same projects as their peers.

Montessori classrooms are much less structured. Children receive custom lessons of their own choosing. Lessons are brief, and then adult intervention happens only when necessary. 

Additionally, children do not only learn in the classroom. The Montessori method encourages experiential learning. As such, work may take place outside in nature or in the kitchen. Again, this lends itself well to homeschooling, since you will have yourself with you during a variety of activities that can be used as a learning experience. Everything from grocery shopping to gardening to baking can become a lesson in a Montessori homeschool.

The Primary Learning Format

Waldorf schools use play as the primary learning format until students turn seven. After that, students move into more traditional-style classrooms. There, the teacher delivers lectures while students stay seated.

Montessori teaching also focuses on play, especially in the early years. But the emphasis is on age-appropriate educational activities that feel like play. These projects teach children to take pride in their work to foster intrinsic motivation.

Even though focusing on work may seem restrictive, it gives students practice in self-direction and helps them develop focus and concentration. Through these tasks and through their interactions with teacher, intrinsic motivation is developed in the child. 

Montessori vs. Waldorf: Which Is Right for Your Child?

In this guide to the Montessori vs. Waldorf methods, we explained the differences and similarities between the two. The right teaching style for your child(ren) depends on your goals.

For example, say you want a more traditional-style classroom or to engage in a lot of fantasy-based play. In that case, Waldorf may be the best choice. Parents wanting to encourage individualism, self-confidence and self-reliance might find the Montessori method is a better fit.

Have you decided that Montessori homeschooling is right for your family? Multisori has all the resources you need to get started. 

 If you're interested in learning more, check out our free curriculum sample today!

Get our 161-page curriculum sample here. Your sample includes Montessori art, science, math, practical life, sensorial, geography and language arts curricula.