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Waldorf and Montessori are two very popular and fast growing alternative educational philosophies. Both inspire our approach here at Creek to Crescent, finding and recommending holistic, safe, and age-appropriate toys & play activities for discerning parents.
That said, Waldorf and Montessori are not the same thing. In fact, they vary in important ways, even if if they may “look” the same.
Main Differences Between Waldorf vs Montessori
Waldorf education focuses on imagination and creativity and puts emphasis on arts, music, and movement. It takes a holistic approach to education and incorporates many subjects, such as math, science, humanities, ats, and foreign language, into the curriculum. The main goal is to develop a child’s social and emotional capabilities first, before focusing on academic development.
Montessori education, on the other hand, is a child-centered approach that emphasizes independent learning and exploration. The curriculum focuses on allowing children to learn at their own pace, with teachers acting as guides and not instructors. The classrooms are set up with hands-on materials and activities that foster self-directed learning, and the teacher is there to offer guidance and support. Montessori education also incorporates math, science, language, and other subjects, but the main focus is on the development of the whole child.
The History of Waldorf Education
Waldorf education is a holistic, humanistic, and experiential approach to learning that was founded over a century ago by the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. It is based on Steiner‘s spiritual–scientific research of the human being and the philosophy of freedom and respect for individual differences. The Waldorf approach has been embraced by communities around the world, with thousands of independent schools, many of which are recognized by their national governments.
The history of Waldorf education began in the early 1900s, when Steiner developed the educational philosophy in response to the industrialization of education in Germany. Steiner believed that this educational system was too rigid and did not take into account the individual needs of the child. He sought to create an educational system that was rooted in the spiritual and physical development of the child.
In 1919, Steiner opened the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany. This school was based on Steiner‘s principles of education: allowing children to develop at their own pace, emphasizing creativity, and fostering a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. The school quickly gained recognition and was soon followed by other Waldorf schools in Europe.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Waldorf philosophy spread throughout Europe and the United States. In 1938, the first Waldorf school in the United States opened in New York City. Since then, the number of Waldorf schools has grown both in the United States and around the world
Waldorf Education Historical Timeline
- 1893: Rudolf Steiner establishes the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany
- 1919: The first Waldorf school in the United States is opened in New York City
- 1930s: Waldorf education spreads to other countries, including Denmark, France, Switzerland and Austria
- 1960s: Waldorf education becomes increasingly popular in the United States and Canada
- 1980s: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America is formed
- 1990s: The first Waldorf teacher training in the United States is offered •2000s: The number of Waldorf schools in the United States and Canada continues to grow
The History of Montessori Education
he history of Montessori education began in the early 1900s when Montessori developed her theories in response to the educational system of the time. She believed that the traditional system of education was too rigid and did not take into account the individual needs of the child. Montessori sought to create an educational system that was rooted in the physical and spiritual development of the child.
In 1907, Montessori opened the first Montessori school in Rome. This school was based on Montessori‘s educational principles: allowing children to develop at their own pace, emphasizing creativity, and fostering a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. The school quickly gained recognition and was soon followed by other Montessori schools in Europe.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Montessori philosophy spread throughout Europe and the United States. In 1938, the first Montessori school in the United States opened in New York City. Since then, the number of Montessori schools has grown both in the United States and around the world.
Montessori Education Historical Timeline
- Early 1900s – Maria Montessori develops her educational philosophy and begins opening schools in Italy
- 1907 – First Montessori school is opened in Rome
- 1913 – Montessori Method is introduced in the United States
- 1933 – American Montessori Society is founded
- 1960s – Montessori education starts to gain traction in North America
- 1970s – Montessori schools become more widespread
- 2000s – Montessori education continues to grow in popularity around the world
Drawbacks of Waldorf Education
So what are the main drawbacks to Waldorf education? The answer can depend on what local options exist in your area, but generally worth summarizing so follows:
- Limited access: Waldorf education is not widely available, and there are very few schools that offer this type of education.
- Cost*: Waldorf education is more expensive than other forms of education, due to the additional resources and materials required.
- Emphasis on the arts: While the arts are an important part of Waldorf education, some people may not feel it is the best way to teach academic subjects.
- Lack of technology**: Technology is not commonly used in Waldorf schools, which can put them at a disadvantage when compared to other schools.
- Unconventional: Waldorf education is an alternative form of education, and some parents may feel it is not the right fit for their child. This may also make it difficult to readjust back to a traditional public school education environment later on.
*A note on cost: While most private Waldorf schools are expensive compared to public education, there is a growing movement for expanding Waldorf education to more economic backgrounds. See the Waldorf Public Education Alliance for more information.
**A note on the lack of technology: While Waldorf education typically delays exposure to computers in the classroom until High School, some reports suggest a high correlation between Waldorf education and success in technological fields as adults. This may be due to the emphasis on creativity and love of learning first, instead of relying on technology as a replacement for critical thinking.
Drawbacks of Montessori Education
Similarly, here are some common drawbacks to consider for Montessori education. Note that there is some overlap with Waldorf education.
- Lack of Standardization: Montessori education has no external standardized tests or curricular requirements, which can make it difficult to measure student progress or assess how the school is performing.
- Cost: Montessori schools usually charge more tuition than traditional schools due to the specialized training of their teachers and the materials they use in the classroom.
- Difficulty for Students to Adjust to Traditional Education: Montessori education is very different from traditional education, which can make it difficult for students to adjust if they ever need to switch back to a traditional school.
- Watered Down Philosophy: A common complaint from Montessori originalists is that many new programs are “Montessori in name only”, with a certain Montessori aesthetic, without much formal pedagogical staff training.
Waldorf vs Montessori Toys
Arguably Montessori and Waldorf toys and aesthetics are the much larger trend worldwide.
Both approaches focus on a more minimalist and natural approach to toys. It’s common to see wooden toys, blocks and open-ended natural toys in both settings.
Waldorf toys are typically made of natural materials like wool and wood, and focus on open–ended play that encourages imagination and creative exploration.
Montessori toys are designed to promote independent learning through exploration and hands–on activities. They are often made from durable natural materials but can also include metal or plastic materials, unlike Waldorf toys.
Is Waldorf or Montessori Better for my Child?
This is an intensely personal decision, based on each child’s unique needs. That said, both of these educational approaches are designed with ALL students in mind.
One practical consideration when deciding between Waldorf and Montessori is that Montessori is much more widely available. For example, there are about 130 Waldorf schools in the United states and over 1,300 Montessori schools.
Waldorf education is a bit more prevalent internationally, with over 1,500 schools globally. Simply put, there just might not be an easily commutable Waldorf option outside larger metropolitan areas within the United States. Check out this geographic overlay and directory to see what options might be close to you.
All this being said, Montessori AND Waldorf are wonderful options for children who have different strengths that don’t quite fit into the monochrome standardized assessments found in many U.S. public schools (very geared toward limited academic measurements and “teaching to the test”).
That said, Montessori focuses on creative, self directed, academic pursuits, while Waldorf is more structured and designed to promote emotional intelligence (“E.Q.”), not just intellectual intelligence (“I.Q”).