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Montessori VS. Waldorf

Montessori VS. Waldorf

Montessori VS. Waldorf

These two educational approaches began with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child’s need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. The philosophies and means of doing so are a bit different. 

Montessori Education

Montessori education was founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907. With a background in psychiatry, she began to specialize in the education of children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

The first Montessori school started as a day care facility in which she also made learning material available. In this way she observed the natural inclination and choices of the children, and left  it up to the child to discover and start academics on his or her terms. 

Dr. Montessori states, “We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.”

Montessori schools today work much the same way: Teachers, or as the case may be, parents – introduce materials according to the level of development. 

When I say introduce, I mean make available. Resources for each child is always available for all the subjects so that a child can decide for his or herself what interests them. This may mean leaving new books out for children to discover. It could also be having manipulatives easily accessible on open shelving. Children will often learn independently while the teacher is there to help and guide as needed.

Montessori education believes children develop in 3 year phases (3-6 yrs, 6-9 yrs, 9-12 years, etc), and children usually learn together and are offered the same resources within that 3 year span.

Academics first start with practical skills, sensory work, language arts, and math with other subjects being added in as the child grows. 

Outside of academics, Montessori education works to provide an environment that is designed for independence (for instance furniture that is proportioned for the size of the child, resources are easily accessible and easy to use) as well as utilizing natural materials. 

Waldorf Education

Waldorf education was created by philosopher Rudolph Steiner in Germany in 1919 for parents who were looking for more humane values and new educational methods after World War I. 

Steiner states that “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.” 

I often describe Waldorf teaching as a very holistic approach to education. 

It aims to reach a child intellectually, but also spiritually, emotionally, and physically. 

It is believed that if any of these areas is less developed then all the other areas will struggle as well. 

A recurring theme is  Spirit, soul, body, or heart, head, and hands.

Waldorf philosophy is based on the developmental stages of the child and the approach will vary based on the age and grade level.

Early childhood, or up to age 7, focuses on the hands and has little to no academic work at all.

Middle childhood is typically ages 7-14 and has a heavy focus on the heart. Academics are often taught through stories, fables, and fairy tales, no matter the subject. 

Adolescence is when students really dive into developing the mind and intellect.

This theme is also repeated in how lessons are taught. Typically a lesson is taught in 3 segments. 

1st a lesson is told verbally, usually through a story that touches the heart. 

2nd, the lesson is felt in the hands through drawing, reenacting or creating it in a way that it can be physically experienced. 

3rd the lesson makes it way to the head through writing.

Outside of academics Waldorf education is highly focused on hand crafts, seasonal changes and festivals, natural materials, as well as creating a media and technology free environment. 

Both these styles are so wonderful and every little detail, tradition, and material choice is specific and with purpose. These are fascinating and beautiful to look into and learn about, but I wanted to stick with a practical foundation of these styles. Being developed by a philosopher and psychiatrist you can imagine the thought and research that goes into these educational styles, so just know these are brief and general descriptions, but its more than enough to get started. In fact, it is often believed that a genuine Waldorf (and I’m sure Montessori has similar beliefs) education takes place when pupils and teachers develop, learn, and experience together. 

Other FAQs

1.What does the style look like—in practicality? montessori: Creating an environment with various resources available and helping children learn to use those resources Waldorf: a lot of story telling, reenacting lessons, and arts.

2. How do you manage multiple ages and stages (within the style you represent)? Montessori: ideal for multiple stages as it is child lead. Waldorf: choose one story to extract several lessons from or go into different depths of the lesson from the story for different children.

3. In YOUR opinion, what is THE BEST part of homeschooling within the style (you represent)? Montessori: you do not face forcing lessons on an uninterested mind. Waldorf: it creates vivid imaginations and well rounded children.

4. How much does it cost? Both: save on not buying workbooks, text books, expansive curriculums etc. However, you may end up spending more on manipulatives and art/crafts supplies.


One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child. -MM

We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. -MM

“You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.” 

Rudolf Steiner

“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.” 

Rudolf Steiner, Rhythms of Learning