Waldorf or Montessori: Which Education Will Work for Your Family

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Learn the differences between these two popular alternative education models. Discover which one is right for your family.
Waldorf or Montessori: Which Education Will Work For Your Family

So, you've decided to look into an alternative school for your children, but you're not sure about whether Waldorf or Montessori schools fit your family's style. You're not alone. Many parents choose one of these schools without fully understanding the educational models behind them. Take a look at this comparison to see whether you prefer the Waldorf philosophy or Montessori method best.

The Waldorf Way

 which school is right for you Waldorf or Montessor

Photo Credit: Vladimir Sanchez/Flickr

When you enter a Waldorf school, you'll immediately notice the peaceful, dream-like surroundings, which typically feature pastel colors, hanging silks, wooden toys and furniture, rounded walls, an aroma of beeswax and essential oils, and baskets filled with knitting and findings from nature. In the Waldorf classroom, a teacher will greet each child by shaking their hand, and will then set the pace of the day with a story, lighting of a candle, singing of songs, and circle time that usually includes mental math exercises. Main lesson will follow, which will vary depending on which subject the class is studying at the time, but often involves creating handmade, illustrated textbooks using high-quality art materials. Along with the basics, Waldorf students also learn to knit, weave, play a variety of musical instruments, and think poetically. Since preserving the essence and innocence of childhood is of the utmost importance, in-depth academics are not pushed in the early grades, and reading is often not encouraged until the 3rd grade. During these early years, students spend a lot of time learning classical fairy tales and poems, as well as experiencing science through discovery and phenomenon. These ideas are based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who believed that certain stages in a child's life are better suited to different levels of awareness and learning, and that the creative minds of children should be developed, instead of just teaching facts.

The Montessori Mindset

which school is right for you waldorf or montessori

Photo Credit: Layla Fry/Flickr

Stepping into a Montessori classroom might feel like entering the most exciting learning environment imaginable. Along the walls, and on strategically placed bookshelves, your child will find learning stations that contain a specific "work" that they can pull off the shelf and explore. All materials and stations are colorful, hands-on, and interactive, including the math. The class teacher will sit with each child individually, demonstrating how to carry out the lesson at a station, and will have the child attempt the lesson themselves. The students are allowed to wander about the room at will, working on whichever learning stations they prefer throughout the day. Ideally over the course of the year, all of the students will have explored and mastered all of the stations. Developed by founder Maria Montessori, this model is based on the idea that children are naturally curious, and have an innate desire to learn about the world if given the chance. Along with academics, students learn "practical arts," which include cleaning, learning handicrafts, gardening, and cooking. The goal of a Montessori education is to help children become self-sufficient and independent, both in their education and in life.

The Perfect Fit for Your Child

Before deciding on a Waldorf or Montessori school for your child, try to evaluate which type of education model might fit your child's temperament the best, and your family's needs. Do you have an active child that get bored easily? Having the ability to peruse a classroom and investigate different materials, which you would find at a Montessori school, might provide your child with the mental stimulation they crave. Alternatively, a creative child who seems to need a teacher to lead the way might fair better at a Waldorf school. As far as environments go, the Waldorf school might fall in line with families who are seeking out a natural, wholesome lifestyle that's free of plastic, media, and commercialism, while a Montessori school will fit the bill for families looking for a classroom that's culturally rich and globally aware.

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Kelly Sundstrom headshot

 As an award-winning journalist, author, and artist, Kelly Sundstrom has a passion for  helping  parents  feel well-prepared, confident, and capable in the journey ahead. As an  Attachment  Parenting advocate  and homeschooling mother of two, Sundstrom has been a  guest speaker on  Grassroots TV in Aspen,  Colorado, and encourages families across the  country to disconnect from  media and reconnect with  each other.