When it comes to educating young children, many people assume that there is one agreed-upon style that is followed by all educators. But this is absolutely not the case.
While there have been a lot of studies about the best way to educate children, there is no one “correct” way.
Indeed, all children are different. So, while one method might be perfect for one child, it can be useless for another.
When it comes to educational styles, the Waldorf and Montessori methods are two of the most well-known. The Montessori method is perhaps the most famous. But the Waldorf should not be ignored.
So, what exactly are the Waldorf and Montessori methods?
The History of the Montessori Method
The Montessori method was developed by Maria Montessori in the 1900s. Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and philosopher.
Montessori studied medicine and educational theory and was the first woman to graduate with a degree in Medicine from the University of Rome.
As a scientist, Montessori developed her method through scientific studies and analysis. She referred to her work as “scientific pedagogy”.
The Montessori method was developed through intellectual thought and philosophy. But also through scientific observation. This allowed Montessori to test her theories and develop a method of education that was based on her scientific findings.
Montessori began developing her theory after visiting mental asylums in Rome. She discovered that children were not receiving enough mental and intellectual stimulation from their environments.
This led to the creation of an educational method that focused on how children were learning within specific surroundings, as well as what information they were learning.
The History of the Waldorf Method
As mentioned above, the Waldorf method was developed by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was an Austrian philosopher who developed his theories and pedagogy in the 19th Century.
The method gained the name “Waldorf” as Steiner’s first school was opened for the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria Company.
The Waldorf method does not have the same scientific origins as the Montessori method. While seemingly similar to the Montessori method, the Waldorf method has a focus on the spiritual, rather than the scientific.
Reiner was the founder of anthroposophy. This is the belief in a combined spiritual and intellectual world that can be experienced by human beings.
It is essentially the endeavor to scientifically prove the existence of the human soul and spiritual experience.
Followers of anthroposophy believe that it is possible for human beings to develop the ability to perceive spirituality. They believe that human beings have a soul and that they can become conscious of it.
Reiner was an intellectual who specialized in philosophy and spirituality. He was also an architect, a literary critic, a social reformer, and even claimed to be clairvoyant.
The Methods in Practice
From the histories above, you have likely already noticed some differences between the Waldorf and Montessori methods.
So, how do these methods present themselves when used to actually educate children?
The Montessori Method
- Unlike most contemporary schools, the Montessori method does not separate classes by age. Instead, children are grouped together into age brackets. These brackets are usually ages 3 to 6, 5 to 9, and 9 to 12.
- As mentioned above, freedom and independence are incredibly important in the Montessori method. Rather than be assigned work, children are free to choose their own projects. Their freedom of choice extends to resources, learning materials, and specific tasks. Teachers and educators will be present with the children and will guide them. But ultimately, the children are free to work on whatever has sparked their interest.
The children will usually focus on these interests for long periods of uninterrupted time. This will usually be around 3 hours.
- Although the children have the freedom to explore and follow their curiosity, they are provided with a great diversity of resources. Young children, usually from kindergarten to elementary school, are provided with physical objects. The children are encouraged to use their hands to feel, build, and create using these physical materials.
Then, as the students become older, they move away from physicality and on to more abstract concepts.
Physicality is important but technology is not used for this focus. Modern technology, such as computers and other electronic devices, are very rarely included.
The Montessori method reduces the students’ contact with technology to such an extent that their toys are usually made from natural materials. The preferred method is usually wood instead of plastic or metal.
These toys are intended for fun but are also educational. For example, this Woodpecker Game is very typical of the Montessori method.
It is at its core a game but it also teaches children dexterity, spacial awareness, and even how magnets work.
- As well as choosing what and how they learn, the Montessori method allows students to choose where they learn. Rather than assign a seating chart or instruct children to sit at specific chairs or tables, they are allowed to move around the classroom. This allows the children to interact with whomever they wish or, alternatively, to work alone and focus on their interests. This means that children are choosing to learn and be educated in a situation where they feel most comfortable.
Although they do sometimes occur, it is very rare for a teacher to give lessons or lecture the class all at once.
They will guide the students and observe what they do. And they will also often give short lessons as a way of guiding the children. But this will usually be in small groups or one-to-one.
For example, using tools in this Screwdriver Board and Hammer Peg Game teaches the student practical skills.
But it also allows them to choose what they will do with the tools. There is no purpose to this game.
The student simply screws, unscrews, hammers, or entirely ignores the game. They have complete freedom.
- As well as work with physical objects, the Montessori method also provides freedom and independence for students to develop themselves. Students are taught to explore the environment around them but also their own sense of identity, their character, and their own values.
The Waldorf Method
So, how does the Waldorf method compare? As you can tell from the overviews above, both methods have similarities in practice but their ideologies differ quite a bit.
- Students of the Waldorf method are also encouraged to explore their own interests and curiosity. Young children are not taught traditionally formal academic subjects until much older than their mainstream peers. This is usually up to the 1st grade but this depends on the school, teacher, and student.
- One of the reasons for this delay is to allow children to explore their own sense of self through creative endeavors. Whereas the Montessori method is focused on a pedagogy rooted in the physical, the Waldorf method encourages children to explore their imagination. This is not encouraged in the Montessori method.
Although both the Waldorf and Montessori methods focus on physicality, they differ in terms of practicality. This can be seen through some of the toys and tools used in both methods.
Whereas many Montessori toys, such as those shown above, have practical functions, the Waldorf toys are more abstract.
For example, this Wooden Sensory Play Set. There is no practical application for this toy. The child simply does whatever springs to mind.
The potential for learning and physical development is much wider. Children in the Waldorf and Montessori methods both have freedom of choice when it comes to the games they play and the way they learn.
But the Montessori method is arguably more guided and more practical. Whereas the Waldorf method is much more abstract.
- But that doesn’t mean that every child only works within the abstract. Students of the Waldorf method are also taught practical skills such as cleaning, cooking, sewing, gardening, and woodwork. When they are working in a creative environment, the children are also encouraged to create physical artworks.
- Similarly to the Montessori method, the Walford method also focuses on the development of the children as a whole human being. Rather than simply focus on academic achievements. The Waldorf method focuses on the motto “head, heart, and hands”. So children are taught to focus on their mind, their body, and their soul and spiritual selves. Children explore their thoughts and feelings and how they relate to their actions.
Both methods focus on the children as a whole, complex human being who will grow at their own pace.
They do not use report cards nor exams. They believe in an educational style that champions personal growth as much as academic achievement, if not more.
- Although the Montessori method doesn’t restrict children’s access to nature, the Waldorf method has a greater focus on it. Students are actively encouraged to interact with the natural world and to appreciate it.
- Also similarly to the Montessori method, students of the Waldorf method have little to no interaction with modern technology.
The Waldorf and Montessori methods have a great number of similarities. But their important differences are primarily rooted in their origins.
The Montessori method was developed through rigorous scientific study. Whereas the Waldorf method has less scientific origins.
The primary difference between the two comes down to the focus, or lack thereof, on the imagination and spirituality of the students.
The Montessori method actively discourages children from pretend play. Whereas the Waldorf method encourages children to develop their sense of self through imagination and a connection with their perception of spirituality.
But, ultimately, these are quite similar methods in practice. Students of both the Waldorf and Montessori methods are encouraged to develop into complex and independent people who are led by their own curiosity.