Montessori vs Waldorf

There are so many options for education these days. You can choose a traditional state school, a private school or homeschooling. And before children attend school you can have a childminder, nanny or preschool. But there are also different styles of education as well. In addition to the mainstream approach, you also have Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia.

In this article let’s compare Montessori and Waldorf, looking at the pros and cons of both options.

What’s the difference between Montessori and Waldorf?

The main difference between the Montessori and Waldorf education is the following:

  1. Montessori education is child-led, promoting independence in children.
  2. Waldorf education is led by teachers and involves a threefold approach to learning, developing a pupil’s practical, artistic and intellectual skills at a steady pace.

What is Montessori?

In a nutshell, Montessori is a type of education that involves primarily child-led activities. Developed by Maria Montessori in 1907, she believed this approach was the best way to encourage independence in pupils, by allowing them to choose what to learn.

What age do you stop Montessori?

Most Montessori programs start at the preschool age, from around 2.5 until they reach 6. However, there are some programs which go beyond this for 6-12 year olds and 12-18 year olds.

Pros and cons of Montessori

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a Montessori education for your child:

Pros

  • Pupils learn at their own pace, with the teacher guiding them when necessary.
  • Children have a lot of freedom. Although there are still some boundaries, pupils can choose what activity to do in the classroom in a fun and interesting environment.
  • Social interaction. Most Montessori classrooms are mixed-age which provides children different ways to learn and communicate with their peers in a friendly community.
  • Develops a pupil’s independence. Montessori promotes leadership, independence and creative thinking, while developing self-confidence and improved concentration.
  • Inclusive of special needs. Parents don’t need to worry if their child has special needs. As each pupil learns at their own pace, it’s a wonderful environment for all children to learn from each other and grow.

Cons

  • Expensive. The downside of having lots of toys, materials and activities for children to play with when they want, as well as a lengthy training process, is that this additional cost is passed on to the consumer. Montessori costs a lot and that’s just how it is.
  • Accessibility. While many parents want Montessori education for their children, unfortunately it’s only really the middle and upper classes who have the time and money for it. However, there are some Montessori programs that are located in more diverse areas, and there are subsidies available.
  • Independence is not always good. Although Montessori helps pupils develop their independence and work at their own pace, there’s a strong argument that this is not always useful in the real world. As children get older and move into the working world, teamwork is essential, as is working with a stronger sense of authority. These are features that aren’t promoted with Montessori education.
  • Small community can restrict social skills. One of the strengths of Montessori is how children can develop close friendships with a small group of their peers from different age groups. However, this can limit some children into building friendships outside the Montessori environment, restricting their social skills.

Do Montessori students do better? Is it worth the money?

There is strong evidence that Montessori pupils outperform children who opt for a traditional education. Psychologists in the US concluded that they score better in reading, maths and creative writing. They also found that Montessori pupils were able to share and play better with others, and not argue with other children as much.

But it comes at a cost. For a full day session, 5 days a week, in the UK it can set you back over £4,000 a term, which is around £12,000 a year. This exorbitant cost is comparable with private schools, making it an unaffordable option for most families, especially if you have a big mortgage. The annual costs in the USA range from $12,000 to $15,000 per annum, but it depends where you live.

Is Montessori religious?

Montessori education does not provide any form of religious instruction, but it does encourage pupils to show respect and joy through the human spirit.

What is the Waldorf method of teaching?

The Waldorf education method was developed in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, with the first school opening in Stuttgart that same year. Like Montessori, it’s co-educational but it has a three-pronged approach to learning, engaging the head, the heart and the hands (i.e. thinking, feeling and doing). This holistic approach covers practical skills, the arts, and teaching the academic subjects in three stages; early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence, which each last around 7 years.

  • Early childhood (from birth to age 7) mainly focuses on movement and learning by doing. There will be play-based activities inside and outside the classroom.
  • Middle childhood (from age 7-14) primarily focuses on feelings and creativity. There will be lots of storytelling, while looking at visual arts, music and drama.
  • Adolesence (ages 14-21) looks at developing the intellect of the child. Pupils will develop critical thinking and learn from various specialists in a range of subjects.

Pros and cons of Waldorf

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of having a Waldorf education.

Pros

  • Focuses on play in the early years. One criticism of traditional education in many Western countries is that there is too much focus on testing and learning the core subjects at a young age. In Waldorf education, children are encouraged to play and enjoy being in the moment, exploring nature and other fun activities.
  • A well-rounded education. The Waldorf method strives to give children a wide range of experiences and not narrow down too early in their education. All the students will study maths, science and English, but they’ll also learn a musical instrument and foreign languages. This results in students having more confidence in a variety of different areas.
  • Children learn at their own pace. Like Montessori, no child is left behind. Waldorf children create their own textbooks as they learn, giving them an active role in their education.
  • Life-long learning. Due to the Waldorf method of learning, graduates continue to have a passion for learning long after they finish school.

Cons

  • Technology. Although some parents are happy their child can stay away from computers, phones and tablets, it does mean Waldorf students are weaker at technology than pupils from other schools. In today’s modern world, these are key skills which may give Waldorf pupils a disadvantage.
  • Cost. Like Montessori, Waldorf education doesn’t come cheap. In the UK, it can cost around £10,000 a year (slightly cheaper for younger pupils). In the USA, it’s a lot more expensive, but it depends where you live. Costs can reach around $30,000 a year.

Is Waldorf education better? Does it make a difference?

Rather than thinking which style of education is better, you should really think what is best for your child. If you think your child will love the creativity Waldorf offers, hands-on learning as well as working at a steady pace then it could be right option. But like Montessori, it comes at a cost and only the wealthiest of families can really afford it. Also, if you like the idea of your child being strong with technology, such as coding, web design etc, then Waldorf will not be the right choice.

In terms of how pupils perform, there have been various studies over the years in different countries. Due to the slower pace of learning the core subjects, it seems the Waldorf pupils perform slightly worse in the early years, but catch up later on. However, most studies seem to concur that Waldorf offers a holistic approach to education.

Montessori vs Waldorf: Which method is more popular?

Montessori is a lot more popular than Waldorf. Although it’s hard to say the exact number of pupils, there are around 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide, and only just over 1,100 Waldorf ones (but there are around 2,000 Early Years settings).

montessori vs waldorf

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