Waldorf vs. Montessori


When parents are researching private schools, the myriad of options and different educational philosophies can sometimes be overwhelming. Many of the parents considering Waldorf education also consider Montessori. This is probably because both education methods cater to a student’s individual learning style with reverence and respect for each child and their gifts.  But how each method approaches this objective varies greatly.

One might be tempted to summarize the differences in this way: Waldorf puts high value in art, imagination, and creativity and does not pursue academic instruction before the age of seven. Montessori puts high value in real life experience and an orderly environment and pursues early academics at a young age.

But this does not shed much light on the multi-layered and nuanced approaches of each methodology. In an effort to clarify, we have created this chart describing similarities and differences in each educational system. But, for true clarification about these methods and their appropriateness for your child, visit schools in your area and experience in-session classroom visits.

Early Academics Play is the work of a young child.  Waldorf seeks to nourish and inspire imagination and creative thinking. Academics are delayed until Grade 1 so that the child has more time for make believe, art, music and the building of social skills and class cohesion. The young child is a sponge. Montessori seeks to expose young minds to a rich array of academic tasks and experiences. Early education focuses on challenging intellectual tasks, which build upon each other for early academic adoption.
Curriculum & Later Academics In a same-aged classroom environment, Waldorf educators encourage a love of lifelong learning through the use of multi-disciplinary methods that incorporate art, music & craftsmanship. Lessons are language rich and focused around all arts and multiple senses. Subject integration and classroom collaboration are key to the holistic academic experience. In a multi-aged, multi-graded classroom, Montessori educators encourage children to engage in self-disciplined learning. Lessons are focused around real-life and classroom manipulative material. Subjects are approached with step-by-step procedure that guides students, individually, toward learning specific concepts.
The Classroom Waldorf believes the child thrives in a rhythmical and predictable environment. The teacher leads the students and guides them into time of coming together and working or playing individually. Montessori believes the child thrives in a free and self-led environment. The teacher withholds their will and allows the children to choose their own activities in the classroom, providing guidance when necessary.
Teaching Methods Waldorf believes that young children learn primarily through imitation and that, even in older children, watching and working with a teacher facilitates developing age-appropriate academics and skills. Montessori believes young children learn best through focused individual learning tasks and are self driven. Teachers strive to stay out of the way, allowing the child’s interests to drive learning.
Materials Waldorf classrooms are filled with all natural materials and children are encouraged to create their own toys, learning materials, and textbooks.  No plastic toys/materials, or popular culture references are allowed within the class or school. All of the learning materials in the Montessori schoolroom were designed by Maria Montessori for a specific academic purpose.The Montessori method is multisensory and uses uniquely designed sensory materials for different subjects.
Society A high goal in Waldorf schools is to give students a sense of ethics and to produce individuals who can impart meaning into their lives and contribute to the greater good of society. A high goal in Montessori is to nurture the child’s understanding of life processes and awareness of the world and society around them, so they can develop their own values.
Social The development of the young child in the social realm is as important as any other academic learning. The teacher plays a key role in orchestrating how this happens. The development of self-discipline in the young child is key along with encouraging cooperation and respect with other, varied-age classroom children.
Individuality Waldorf teachers believe children come into the world with unique personalities and gifts. The teacher’s role is to get to know the child, respect their nature, and guide and inspire them to reach their full potential. Montessori teachers believe children discover their gifts through intellectual and personal freedom.The teacher’s role is to respect the unique individuality of the child and allow their nature and will to freely emerge.


There is a great quote from the education blog, Education Japan, saying this about each of these educational models: “One thing is clear… Each brings a high level of love and caring and a path through childhood vitally needed by children today. Both of these paths are brilliant, full of compassion, and honoring of the child.”

We agree. But which is right for your child is up to you and your family. We encourage you to tour a Waldorf school while class is in session to experience Waldorf education first hand. Learn More HERE if you’d like to visit Spring Garden Waldorf of Northeast Ohio.


Article Sources:

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori_education

About.com http://privateschool.about.com/od/privateschoolfaqs/f/montwaldorfdiff.htm

Barbara Snell http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/documents/ALookatWaldorfandMontessori.pdf

Education Japanhttp://educationinjapan.wordpress.com/of-methods-philosophies/ii-does-method-matter-montessori-vs-waldorf/

AWSNA http://www.whywaldorfworks.org

Susan Mayclin Stephenson http://www.michaelolaf.net/MONTESSORI%20and%20WALDORF.html

Home school Reosurce http://alisaterry.blogspot.com/2010/12/montessori-versus-waldorf-education.html

Education Bug http://www.educationbug.org/a/montessori-vs-waldorf.html

3 thoughts on “Waldorf vs. Montessori

  1. About materials – in a Montessori classroom the materials used depend on the situation. They are NOT “all designed by Maria Montessori.” Many/most were but teachers may also bring in natural objects such as an owl pellet or leaves. Additionally maps are updated and produced by an accredited Montessori materials provider. Whenever the subject demands it, materials are updated (for example a Montessori school of today would include the newly discovered elements and wouldn’t adamantly stick to an outdated periodic table).

    It’s telling that your article sources do not include the two major Montessori accreditation organizations.

  2. I think proofing is the most craicitl part of Benign Neglect a philosophy I fully subscribe to but never had a name for until I read your article In the kitchen, cabinets with chemical/sharp/breakable items are locked, but the one with pots and pans is open. In the bathroom, one cabinet (cleaners, lotions) is locked. The cabinet with towels, curlers (which is a great peg game, really), etc is open.She has free reign of the house because there is nothing that can get her into any trouble, and I don’t have to constantly manage her. She is free to explore. This makes our lives remarkably stree-free.

  3. This is an excellent post, Rocky!

    I studied the differences many years ago and your chart is spot on. Maria Montessori wanted to expand the age of discovery for a lifetime. If only the curiosity and love of learning could be cultivated as a garden. I am so intrigued by her concept of the ‘directress’ role whereby an adult is an observer and only acts to help the child achieve his or her goals so that the child guides their own learning and discovery… for a lifetime.

    From my experience, Waldorf schools build upon Maria’s concept of self-directed discovery and expand the experience in mind, body & spirit.

    I’m still an advocate of Froebel’s gifts and would love to see them introduced in order. Although, Waldorf does seem to give these gifts over time and with the added dimension of color and mood.

    Waldorf schools also incorporate nature throughout which, in my opinion, is the unifying theme and corrector of all. Each pedagogy of Maria to Froebel to Steiner aim to cultivate the kinder garten; bringing child and nature together.

    I am so thankful that one of my children was able to experience this form of education. I know that my child has not been taught to pass a test of the state, but that he has been encouraged to create for himself that which pleases him. As a result, my son appreciates all that he sees, knows what he loves, creates what pleases and is what he believes. I cannot comprehend a better education!

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