Waldorf or Montessori: the two popular teaching methods

Waldorf or Montessori: the two popular teaching methods
Image: @laurapshort

Becoming parents is undoubtedly a joyful experience but it is also a start of a whole new learning curve in life. Complex decisions begin to hawk over you as soon as you leave the birthing unit. How to bring up a balanced, successful and happy person? How to choose the right education for them out of the dozen options that caught your attention? What school should you send them to?

But worry not: as soon as you start asking these questions of yourself (and Google), you will likely end up with only a couple of suitable options. Responsible parents around the world are going crazy for these two particular teaching schools: Waldorf and Montessori. Each has its own fan base, rich history, thousands of graduates and, naturally, its own pros and cons.

A good idea

All teaching systems without exception are formulated with one goal in mind – to bring up an all-around, creative and confident person. In this respect, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, the founders of the Montessori method and the Waldorf school respectively, were not unique.

Both were unimpressed with the traditional educational system, its drills, rigid marking methods and overly formal treatment of young people. Both were seeking a method for nurturing and educating them to make the process enjoyable and the results satisfactory for parents and children alike. Maria and Rudolf were even alive around the same time. The Montessori method officially emerged in Rome in 1907. The first Waldorf school opened under Steiner’s guidance in 1919 for children of workers of the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory.

There are further parallels too. The main thing that unites the Montessori method with Waldorf education is a respectful attitude to children, a desire to see their personality early on and develop their innate abilities which everyone is believed to have without exception. But their means of reaching these aims vary.

7 facts about the Waldorf system of education
Image: @laurapshort

7 facts about the Waldorf system of education

Rudolf Steiner was not only a teacher but also a philosopher and a humanitarian. He believed that bringing up a balanced individual is only possible by allowing a child to play and use their imagination. The essence of the Waldorf method in a nutshell: put aside such boring tasks as maths, have fun and be creative instead. So how does it work in practice?

1/ No marks are given

Whether it is a nursery or a school that adheres to the Waldorf method, no marks are given to children. Tests, exams and homework do not exist. All of the children’s skills are acquired in the process of communication.

2/ The teacher or pre-school assistant play a key role in the classroom

They offer children tasks and activities, participate in games, direct, help and explain. As a rule, the same teacher leads a class or group over the course of several years.

3/ Creativity is the main activity

In a Waldorf school children make their own toys, learn to play musical instruments, dance, sing, draw and direct plays, all of which helps them discover the world around them.

4/ No subjects

The Waldorf method does not assume a traditional division into various subjects. Geography and reading are learnt in the process of play and often simultaneously.

5/ Natural environment

An ecological state of mind is an important element of human development. This is why children are encouraged to spend so much time in nature, craft using felt, fabric, pine cones and other natural materials. In general, these schools are built with the natural environment in mind. There is nearly no plastic or gadgets with an emphasis on natural colours and materials in the interiors.

6/ Imagination is shaped by storytelling

Imagination is a vital tool for discovering the world. To interest a child in exploring their immediate environment, things and events are described through storytelling.

7/ Frequent plays and fairs

Fairs, plays, performances and crafts are all important parts of the Waldorf method. This part of the school’s or nursery’s curriculum actively encourages the participation of parents.

7 facts about the Montessori method
Image: @laurapshort

7 facts about the Montessori method

Maria Montessori used to say that the main goal of her method is to engage the child’s “spiritual embryo” to learn. To put it simply, it is about letting a child develop according to their own rhythm and following the course of nature: without any pressure, guidance or any kind of evaluation. The usual marking system, distinguishing rewards, praise or censure are unacceptable.

1/ The teacher helps children open up

The moto of the Montessori method is: “Help me do it on my own!”. A teacher or a teaching assistant is mainly there to observe. Their aim is to help a child use the materials they choose, if they struggle. The child is given complete freedom of movement or choice of activity. Nevertheless, some schedules and rules do exist.

2/ Toys developed by Montessori

The Montessori environment is all about special toys and materials developed by its founder. They are distributed around the classroom for a child to freely choose whatever they are interested in at this particular moment, to work with the materials and then put it back in its place.

3/ A child’s personal boundaries are kept

A child’s personality is the most important part of the Montessori method. There is one key rule at play for both teachers and children: not to cross the other person’s boundaries and not to get involved in someone else’s game without an invitation. Group activities are limited and typically consist of such creative disciplines as dance and music.

4/ Eco materials, no gadgets

All objects are made of wood or other ecological materials. A Montessori class is free of gadgets, soft toys and squeaking, ringing aggressive plastic toys.

5/ Scientific disciplines are taught by involving a child’s personality

The strength of the Montessori method is its focus on the key scientific disciplines: mathematics, languages, geography and biology. Learning is not done with the help of a coursebook (or is done so with their minimal involvement) but by personally engaging a child.

6/ One group – different ages

Nursery or school groups typically involve children of different ages (with a 3-year age difference). This approach helps younger children learn from their older peers by observing them. It also helps adults to see the bigger picture of development.

7/ Independence is encouraged

Independence is an important quality encouraged by the Montessori environment. The ability to tie your own shoelaces or to take responsibility for your choices or an alternative method of learning are just some of the things that distinguish children who grow up according to this method.

Waldorf or Montessori?
Image: @laurapshort

Each to their own…

Despite the fact that the Waldorf and the Montessori systems are preaching the same values around the globe – respect for a child’s innate abilities and freedom of self-expression – its methods of education might not be suitable for every little person.

The Waldorf method

The strengths of the Waldorf approach is its ability to bring up creative, social and creativity prone people. Parents need to come prepared to be actively involved (the Waldorf way does not exist without its fairs and collaborative performances) and to accept the fact that physics and mathematics will never be your child’s strong suits. But there is no better choice to make, if you want your child to live and breathe creativity.

The Montessori method

The Montessori method is more focused on equipping a child with particular skills: for toddlers it is about drinking from a mug without spilling its content, looking after plants and helping out with house chores, for older children – it is about learning a subject that interests them just because it’s fun. A Montessori school graduate might not be the musically gifted protegee of the Waldorf school, but they would usually be better prepared for scrupulous independent work and are not afraid of making mistakes.

The teachers themselves often jokingly describe the difference between the two like this. A Waldorf child explains the mechanism of a printer through magical gnomes that spell out the printed letters and will, no doubt, tell a gripping and compelling story about that. A Montessori child knows the ins and outs of the technical process of this device and can even change the cartridge on their own. Both abilities are in-demand which is great news for parents of all kinds.

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