Montessori vs Waldorf (5 Similarities and Differences)

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Are you interested in discovering the ideal education for your child? Montessori vs Waldorf is often a comparison is often one we see when it comes to alternative education approaches.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the similarities and differences between Montessori and Waldorf philosophies, shedding light on which might be the right fit for your child’s educational journey.

As a parent, it is crucial to make a well-informed decision regarding the most suitable schooling option that aligns with your children’s needs. 

Montessori and Waldorf schools are two well-established educational methodologies that have been in existence for decades, yet many parents lack a clear understanding of their distinctions.

Today, we will be comparing Montessori and Waldorf, their key similarities and differences including the type of early education and learning materials they use.

By doing so, you will be equipped with valuable insights into each approach, enabling you to make an informed decision about which public or private school type is right for your child.

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    Montessori vs Waldorf

    Getting to Know Montessori Education

    In 1907, Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, educator, and visionary, made groundbreaking contributions to the field of early childhood education. 

    Through meticulous scientific observations of children’s learning patterns, she devised a teaching method that emphasized self-directed learning and exploration within a carefully designed environment.

    For over a century, her innovative approach, known as the Montessori Method, has been implemented in numerous educational institutions worldwide. What started as a single institution called Casa dei Bambini, became part of various schools of thought that exist today.

    Drawing inspiration from her medical background, Maria Montessori believed that each student should have independent development opportunities with the guidance of a trained teacher.

    Her profound philosophies continue to shape contemporary education and have become the benchmark for early childhood development globally.

    In contrast to Waldorf education, the Montessori approach prioritizes self-directed engagement, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. Many Montessori schools has been established and are proven to have good outcomes as compared to traditional ways of teaching.

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    The curriculum is designed to foster exploration of the environment and cultivate essential life skills that will contribute to future success. 

    Furthermore, Montessori philosophy also places a strong emphasis on the development of strong foundations in various subject areas.

    Montessori classrooms are organized into distinct three-year cycles that align with the natural growth stages of children: 0-3 years (Infants & Toddlers), 3-6 years (Preschool & Kindergarten), 6-9 years (Lower Elementary), and 9-12 years (Upper Elementary). 

    Each classroom is carefully adapted to meet the unique developmental needs of the child, offering a wide range of activities encompassing practical life skills, sensorial experiences, cognitive development, motor skills, language acquisition, social interaction, and educational pursuits. 

    The daily curriculum is designed to captivate and challenge children, catering to their innate curiosity and intellectual growth within the specific stage of development within the three-year cycle.

    Trailblazer Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf Schools

    Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is renowned for his contributions to anthroposophy. 

    This philosophical system emphasizes the integration of spiritual experiences and scientific reasoning to access knowledge and understanding beyond conventional science.

    Steiner’s ideas had a profound impact across various domains, including architecture, agriculture, education, medicine, art, politics, and spirituality. 

    Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf education, one of his notable achievements, which introduced innovative activities and approaches to teaching, and the development of biodynamic agriculture methods.

    As a true trailblazer, Steiner started to forge connections between spiritual experiences and everyday life, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire enlightened educators in schools across the globe, thinkers, and individuals committed to living consciously in the world today.

    Waldorf classroom, founded on the educational principles of Rudolf Steiner, revolves around a holistic approach that considers the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children. 

    It places great emphasis on the arts, practical activities, and nurturing interpersonal connections as integral elements of the learning process. 

    Creative expression, active imagination, and social development are highly valued in Waldorf school for the children.

    Part of Waldorf curriculum is the design to align with the three distinct stages of child development: early childhood (birth to approximately 7 years), grades and middle school (7 to 14 years), and high school (14 to 18 years). 

    This comprehensive understanding of evolving comprehension shapes both the content and the teaching methods employed in each stage, creating an educational experience that caters to the changing needs of students from early childhood through high school.

    Difference Between Montessori and Waldorf Method

    Montessori EducationWaldorf Education
    Age GroupThe Montessori classroom consists of a multi-age group spanning three years.Waldorf education features either multi-age classrooms with a 2-year span or same age classrooms.
    Educational ApproachStudents engage in child-directed work, learning concepts and skills through individual interactions with materials.Students engage in teacher-directed activities, learning concepts and skills together within a community setting.
    Materials and EnvironmentMontessori education utilizes specific learning materials designed to develop academic skills, while classrooms are aesthetically pleasing and thoughtfully organized.Students have uninterrupted work periods of 90 to 180 minutes to engage with Montessori materials.

    The use of simple, natural materials in Waldorf education aims to foster imagination and strengthen the will, with classrooms designed to create a warm and inviting atmosphere for play.
    Daily Routines and StructureStudents have uninterrupted work periods of 90 to 180 minutes to engage with Montessori materials.The rhythmic daily schedule alternates between focused activities and free play, reflecting the “in and out breath” of the day.
    Teaching MethodsTrained Montessori teachers recognize the significance of natural development in children and provide guidance and challenges to facilitate learning.Trained Waldorf teachers prioritize personal development and growth, striving to serve as worthy role models for children and guiding them through important developmental milestones.
    Montessori vs Waldorf comparison table

    Montessori vs Waldorf education, despite their differences, share a fundamental objective: to offer students an educational journey rooted in respect and personal development. 

    While their teaching approaches diverge, both methods prioritize the holistic development of the child. The following is the difference between Montessori and Waldorf.

    1. Teaching Methodology in Montessori vs Waldorf 

    Maria Montessori strongly advocated for the role of play in children’s learning. 

    However, she also discovered through her research that children eagerly engage in practical activities that teach them essential real-life skills, such as cooking, self-care, cleaning, and caring for others and their environment. 

    Surprisingly, children often chose these productive tasks over imaginative play when given the option.

    Furthermore, Maria Montessori recognized that children enthusiastically responded to age-appropriate math, language, and science lessons when seamlessly integrated into their work and play. 

    She creatively incorporated these academic opportunities into her method, making learning enjoyable and engaging.

    In contrast, the Waldorf Method incorporates play and artistic expression but places less emphasis on life skills and academic subjects until children reach approximately seven years old.

    In Waldorf preschool and kindergarten, children are actively encouraged to engage in pretend and imaginative play. 

    The classroom environment is filled with a variety of toys, art materials, and games to facilitate these experiences. 

    Additionally, ample time is allocated for outdoor play, which is believed to enhance imaginative learning and foster the development of social skills.

    1. Sectioning and classroom setup in Montessori vs Waldorf 

    In the Waldorf method, children are sectioned into age-based groups and progress together as a group each year. 

    However, unlike Montessori schools, they are not confined to a one-fits-all curriculum. 

    Instead, they have the freedom to explore a wide range of subjects and pursue their own interests.

    Further, Waldorf schools use a spiral curriculum, which means that students revisit topics throughout their academic career in increasing levels of complexity. 

    This allows students to build on their knowledge and understanding over time. Waldorf schools also place a strong emphasis on the arts, which are seen as essential for developing creativity and imagination.

    Montessori schools, on the other hand, have mixed-age classrooms where students are grouped together in three-year spans. 

    This structure can include toddler classes for children from birth to age 3, primary (or casa) classes for ages 3-6, and elementary classes for ages 6-9 and 9-12.

    In Montessori preschool, Montessori students may then be placed in specific rooms based on their age, including infant rooms, transition rooms, and toddler rooms. 

    As they grow older or demonstrate certain skills, they transition to the next age span, which often introduces them to new peers. 

    Following the Montessori method, this arrangement provides opportunities for each child to assume leadership roles (especially as the oldest in the group), learn from their older peers, and develop social skills.

    1. The role of the teacher in Waldorf vs Montessori

    In a Waldorf school or preschool, the teacher assumes a traditional role where children are seated and the teacher leads the class. 

    The teacher determines the curriculum, and all students learn the same lesson together.

    In contrast, the role of the teacher or director in a Montessori setting is quite different from that in Waldorf schools. 

    Lessons are delivered individually to each child, and sometimes even taught by another child. 

    The child has the freedom to choose what to study or work on at any given time, and the teacher’s role is to provide guidance when needed.

    In Montessori schools, students typically have the freedom to move around the classroom, work on their own tasks, and collaborate with their peers. 

    Teachers rarely deliver lectures to the entire class. Instead, they observe, guide, and occasionally provide brief lessons to students either individually or in small groups.

    1. The role of play in Waldorf vs Montessori 

    In Waldorf’s philosophy, the main focus of education before the age of seven is on both creative play and pretend play. 

    Storytelling and imaginative play serve as the foundation to educate the whole child in a Waldorf-centered approach.

    Similarly, in Montessori’s philosophy, play and imagination are also regarded as essential. 

    However, authentic Montessori education goes beyond that and incorporates the concept of “work.” 

    Compared to a Waldorf style,  Montessori includes engaging in age-appropriate tasks, creative activities, and taking care of oneself and the environment.

    In a Montessori school, the term “work” is used to describe a child’s activities. 

    This is because many Montessori children are encouraged to view work as something that brings personal satisfaction. 

    In Montessori preschools and schools worldwide, it is important to instill the idea that engaging in tasks and giving of oneself has intrinsic rewards, beyond just material or external recognition.

    Similarities Between Montessori and Waldorf Education

    Waldorf and Montessori’s schools are renowned educational approaches that prioritize the holistic development of the child. 

    They both aim to create immersive learning environments where children are encouraged to explore, grow, and thrive to their fullest potential. 

    As a notable historical fact, both Montessori and Steiner faced challenges during World War II due to their commitment to individuality and their theories that stood in opposition to fascist ideology. Consequently, both educators were compelled to close their schools during this period.

    The shared objective of these educational methods is that they believe children should be actively engaged in meaningful interactions with the world and fostering their overall development.

    1. Meet the needs of the child

    A notable and intriguing similarity between the Waldorf and Montessori methods is their shared belief that addressing the individual needs of students is essential for meeting the broader needs of society. 

    Like Montessori, Rudolf Steiner believed the importance of recognizing and nurturing the unique qualities and potential of each individual in order to create a positive impact on the larger community.

    1. Nurturing the “whole child”

    Both the Montessori program and Waldorf educational approaches share a common focus on nurturing the spiritual and creative individuality of each child. 

    Both methods emphasize a holistic approach to education, taking into account the physical, spiritual, psychological, and mental development of the child, rather than solely focusing on cognitive development.

    1. Less is more

    Both the Montessori learning and Waldorf educational philosophy emphasize the value of simplicity and prioritize hands-on, imaginative play over excessive use of computers and technology. 

    Both approaches advocate for the use of toys and materials that foster creativity, role play, and the refinement of fine motor skills.

    1. Embracing nature

    Both Montessori and Waldorf approach emphasizes the significance of establishing a bond with the natural world. 

    They prioritize the use of natural materials and discourage the use of plastic. They also advocate for instilling the love of learning for every child.

    Additionally, like Montessori schools, Waldorf schools share the same principle of encouraging artistic expression, with a strong emphasis on art, theater, music, and dance as integral parts of the curriculum.

    Which is Which: Waldorf vs Montessori

    When choosing between Waldorf and Montessori education, it’s important to consider the needs of the individual child, learning style, and your own educational philosophy. 

    First, it is important to know what’s the difference between Montessori and Waldorf, Waldorf and Montessori have distinct educational philosophies. Waldorf emphasizes imaginative play, arts, and holistic development, while Montessori focuses on self-directed learning, hands-on activities, and independence. 

    Consider which approach aligns more with your values and goals for your child’s education.

    Second, look into the teaching methods used in each approach. 

    Waldorf teachers often lead the class through storytelling and group activities, while Montessori teachers provide individualized instruction and guide children’s exploration. 

    Consider how your child responds to different teaching styles and which approach you think would be most effective for their learning style.

    Third, examine the curriculum of both Waldorf and Montessori schools. 

    In a Waldorf setting, it integrates subjects and emphasizes the arts, music, and movement. 

    The Montessori curriculum, on the other hand,  focuses on practical life skills, sensorial activities, language, math, and cultural studies. Consider which curriculum aligns with your child’s interests and priorities for their education.

    Lastly, assess the availability and accessibility of Waldorf or Montessori schools in your area. Find Montessori schools that are within limits. You may also look for schools that implore the Waldorf philosophy.

    Determine whether there are reputable schools that offer the approach you prefer and if they are within a reasonable distance from your home or workplace.


    Ultimately, the best school for your child, whether Montessori or Waldorf, will depend on your child’s unique needs and your educational preferences. 

    It can be helpful to visit schools, talk to teachers, talk to Waldorf and Montessori students, and gather as much information as possible before making a decision.

    While both Montessori and Waldorf focus on the holistic development of children and have a child-centered approach, they differ in their specific teaching methods, curriculum, and philosophies. 

    It’s important to research and understand the unique characteristics of each approach to make an informed decision for your child’s education.


    Is Waldorf academically rigorous?Yes, Waldorf education is academically rigorous. Waldorf schools aim to develop the whole child, including their academic, emotional, and social skills. They do this by using a holistic approach to education that emphasizes hands-on learning, creativity, and critical thinking.

    What makes Waldorf curriculum unique? Waldorf education is a unique approach to education that emphasizes the development of the whole child, including their academic, emotional, and social skills. It is based on the belief that children learn best through hands-on, experiential learning and that creativity and imagination are essential for intellectual development.

    Is Waldorf school the same as Montessori? No, Waldorf schools and Montessori schools are not the same. Both are alternative educational approaches that emphasize hands-on learning and experiential education, but they have different philosophies and approaches to teaching.