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Waldorf vs Montessori: What's the Difference?
Life and Style Daily
June 05, 2022
8 min

Finding the best learning environment for their childis a top priority for parents, especially during preschool.

Children ages three to five are ready for preschool education or an early childhood program where play and learning are combined — and many parents first focus on learning environments and methods before public school options are available.

Since preschool plays a vital role in establishing learning patterns and social skills, choosing the type of school is key.

Waldorf and Montessori schools offer popular preschools and beyond. Both offer comprehensive, unique learning experiences for children. However, while the two institutions have common ideals, they differ in learning philosophies and approaches.

To help find out which is the better option for your child, here’s a comparison:

Waldorf vs. Montessori: History & Philosophy

Rudolf Steiner established the first Waldorf School in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. He was a world-renowned scientist and artist. Waldorf education is geared to inspire the child to acquire life-long learning that will help develop unique capabilities.

It adopts a student-centered philosophy based on Steiner’s principles, insights, and teachings. With over 100 years of good track record and more than a thousand schools in 93 countries, Waldorf has successfully survived the test of time.

Casa Dei Bambini was the first Montessori school. It was founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907. She was the first Italian woman with a Doctor of Medicine degree. As a doctor, she viewed teaching and learning from the scientific level and designed the approaches and materials for her vision.

She wanted to honor and celebrate every child’s individuality while promoting the natural growth of learning. Today, Montessori’s techniques are considered excellent educational models.

Waldorf vs. Montessori: Curriculum

Waldorf Curriculum is broad and individualized. It is a developmentally-based curriculum designed to balance academics, artistic, and practical activities.

Learners have the freedom to pursue their interests and work in various areas. It aims to educate the child holistically--- “heart, head, and hand.” This threefold learning approach focuses on feeling, thinking, and doing.

Moreover, the curriculum involves various activities in music, language, written language in books, and creative and constructive play. Teachers in Waldorf schools nurture and engage every child through the school’s methodology to develop their unique potential.

On the other hand, the Montessori Curriculum is child-centered. The learning framework incorporates holistic outcomes tailored to the child’s interests and developmental needs. It embraces the principle that children learn through play and make-believe activities that help them learn real-life skills.

They are also given the freedom to choose learning materials, projects, and tasks. Pretend play is not encouraged in Montessori, even in preschool. Instead, they are given task-oriented lessons.

And while academics are deemed vital, Montessori also teaches character education.

The Waldorf Methodology

Waldorf Methodology emphasizes the whole child and incorporates arts and play.

Preschoolers are allowed to explore their imagination and creative side. The schools, also known as “Waldo” Schools, believe that by enhancing the imagination, the groundwork for academic subjects later is laid.

Therefore, academics and life skill lessons are integrated into lessons when they reach seven years old.

Here’s more to what the Waldorf methodology is like:

  • Core subjects like reading, science, and mathematics are taught in Grade 1.
  • Music and art are incorporated into the curriculum. Subjects are introduced through artistic stories like crafts, dance, music, visual arts, and stories.
  • Imaginative learning is highly-encouraged at preschool and kindergarten levels. Children spend their time playing pretend games, outdoor games, and classroom lessons that promote social skills development.
  • Children are given outdoor and environmental education to help them value and appreciate nature.
  • Experimental and multi-sensory learnings are taught.
  • Academic excellence is encouraged without high-stakes testing.

The Montessori Methodology

Montessori Method is a product of the research on the child’s development and how the learning environment influences it.

Dr. Montessori incorporated age-appropriate academic opportunities into play and work lessons that are fun. This method is the foundation of the curriculum that includes the following areas.

It has five key learning areas — Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Culture:

Practical Life

It involves activities that teach children how to take care of themselves as well as their environment. The learning helps them face life challenges better, become more independent, and display greater self-confidence.

Practical life lessons include cleaning, watering plants, and food preparation. All the exercises aim to promote independence, focus, and coordination.


Children learn to read, write, and communicate through language-based activities and language materials.

Materials like movable alphabets and sandpaper letters are designed to help young learners explore the spoken and written language while enhancing their vocabulary.


Teachers use concrete sensorial materials to introduce mathematical concepts. Sensorial materials help children master number recognition, number sequences, and counting.


Doctor Montessori created sensorial materials to help learners identify and express their sensory experiences. She believed that sensorial activities encourage the development of the intellectual senses.

The proprietary materials are focused on visual, taste, olfactory, and auditory perceptions. They also include materials that promote tactile impressions.


This learning area helps children develop their creativity and fine motor skills. By promoting cultural activities and exercises, Montessori pupils experience music, artwork, stories, and culture of different countries, including their own community.

It also includes science, botany, zoology, and geography lessons. These aim to foster their awareness and appreciation while expressing their thoughts freely.

Both Waldorf and Montessori advocate minimal use of technology. Waldorf believes that computers, tablets, and televisions can stunt children’s physical growth. They also interfere with cognitive and social development while reducing social interaction.

On the other hand, Montessori rarely uses modern technology in their classes.

Waldorf vs. Montessori: Learning Environment

Waldorf’s learning approach follows the childhood development theory of Steiner. Children are grouped into three cycles with seven-year stages.

He believed that every human being goes through 7-year spiritual cycles. Each of the stages is imbued with a “sphere,” namely:

  • Moon (zero to seven years old)
  • Mercury (seven to fourteen years old)
  • Venus (fourteen to twenty-one years old)

The pattern utilizes particular learning techniques for each developmental stage. This is because the school believes that each stage shapes the way learners approach and feel about the world around them.

During the first stage, children learn by giving them immersive experiences in an environment that offers practical activities. It is centered on experiential education, where children learn through imaginative play and examples.

Preschool employs a free-play approach, circle time with games, songs, stories, artistic tasks like painting and drawing, and practical tasks like cooking.

The learning environment in Waldorf provides the right stimulus at the perfect time. It allows children to display their potential and talents naturally.

In the first seven years, children are taught to view the world as a place of goodness. Creative play, imitation, and direct activities are encouraged to develop creative thinking.

On the other hand, in Montessori schools, the learners are grouped into three-year spans:

  • 3 to 6 years
  • 7 to 11 years
  • 12 to 15 years

Preschoolers are placed in mixed-age classrooms---infant rooms, transition rooms, and toddler rooms. Then, as children gain skills or get a year older, they move to the next level.

The acceleration allows the child to develop their social skills or act as a leader of the group. The preschool program of Montessori fulfills the desire of children with self-teaching materials that provide direct sensory experiences.

Kids are given access to concrete materials like blocks, tiles, and manipulatives. Preschools are taught to focus on concrete learning. They are free to choose activities that satisfy their curiosity and attract their interest.

Children are encouraged to perform self-directed activities, engage in collaborative play, and complete hands-on learning. In addition, they aim to prepare the learners for formal school by developing a love of learning, independence, self-motivation, and self-esteem.

Classrooms have real furniture, a real kitchen, cooking utensils, food, and practical things that they can use. Pretend-play in Montessori is discouraged, so there are no dollhouses, dress-up clothes, or pretend houses. Instead, children are given three hours of uninterrupted time each day to work on their chosen task.

Waldorf vs. Montessori: The Role of Teachers

Waldorf teachers initiate and direct the pattern of learning. They act as performers and directors of learning. They create a conducive learning environment that promotes harmony and spirituality.

Typical classrooms in Waldorf are homelike, with a calm and relaxing ambiance. You will see children listening to stories, painting, singing songs, playing, or working in the garden. The teachers follow the traditional role where they lead while the children are seated.

The “class teacher” approach of Waldorf promotes a trusting relationship between the learner and mentor. It allows the teacher to know the children more deeply and assess their ‘learning style’ and developmental needs.

Montessori teachers work as facilitators of different groups of children. The setting shows children working in groups or alone. They are usually stretched out on small mats while performing their tasks. Teachers display utmost respect to the young learners, building a harmonious and trusting relationship.

The decentralized pattern of learning in Montessori schools allows children to move around during class, work with peers, or interact. Teachers give one-on-one lessons and guide the children when necessary.

They do not provide lectures to the class. Instead, they offer very brief lessons and let the children do their tasks. They only guide and observe, minimizing direct intervention.

They follow five principles:

  • Respect for the child
  • The prepared environment
  • The absorbent mind
  • *Sensitive periods
  • Auto education

Waldorf vs. Montessori: Assessment and Evaluation

Waldorf believes in the principle of “no child left behind.” Therefore, the innovative way of not having high-stakes testing is aimed at advancing education.

The pupils are assessed through reports of their individual personal development and academic progress (for older children.) Standard tests are given rarely, and letter grades are not until high school.

Pupils’ progress is based on their portfolio work, which includes drawings, knitting projects, musical skills, the facility of movement, and other qualitative measures.

Waldorf education is not about “assessment-driven instruction” and is designed to eliminate stress. Instead, a qualitative assessment is integrated into daily lessons, making it easier for teachers to evaluate their pupils.

In Montessori, keeping track of children’s progress and growth is vital. They believe that they are deeply intertwined with the way children are guided through the curriculum. Therefore, continual assessment is a critical task of teachers in Montessori. They need to observe the behavior of children and the outcomes of the completed tasks.

They believe that learning materials reveal children’s understanding of the necessary competencies being taught. All these require mentors to keep rigorous and updated records of every child’s performance.

The school adopts the formative assessment. This type of assessment allows teachers to evaluate the pupils while the teaching-learning activity is taking place. Teachers can sit beside each child, observe, assess, and record as they go along. They usually have a notebook to record detailed information.

Aside from being highly-trained, Montessori teachers must be masters of observation.

Which is the better option?

Waldorf School is the better option if you like a play-based approach with predictable and fun activities for your child.

According to the Vice President of Marketing for GreatSchool, Waldorf is great for children who like a blend of predictability and creativity. The Waldorf School of Princeton in central New Jersey is an excellent example of a school that integrates practical, artistic, and academic learning into the daily lesson.

Waldorf schools allow children to:

  • enjoy unhurried childhood
  • learn enriching experiences
  • become well-rounded individuals
  • have a lifelong passion for learning

If you want a child-centered approach that offers freedom of choice and allows children to learn at their own pace, Montessori is your bet.

Many parents choose Montessori because they want their children to become independent and acquire leadership skills. Montessori offers children fantastic opportunities to develop their talents and potential.

They value every child as a unique person and are given freedom within parameters. Tools are provided to help children seek knowledge and skills. Self-assessment and self-correction are part of their learning approach.

Influencers and innovators like Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Wales, Thomas Edison, Helen Hunt, and more attended Montessori. According tothe inventor of “The Sims” video game, Montessori has taught him the joy of discovery. It inspired him to create the game.

Considering all the essential aspects and differences between Waldorf and Montessori will help you select the best school for your child in New Jersey. It is also best to check the review of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools or any relevant association in your community.

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