The school you choose to send your child to feels like the most important decision in the world right now – Will the school be the right fit for my child? Will my child be challenged enough? Does the school offer a range of classes and activities within my child’s interests? There is a lot to consider when it comes to this big decision. 

You may have also heard of some different teaching styles that certain schools are built upon, like Montessori or Waldorf education. The Montessori and Waldorf teaching techniques were built upon educational philosophies that first started back in the early 1900’s. Their holistic approach to educating the whole child helped each schooling style gain popularity across Europe and eventually came over to the United States. While both philosophies are similar in basic principle, there are some differences worth noting. 

Classroom Aesthetic & Layout

A typical Montessori classroom

has white walls, live plants, natural wood materials and open shelves for all materials. The shelves are at an appropriate child’s height, so all materials can be independently accessed. Montessori schools embody a very minimalist yet realistic decor style. Framed pictures of real images may be displayed for a child to observe. 

A Montessori classroom is thoughtfully designed and organized to encourage independence and meet the needs of a child.

A Montessori classroom is lined with open shelves, which are organized with materials, known as ‘work’ that can be accessible for a child to use throughout the day. Students bring their work to a place on the floor or a table to use and explore. 

Montessori classrooms are both peaceful & minimalist, with clean floors, white walls and natural woods.

A Waldorf classroom

uses student created materials, as well as natural wood materials. The walls are often a pastel color, commonly pink, and also embodies a more minimalist decor style. It is common for a Waldorf classroom to have decor pieces displayed that were designed and created by the students. 

A Waldorf classroom’s open layout, natural design and minimalist decor style help prevent over-stimulation at the early childhood level.

Waldorf classrooms are often described as having “no straight edges” as the classroom is open and free flowing for the child. Silks can be used to designate a particular play area of the classroom, but a child is not restricted to one specific area for any amount of time. 

Children are able to freely roam the room while learning and exploring in a Waldorf classroom.

Classroom Groupings

Montessori classrooms have students with a mix range of ages, within a three year gap. The classrooms in a Montessori setting may include students between the ages of 3-6, then 6-9, 9-12 and so on. The idea behind this is that students get an opportunity to be both an observer (generally the younger students) and a leader (often the older students), depending on where they fall within the particular classroom. 

Waldorf classrooms are grouped in a more “traditional” way, as students are grouped together by age and move together to the new academic year. It is also common for a teacher to stay with a particular group of students for many years, so everyone gets to know each other very well.

Curriculum & Overall Education

This particular subset might be where Montessori and Waldorf education differ the most. The Montessori curriculum is centered around being “child-led,” meaning the child decides when they are ready for certain lessons and concepts. A teacher can guide a student in a certain way, to help encourage a particular aspect of the curriculum to be covered, but overall it is a child-centered approach. The child can choose work from the designated areas of learning within the classroom, which include: sensorial (learning through 5 senses), practical life, math, language and cultural learning areas (which would include science, geography, nature or history work).

Academics generally start around age 3 in a Montessori classroom, and teaching is done on a one-on-one or small group basis. There are often few whole group lessons, tests and homework in a Montessori setting.  A Montessori classroom is set up with tables and open floor space, there are no individual desks or chairs. 

Children in a Montessori classroom work on the floor or at tables, and each child explores work that individually interests them – the entire class is not working on the same activity, at the same time.

A Waldorf education is structured a little differently, with learning done in a teacher-directed approach. A teacher will lead whole group lessons when necessary, so there are individual desks and chairs in a Waldorf classroom.

Academic subjects like reading, math, and writing are taught at a much later age, generally around 7 years old. Prior to the first grade, these subjects are considered “non-enjoyable” and a child can mainly focus on things like imaginative pretend play or the arts.

In a Waldorf classroom, once traditional academics begin, children are seated in desks and chairs for their lessons – staying with this particular class & teacher for years.

Wrap up:

While there may be differences between the two educational philosophies, Montessori and Waldorf teachings also have some similarities:

  • No technology in classrooms, or very limited technology available
  • Early childhood education focuses on play and is open-ended, primarily student-led
  • The use of natural wood materials and tools. There are no plastic toys that require batteries.
  • Emphasis on the importance of child exploration, including utilizing outdoor space as much as possible

It is important to research the schools or teaching philosophies that align with your family values and lifestyle. There is a lot to consider when deciding on a school, if you are opting out of a public education, and it is not a decision to take lightly!

If you are interested in learning more about Montessori Education, visit American Montessori Society or CLICK HERE to search for a Montessori school near you. If you are interested in learning more about Waldorf Education, visit Waldorf Education or CLICK HERE to search for a Waldorf school near you. 

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