Waldorf and Montessori for Dummies

Many people have been asking me what’s the difference between Waldorf/ Steiner education and Montessori teaching. I’m no expert, but having had a go at both schools before settling down with Waldorf, this is what I know. Obviously there’s more than what I’m about to write, but consider this a summarized version.

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Pic credit: www.morguefile.com
We started Big Warrior’s “schooling” journey at Perth Montessori School when she was about 2, for playgroup. We were there for 6 months before we decided it wasn’t the system for us, well, for Big Warrior. Montessori was very focused on independence. Children were taught to rely on themselves to get their jobs done. They were treated like little adults. Sharing and teamwork were rarely encouraged (I might be wrong, but every time when Big Warrior wanted to play toys with others, the teacher told us everyone would have to wait for their turn, it didn’t seem like they were too keen on children working together). Big Warrior was reluctant to attend playgroup, she didn’t want to stay indoors doing ‘jobs’, she only wanted to go outside to play on the slide, balance beam, bikes, etc. So after 6 months of trying it out at Montessori, we went to Waldorf, which was recommended by a Japanese friend of mine whose siblings attended Waldorf schools in Japan.
When we first went to Waldorf, I never really did much researched on it. All I knew was that it was an alternative system just like Montessori, and they were child-led instead of blindly following the mainstream one-size-fits-all system.
So, first day at a Waldorf playgroup and I could see straight away that this was it. This was the school for Big Warrior. Everything, from the environment to the class setup to the teachers, were exactly what she needed, what every child needed if you were to ask for my opinion. Open space, gentle pastel coloured silks draped around the classroom, vegetable garden to plant their own kiddy crops… So needless to say, we stayed. We stayed alright. And now fast forward 2 years, Big Warrior is in Kindy 5, and she’s blossomed so much under the gentle guidance of her amazing kindy teachers.
Anyways, enough about my opinions. This post is supposed to be about the difference between Montessori and Waldorf. But I thought I’d share a little of my experience of the 2 schools.
So, below is a summary of what I know.
Similarities between the two schools:1. Both respect children as individuals and creative beings.
2. Both believe in protecting children from the stresses of modern life and the overuse of technology such as iPad, computers and television.
3. Both emphasize education as a whole and focuses on spiritual, mental, physical and psychological developments over the orthodox academic curriculum.
4. Both stress the importance of nature and the natural environment of things. such as minimal or no usage of plastic, having their educational activities within a natural surrounding (park or garden), etc.
5. Both systems were banned during the Nazi regime during WWII as they refused to teach the ideology of the state. Their beliefs are that education must be based on the needs of the child, not the state.
6. Both emphasize on a rich variety of art, music, dance and theatre, believing it to be beneficial for a child’s development.

Differences between Montessori and Waldorf:

Academic
Montessori: Children are given the opportunity to do “real work” such as cooking, cleaning, caring for themselves at a very young age (3-6 years old). Academic lessons are also offered, but as something to enjoyed by the children if they choose to participate. It is never required or forced onto the children. The real world is seen as a wonderful creation, therefore, children are introduced to the real world in all its variation beginning at a very young age. The word “work” is used to described the child’s activities instead of “play” because the children are respected as small adults.

Waldorf: Children are kept from academic subjects such as reading and writing until age 7. Academics are thought to be necessary but not especially enjoyable, and is best put off as long as possible so that children are able to explore their creativity and childhood with make-believe, fairies, art and music. The philosophy views play as the work of a young child, and make-believe fantasies of a young child is an integral part of how the teacher works with the child.

Method
Montessori: Children developed in real life situations as they are usually not kept in a group of same-aged peers (3-6 years age span). The teachers provides lessons individually to one child at a time, and often, lessons are given by one child to another. The choice of what to study is solely left to the child, and is guided by the teacher whenever necessary.This form of learning produces high academic level as the depth of concentration of the children is high when focusing on a subject of their own choice. Children also learn to make decisions at an early age. Montessori teachers believe that if children are allowed to follow their interests, they will be able to excel into greater heights.
Waldorf: Children are kept together with peers their own age, and the teacher ideally moving up each academic year with the same children so that he or she becomes the focal point in the child’s learning development. Academic subjects are taught in a more traditional way – teacher speaking at the front, and children sitting at their desks. Activities are often taught and carried out in groups, with the emphasis on art as part of the academic curriculum. Socialisation is an important part of the Waldorf system. Competitive sports and activities are absent in the school curriculum to prevent social bullying.
 Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Education System
 Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Education System

Do bear in mind that because there are many schools which piggyback on the Montessori or Waldorf name but do not follow the exact teachings of the originator. So be sure to look up the list of real Montessori or Waldorf schools from their official website or contact them to verify before signing your child up to a particular kindy or school.

Sites to visit:
http://www.montessori.edu
http://www.waldorflibrary.org

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