Like to Know What Are Montessori and Waldorf Schools? Difference?

Updated on July 04, 2009
O.M. asks from San Francisco, CA
4 answers

I was curious if anyone could help me understand what a Montessori school is? Waldorf school is? The difference between the two? I'm going to begin some research on my own but would love to hear thoughts from the Moms here @ Mamasource. Thanks!

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answers from San Francisco on


I'm a Montessori teacher and I have visited many Waldorf schools too.

Montessori philosophical thought can be expressed in the phrase "follow the child". A montessori teacher ideally sets up an aesthetically appealing classroom filled with materials in the language arts, math, science, art, sensorial, practical life and study of different cultures. Every day the child learns new skills, masters previously taught skills and moves to the next level. Children learn a sense of order, independence, and concentration. Children often begin reading and writing at three years of age in a montessori classroom. Another important facet of Montessori education is the idea of 'education for peace' with the emphasis that through fostering the development of inner peace children carry on in the world with peaceful hearts and minds.
A great thought experiment would be to observe the San Francisco Waldorf School and Marin Montessori or Montessori de Terra Linda and you will learn so much and then you will be able to tell which philosophy best matches the spirit of your daughter.

peace and light,


Although outwardly there may appear to be many differences between montessori and waldorf schools, I believe that each approach is holistic, addressing the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development of each child. Each also helps children develop a love of learning!

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answers from San Francisco on

The philosophies differ the most in early childhood. Waldorf will have your child engaged in imaginative play. Montessori will focus on preparing your child for academic learning. Here's an oversimplification, but it's a start: Do you want your child to play with dolls at ages 3, 4 and 5 or with mathematical cubes?

Waldorf elementary will focus on hand skills, like knitting. Montessori will include 'practical life' skills, such as cooking, but will focus on academic exercises that are presented on trays or in little kits. The kids are supposed to engage the materials, discover what the teacher wants them to discover, then put the materials back.

Both W and M use a set curriculum and have a relatively rigid idea of what 'success' looks like. In Waldorf, success is a relaxed and imaginative child, a little free-spirited nymph, free of commercial influence, who follows the teacher willingly. Believe it or not, that puts a lot of pressure on a family. It's hard to raise a commercial-free child, and not every child is totally submissive in the presence of a teacher. In Montessori, success is an academically organized child who can plan work and see it through to completion. To me, that looked great on older children, but a little sad on the little ones. I was not convinced that academic work is the best use of early childhood.

Neither is particularly successful at integrating children who don't fit the model. At East Bay Waldorf, many boys are shamed for their natural boy energy. For example, kicking a ball is a no-no at the Waldorf school. Every Waldorf school is different, and some are more welcoming of boys than E.Bay is. At Berkeley Montessori, kids from more challenging backgrounds have not had their needs met, even though that's what Montessori was designed to do. The children they serve best are the children of professors and other white-collar professionals. Although I have to say that Berkeley Montessori has a very professional team that can address learning challenges and emotional issues.

You can see that these philosophies start out on very different paths, yet to me they are very similar. They are both have a lot going for them, and they are both rigid. They are both interested in certain results that preclude other possibilities.

There are other choices out there that don't ask you to choose between imagination and academics. Gay Austin has a wonderful play-based preschool that offers all of the imagination of a Waldorf school along with just the right amount of kindergarten preparation. In elementary schools, there are a lot of inspiring choices that are not rigid philosophically. Aurora, Escuela Bilingue, Prospect Sierra, Windrush, to name a few. Walden is an creative alternative to the Waldorf school. Amongst public schools, NOCCS and Canyon are interesting. And there's a public Waldorf-inspired school in Sebastopol. There, they would be forced to balance play and academics because of the state standards.

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answers from San Francisco on

Perhaps the below links will be of help in your research ... got this off a website for one of the SF preschools -- good luck!

The following are relevant readings, listed by subject matter.

Introduction to various philosophies:

Reggio Emilia:





answers from San Francisco on

Just one anecdote, which may not accurately represent all Waldorf schools, from a friend of mine who chose Montessori over Waldorf.

When she and her husband went to visit the Waldorf school near their home in Hawaii they found it too "alternative" (for lack of a better word) for them. For example, they were told that the children were not allowed to color with black crayons because black was a bad / negative color. My friend's husband ended up arguing with them on this point (i.e. black is not an intrinsically bad color, etc.) and left. Again, this may have just been one odd school.

They have absolutely raved about the Montessori approach for their son who is now about 6. It is a bit more academic or structured in terms of really learning and learning through play and they love how the older kids help the younger kids.

You should visit one or two of each and see which approach works for you. I'm sure it depends on your child's temperment as well as the teachers and directors.

Hope this helps.

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