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3 Important differences between Montessori and Waldorf schools

Choosing the correct school for your child is one of the most important decisions that you may make as a parent. You might find yourself weighing your student’s academic interests and personality, tuition costs and the distance to and from your home and the school. If you extend your search beyond public school, you may also have to investigate academic pedagogies that are unfamiliar to you — is a STEM magnet program right for your child? Would she benefit from a Reggio Emilia preschool? Have you narrowed your options to Montessori and Waldorf, but you remain uncertain about which to select?

Montessori and Waldorf schools share many similarities, but they also subscribe to distinct philosophies. Before you make your final decision about your student’s schooling, consider these three differences between Montessori and Waldorf schools.

1. Age versus grade designations

One of the most obvious differences between Montessori and Waldorf education is the composition of each classroom. Montessori schools are notable for their mixed age groupings (for example, ages 6 to 9), while Waldorf schools utilize a more traditional grade structure — a student in second grade will learn with peers who are also in second grade, as opposed to peers who are in first, second and third. However, Waldorf schools are notable for their insistence that the same teacher accompany a given group of students through grades one through eight. While Montessori believes that younger pupils can learn a great deal from their peers, Waldorf views a child’s instructor as an important guide who can better serve his or her students with each passing year.

2. The role of imagination

Both Montessori and Waldorf recognize the importance of imagination. Each school emphasizes creativity and the arts in its curriculum, exposing children to subjects like dance, music, painting and theater. Imaginative play is the primary focus of early education under the Waldorf model, and young students are strongly encouraged to participate in make-believe. Montessori schools also welcome imaginative play, but they prefer the children who are enrolled in their schools to find pleasure in activities that occur in the real world — in cooking, in knitting and the like. This emphasis on work as play begins at the age of 3 or 4, which is also the age at which Waldorf students delve into fairy stories and other aspects of make-believe.

3. The scope of the curriculum

The Montessori and Waldorf philosophies are alike in their decision to follow an alternate educational pedagogy. Neither model focuses on preparing children for standardized exams, and traditional textbooks are uncommon in their classrooms. In fact, Montessori even allows its students to dictate the scope and pace of the curriculum. The children in each mixed-age classroom help one another master the lessons that they choose, with the teacher serving as a facilitator of sorts. Waldorf instructors take a more central role, with pupils working in groups throughout the school day. Despite the traditional role of the teacher, Waldorf schools still incorporate student interests, and both Montessori and Waldorf view education as a foundation to be continually built upon and deeply respected.

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