The difference between Montessori and Waldorf systems of Education.

Children at play…at Niraamayaa

I wrote the following as a response to a question a member asked on the Waldorf support Group Facebook page. I’m sharing it here (after expanding it a bit) in case there are more people who have a similar enquiry.

I would like to share as a mother, as I have experienced both systems with my two daughters; as someone who worked in a Montessori environment for two plus years and ran a waldorf kindergarten for children with special needs, Niraamayaa, for four years.

As a psychologist and a special educator, I had always been on the lookout for an education system that is joyful and holistic, even before my first daughter was born. When my elder one was 4, I found a leading chain of schools that promised Montessori but was disappointed to find that they didn’t practise it.

Eventually when we moved to Bangalore, I did find a classic Montessori which was very good and my daughter was learning very fast. So in a Montessori, the child sets the pace and if the child shows readiness, they will give her more and more. Everything is taught using sensorial material where the child can touch, feel and manipulate the material and the learning is concrete. So by the end of senior kg she was doing multiplication and division and was enjoying herself! At that time we were very proud of her achievements and were happy with the school.

They also had miniature mops, pans, brooms, rolling pins, etc. where they could imitate the adults in their environment (This can also be found in a Waldof kindergarten free play).

When my younger one was born, we were led to discover waldorf education. This is an education that is salutogenic. That is, it promotes health- Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It takes into account everything that leads up to a healthy and well balanced adult who is intelligent (thinking), compassionate (feeling) and who is a doer (willing). This I realised was what I was looking for. Parents were educated about the philosophy by the teachers in the school and I attended conferences every year.

A human being needs to have a right balance of thinking, feeling and willing. So here’s where the difference between the two systems shows up. In a waldorf kindergarten, the emphasis is on the developing physical body. This is when the child is completely in the will. In movement and activity. This is not the right time to do cognitive activity although the children are capable of it. Because as I said, the body and the organs are still developing. This is the time to build on the skills (gross motor, fine motor, attention, focus, sitting tolerance, compliance, etc.) required to do academics later on. The children have to be prepared for academics. This is the age for building rhythms, for free play and for exploring the world through the senses.

Academic concepts are taught only from grade 1 in waldorf schools.

I like the way concepts are taught in a Montessori which can be very useful in early grade classes and for children with learning issues. However, I personally believe that kindergarten is too early for such intense cognitive work. There are deeper reasons for this.

This is the time for children to imitate, play, draw, do things with their limbs and get messy.

Having said that Waldorf kindergartens nevertheless are structured programs with a definite and defined curriculum.

In conclusion, I have learnt that Waldorf education is not a method. It’s a philosophy and a way of life.

Hope this helps.

Nirupama Rao

Mom and Psychologist