Montessori vs. Waldorf schools

Comparing Montessori and Waldorf schools in Canada

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Which is better for your child: Montessori or Waldorf? And what are the main differences between Montessori and Waldorf schools?

Below, we compare Montessori to Waldorf schools in Canada. This should help you grasp the similarities and differences between these two approaches. It should also help you decide which school (if either) is right for your child.

Montessori schools

Montessori provides a unique alternative to mainstream schooling. It has a student-centred approach to learning, with several progressive practices.

Mixed-age classrooms

In Montessori schools, there are mixed-age classrooms. There are often 3-year age groupings in preschool and elementary school. This can include toddler classes from birth to age 3, primary (or casa) classes for ages 3-6, and elementary classes for ages 6-9 and 9-12.  

Decentralized learning

In Montessori schools, students tend to move around class, work on their own tasks, and interact and work with peers. Teachers almost never provide lectures to the whole class. Instead, they observe, guide, and sometimes give brief lessons to students (either one-on-one or in small groups).

Freedom and flexibility

Students have a lot of freedom to choose tasks, projects, and learning materials. While teachers provide guidance, students can often choose work their sparks their interest and satisfies their curiosity.

Concrete learning

Kids work with a lot of hands-on material, such as manipulatives, blocks, tiles, and pink towers. Concrete learning is a major focus, especially in preschool and elementary school. In middle and high school, there’s a movement to more abstract learning.

Minimal pretend play

Pretend play is rarely encouraged, even in preschool. Task-oriented work is favoured over imaginative play. There are no dolls, dollhouses, pretend kitchens or houses, or dress-up clothes in class. Instead, there are real kitchens, real (child-sized) furniture, work tools, food, cooking utensils, and other practical objects for kids to work with.

Uninterrupted work time

Students are given at least one full uninterrupted work period of around three hours a day. Normally, this starts in elementary school. Uninterrupted work periods allow kids to pursue their chosen work for long periods of time, without distractions.

Character education

While academics are important, this is only part of the focus. Montessori schools aim to educate the whole child: their character, sense of self, and values. For instance, students learn to take care of themselves, each other, and their environment.

Minimal technology

Very little, if any, modern-day technology is used in most Montessori schools. This is especially true in the early years. Computers, tablets, whiteboards, TVs, and similar devices are rarely used in class.

Click here to view a list of Montessori schools

Waldorf schools

The Waldorf school philosophy is student-centred. Like Montessori schools, Waldorf schools have many features that distinguish them from mainstream schools.

Individualized curriculum

In Waldorf schools, students aren’t forced into a one-size-fits-all curriculum. They have the freedom to work in a broad range of areas and pursue their own interests.

Whole child education

Waldorf doesn't just focus on core academics. The aim is to educate the whole child: “head, heart, and hands.” Waldorf teachers develop children’s aptitudes for thinking, feeling, and acting.

Delayed formal academics

Core academics starts later than in most mainstream schools. Kids aren’t taught core subjects, such as math, science, and reading, until at least grade 1.

Focus on creativity and the arts

Art and music are infused throughout the curriculum. Most subjects are taught through artistic media, including stories, visual arts, dance, music, and crafts.

Imaginative learning

Pretend and imaginative play is encouraged in preschool and kindergarten. There are lots of toys, art materials, and games in the classroom. Kids also spend lots of time playing outdoors. This is thought to promote imaginative learning and the development of social skills.

Practical learning

Up to grade 3, students do lots concrete and experiential learning. They take part in different practical tasks, like cooking, cleaning, and gardening. They also learn woodwork, handwork, and sewing.

Focus on nature

Students are given lots of natural materials. And environmental and outdoor education are a big focus. Kids learn to appreciate and value nature, in its full splendour.

Minimal technology

Most Waldorf schools don’t use technology such as TVs, computers, and tablets. Too much screen time, it’s thought, can stunt physical growth and decrease social interaction. This can interfere with social and cognitive development.

Click here to view a list of Waldorf schools


Montessori vs. Waldorf

Main similarities between Montessori and Waldorf schools

  • Flexible curriculum: Neither Montessori nor Waldorf schools have a made-to-order curriculum. Students can choose their own activities and tasks, with guidance from the teacher. They can also mostly work at their own pace.
  • Decentralized learning: Montessori and Waldorf teachers rarely give whole-class lectures. Students are free to move around the classroom, work independently or in groups, and pursue their interests.
  • Holistic education: Both Montessori and Waldorf schools aim to educate the whole child. In addition to core academics, they place lots of emphasis on learning practical skills, developing the right character traits, and learning important values.
  • Concrete learning: Both the Montessori and Waldorf approach emphasize concrete learning. Children work with lots of hands-on material and learn important practical skills. Montessori is especially focused on concrete learning, at least in preschool and elementary school.
  • Limited technology: Montessori and Waldorf schools both restrict the use of modern-day technology. Waldorf schools may be more strict about this, though.

Main differences between Montessori and Waldorf schools

  • Academics: Montessori schools focus more on core academics, at least in preschool. Waldorf schools normally don’t introduce core academics, at least formally, until grade 1 or 2.
  • Work and play: Montessori schools favour work over play. Even in preschool, Montessori educators tend to discourage pretend play (or at least not encourage it). Waldorf schools, meanwhile, make pretend play and imaginative activities a major focus, especially in preschool.
  • The arts: Waldorf schools infuse art and music throughout the curriculum. Music, drama, dancing, the visual arts, and other artistic media, are woven into many lessons. Many Montessori schools, on the other hand, focus less on the arts, music, and imaginative activities.
  • Nature: Both Waldorf and Montessori schools educate kids about nature and have outdoor activities. Waldorf schools focus more on this, though.

To learn about the differences between various preschool approaches, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Waldorf, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, Waldorf to Reggio Emilia, academic to play-based, Montessori to play-based, and Montessori to academic preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.

To learn about the differences between Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia schools (at all levels), read our guide. You can also read our guides comparing Montessori to Reggio EmiliaWaldorf to Reggio Emilia, and Montessori to Reggio Emilia schools.

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