Montessori vs. Waldorf preschools and daycares

Comparing Montessori and Waldorf preschools and daycares

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Which is better for your child: a Montessori or Waldorf preschool? And what is the difference between the Montessori and Waldorf preschool approach? 

Below, we compare Waldorf to Montessori preschools. This should give you a strong sense of their similarities and differences. To learn more about preschool and daycare programs in general, check out our introductory guide to preschool education.

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Montessori preschools

At their core, Montessori preschools are child- or student-focused. They place children front and centre.

On the Montessori approach, children have a unique developmental path. This means, among other things, that they should be given an opportunity to learn in developmentally appropriate ways, and build confidence in doing so.

In preschool (Montessori), kids work in a decentralized learning environment, usually by themselves or in small groups with peers of different ages. They often collaborate, with each other and their teachers. Montessori doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Instead, kids have quite a bit of freedom to choose their own projects and work at their own pace.

Montessori preschools, like all Montessori schools, have mixed-age classrooms. This makes for a dynamic learning environment, with lots of interaction, collaboration, and child-to-child teaching. And this helps children to grow cognitively and socially, and become more independent and responsible.

Montessori preschools are for infants, toddlers, and older kids. They're usually divided up into two programs: toddler preschool and primary school. Each program uses a distinct method and focuses on a special set of skills (with some overlap).

Waldorf preschools

Waldorf preschools have a flexible approach. Children often have the freedom to pursue their own activities. While they do have daily schedules and routines, kids can often pursue their interests and passions.

Many students find this approach rewarding. When given freedom, they often choose tasks that challenge and excite them. This can spark their natural curiosity and inspire a love of learning.

Moreover, Waldorf preschools don’t focus much on traditional academics. In fact, they normally delay the learning of math, reading, and other subjects until grade 1. Waldorf preschools, like all Waldorf schools, aim to educate the whole child: “head, heart, and hands.” Teachers educate children’s cognitive, active, and emotional sides.

There is a special focus in Waldorf on art, imagination, and creativity. In preschool, young children are given plenty of time for free play, artistic work (e.g., drawing, painting, and modelling), circle time (songs, games, and stories), and outdoor recess. This promotes imaginative learning and leads to lots of pretend play. It also allows children to develop important social skills.

Montessori vs. Waldorf preschools

Main similarities 

  • Child-centred: Both programs allow children to mostly select their own tasks and activities.
  • Multi-age classrooms: Both programs have mixed-age classrooms, where kids have the same teacher for several years. In Montessori, it’s usually for three years. In Waldorf, it can be for up to six years.
  • Love of learning: Both programs aim to inspire a love of learning.

Main differences

  • Work and play: Montessori focuses more on task-oriented work. This separates it from many other preschool approaches, including Waldorf. Waldorf has a more play-based approach.
  • Art and imagination: Waldorf focuses a lot on art, imagination, and creativity. There is less of an emphasis on these things in Montessori schools.
  • Concrete learning: Montessori has more concrete learning than Waldorf (although Waldorf does have hands-on activities, like woodworking). Waldorf focuses more on imaginative learning than Montessori.
  • Routine: Waldorf offers all children a consistent routine. For instance, certain activities, such as painting and woodworking, are reserved for certain days of the week.
  • Nature: Waldorf focuses more on nature and the environment (though most Montessori preschools focus on these as well).  

To learn more about the similarities and differences between various types of preschools, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Reggio EmiliaWaldorf to Reggio Emiliaacademic to play-basedMontessori to play-based, and Montessori to academic preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.

Preschool questions (read our in-depth answers)

Answers to the question “What is the difference between Montessori and Waldorf preschools?” from school officials

“Waldorf and Montessori both use a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate, and both recognize and respect a child’s need for daily routine. They also both believe in child-initiated activity. The Montessori approach believes that children should work with manipulatives that will teach them concepts, with the teachers available to guide them in this learning. The Waldorf approach supports child-initiated play to cultivate healthy growth and learning in a range of areas, from gross and fine motor skills to the development of imagination and creativity.” Lylli Anthon, faculty chair of Halton Waldorf school, a Waldorf school in BurlingtonOntario

“Montessori is an integrated approach whose aim is to fulfill the needs of the whole child. Waldorf, like Montessori, aspires to educate the whole child, though concepts can be taught in a variety of ways.” Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School, a Montessori school in Richmond HillOntario

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