Early childhood education is critical for child development. Children learn when they are exposed to different stimuli that support children learning. Any educational philosophy that gives them the opportunity to develop their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills and so on will be beneficial.

We’ll discuss alternative educational philosophies in this article to help you choose the right care for your child. Unlike mainstream schools or conventional pre school, kindergarten or elementary school, Waldorf and Montessori philosophy support children’s learning in a fun way that they don’t even realise they’re learning. Read on to know their similarities and differences on how children learn and which is the best fit for your child.

What is Steiner education?

Steiners theory, Waldorf education, is independent and open to everyone. It supports the idea that there should be freedom in education and uses independent administration on a local, continental, and international level. Hundreds of schools all over the world offer Waldorf education. Inspired Learning is what Steiner education is all about.

Waldorf education tries to get all students interested in learning for the rest of their lives and help them reach their full potential. Waldorf schools teach in a way that is good for the child’s development, is hands-on, and has academically rigors.

Key features

  • a well-rounded education that uses the arts in all academics subjects
  • students are grouped by age from preschool to 12th grade
  • teacher-centered, educators work hard to help guide children
  • children take part and become self-motivated
  • learning for young children is unplugged putting more focus on outdoor education


Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, and esotericist, did research that was both spiritual and scientific. Steiner’s philosophy says that a person is made up of three parts: the spirit, the soul, and the body. A person’s abilities develop in three stages: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.

In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner went to Stuttgart, Germany, to see the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory. When Germany lost the war, its economy, society, and government were all on the verge of falling apart. Steiner talked to the workers about the need for a new way to organise society’s political and cultural life and for social renewal.

The factory’s owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner if he would start and run a school for the children of the workers at the factory. Steiner agreed, and in September 1919, the Independent Waldorf School (die Freie Waldorfschule) opened its doors.

What is Montessori education?

Key features

  • child-centered, the learning environment encourages children to learn independently
  • Self directed learning, child learning practical skills on their own pace rather than in a group setting
  • The child can be introduced to more difficult lessons as they progress
  • Educators observe children and match lessons to child development
  • Multi age classrooms


Dr. Maria Montessori was Italy’s first woman doctor. In 1907, at the start of the 20th century, she opened the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome to help poor children get an education. Maria Montessori stopped sing traditional ways to teach and started putting her own theories about how to teach children in the classroom.

The Casa dei Bambini was different because it taught each child based on where he or she was in life. Dr. Montessori encouraged children to take charge of what they wanted to learn and worked with each child to create a personalised education that played to that child’s strengths. Children were told to work together and cooperate to reach their goals.

In 1909, Dr. Montessori described her educational process in detail in Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini. In English, her book was called The Montessori Education. It caught the attention of teachers all over the world, and over the next 20 years, Montessori schools opened on all six continents.

Learn more about the Montessori Method through this article by Montessori Australia.

Similarities between Steiner and Montessori 

Progressive approaches like those offered by both Montessori schooling and Steiner school or Waldorf to young children have been tried and tested for over a century of teaching children. While the two have their own unique qualities, they also share many practices in common.

Decentralised learning materials

Both Montessori and Waldorf teachers will almost never provide class lectures. This allows students tend to move around class, work on their own tasks, interact and work with peers as they please. Instead, the educational approach is to observe, guide, and sometimes give brief lessons to students either one-on-one or in small groups.

Flexible curriculum

There is no fixed curriculum for both Montessori and Waldorf. In both learning environment, students are free to choose their activities, projects, and materials for learning. They can work at their own pace to satisfy their own learning, interest and curiosity. Teachers are available to guide them but students are given independence and freedom in the learning process.

Holistic approach

Waldorf and Montessori both have a holistic approach in childcare and aim to educate the whole child, meeting the developmental stages. There is an emphasis on practical skills, social skills, character traits and important values.

Limited technology

Waldorf is very strict about limiting children’s exposure to mainstream media. Waldorf wants children to construct their own worlds. Except for the upper school levels, computers are not allowed in Waldorf classrooms.

In a Montessori classroom, technology such as computers, tablets, whiteboards, and televisions is rarely used.

Both the Montessori approach and Waldorf approach encourage the development of children’s imaginations. Since watching TV gives children something to copy, not to create, it is difficult for them to embrace popular media.

Differences between Steiner and Montessori

One major difference in the Montessori and Waldorf method is that the former is child-centered while the latter is teacher-centered. Children in a Montessori classroom are of mixed ages and can learn from and teach each other. Waldorf schools have a teacher with a central role and typically follow grade structures.

Creativity and the arts

Unlike the Montessori method that provide less attention to creative pursuits such as painting, music and play, Steiner education is infused with creativity, art and music.

Imagination is fostered in Montessori classrooms through hands-on experiences, while Steiner schools emphasise stories and games. Many lessons in Waldorf incorporate music, drama, dance, the visual arts, and other artistic elements and are important parts of their curriculum.

Use of pretend play

In Waldorf philosophy, play is seen as a young child’s work, and the magic of the child’s imagination, which is so alive at that age, is an important part of how the teacher works with the child. Waldorf use pretend play by making up stories or fantasies and using imaginative play as a part of learning.

In Montessori, instead of ‘play,’ the word ‘work’ is used to describe a child’s activities because they are just as important as those of an adult. While Montessori does not at all discourage creative play, it is more interested in cultivating practical life activities, like using weaving materials, than toys and stories that are made up. In Montessori inspired centres, teachers may invite children to do real tasks that support children’s learning through practical skills.

Focus on nature and the environment

A Montessori school will educate children about nature and have outdoor activities. However, Steiner schools honour and nurture play and wonder by providing ample time to have adventures in the natural world. Young students spend more time outdoors than they do indoors and are encouraged to slow down, savour the environment through their senses, and really enjoy their atmosphere. The learning materials and educational toys are usually made of wood or natural materials and have simple designs.

Core academics

Montessori schools put more emphasis on core subjects in preschool while most genuine Steiner schools don’t teach academic subjects formally until primary school in first or second grade. In a Waldorf school, the day is filled with pretend play, fairies, art, music, and other arts. Even though there are many activities in oral language, music, and constructive and creative play in a Waldorf curriculum, there is no written language in books and no instruction in other academic areas. Reading, writing, and math are put off until about age seven.

On the other hand, Montessori children are given the chance to do:

  • Practical life activities like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of themselves, each other, and the environment.
  • Sensorial activities like working with materials to learn different things such as shapes, sounds, forms, feel, and colour discrimination.
  • Math by working with manipulatives, such as beads and weaving materials.
  • Language and reading by learning letter sounds and understanding how each letter is formed by tracing their fingers over sandpaper letters.

Which is better for your child: Steiner vs Montessori?

As a parent, deciding on your child’s education or form of mainstream schooling or alternative schooling is one of the most important choices you’ll ever have to make. Whether you choose a Montessori or Waldorf teaching method or a more traditional early childhood educational method, remember that it is more important that your child has a good first experience.

Choose a Steiner inspired setting or a genuine Waldorf private school if you want your kids to learn to be creative in a teacher-led predictable, routine setting with little or no technology.

Decide on a Montessori service if you would prefer that your child do things on their own and learn on their own pace through natural curiosity and ability.

Identify your children’s interests by observing them play at home. If your children’s interests include self directed play or free play, then a Montessori environment will suit them. If they prefer unstructured, open-ended and imaginative play then you may want to check out a Steiner inspired setting.

Build your preference on an educational philosophy by finding what’s available. Do not base your decision on limited research. Find an early childhood education centres through Space. In the end, better academic scores only come second to your child learning to love and trust themselves, their teachers, and each other in a safe, planned space.

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