Comparative Research: Montessori and Waldorf Methods of Education Compared

The Montessori and Waldorf Methods of Education are continually listed among the best Methods of Education in the world. Both Methods were created in Europe during the first half of the 20th century and since then, have gone on to independently inspire the creation of more than 1000 Montessori and Waldorf learning environments all over the world. Because of their likenesses, for example, both Methods take on a well-rounded approach to education, many of today’s environments that have adopted either one of these Methods, typically change these Methods in some way. On account of that then, this article strives to look at what both Methods entailed in their original form. The article also seeks to set both Methods against one another, reviewing the similarities and differences between these two Methods. The article opens with the similarities and then, looks at the dissimilarities. By the end of the article, it is clear that although the similarities and differences are apparent, it is still difficult to indicate which Method is the best for it is their differences that make each of them significant.

Children learning through play.
Image Credit: http://www.healthaffairs.org

Dr Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who created the Montessori Method of Education. Dr Montessori worked with children from the late 1890s up until the earliest years of the 1950s, first as a physician, and later on, as an educator. In 1907, encouraged by her work with children with different mental disabilities in the psychiatric clinic at the University of Rome, she decided to start a Children’s House in an apartment building in Rome for children from low-income families. As she worked in her Children’s House as an educator, she developed the Montessori Method of Education, adopting a well-rounded approach to education, and laying emphasis on the importance of respecting the child. Her Method accepted as true that children passed through several stages of development and added that, on account of that, children’s development had to be placed at the heart of education.

Furthermore, her Method also relied on the belief that children had absorbent minds, adding that it was because children had absorbent minds, that they had natural desires to learn. Dr Montessori judged that because children had absorbent minds, they had to be in environments that encouraged a life-long love of learning, environments that encouraged them to use their imaginations. What’s more, her Method also relied on the idea that movement enriched both thinking and learning. As a result, children in Montessori environments used hands-on learning materials, driving them to learn by using all of their senses. Additionally, because her Method rejected the idea of attaching penalties or rewards to activities, believing that assigning grades to tests, for example, negatively impacted children’s willingness to participate in activities when the reward was no longer there, there were, therefore, no tests or grades in Montessori environments. Children were assessed using approaches that weren’t tied to rewards or punishments.

Comparable to the Montessori Method, was the Waldorf Method, created by Austrian philosopher and social reformer, Rudolf Steiner. The First World War had brought great difficulties into being for Germany and after considering this moment in time, Steiner recognized the need for new and different approaches to organizing German society, adding that the country’s education system was one of the structures that needed to be reviewed and re-organized. In 1919, because of his work as a social reformer, he came to help a cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, start a school – Die Freie Waldorfschule – for the children whose parents worked at the factory. Like Dr Montessori’s earliest experiences at her Children’s House, it was also from this school that Steiner truly developed his Method. Yet again, similar to the Children’s House which was intended to provide schooling to Rome’s poorest children, Steiner’s first Waldorf School was, by the same token, intended to provide schooling to Stuttgart’s children irrespective of their family’s socio-economic background.

Moreover, resembling the Montessori Method, the Waldorf Method also took on a well-rounded approach to education, recognising and respecting the idea that children were made up of more than just a rational mind, while also highlighting the importance of respecting children. Plus, like the Montessori Method, the Waldorf Method also drew attention to children’s development, drawing the Method, in particular, around 3 stages of development which were – early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. Not unlike Dr Montessori’s Method, Steiner’s Method also focused on the use and development of children’s imagination especially during the 2nd stage of development. In addition, like the Montessori Method, the Waldorf Method also avoided evaluating children using tests and grades. Though this was the case during children’s earliest years in Waldorf environments, children were, however, assessed using tests and grades as they reached higher grades.

While there were several noticeable similarities between these two methods, there were also a handful of important differences. Although both methods were developed in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, the Montessori Method was developed in Italy by a female physician to meet children’s learning needs. Even though both Methods underlined the importance of respecting the child, both Montessori and Waldorf Methods went about doing so in different ways. For example, the Montessori Method was built upon the rule of non-interference. That is to say, the Method stressed independence, freedom within limits, and consideration for children’s development. Dr Montessori’s Method also emphasized that children had to take responsibility for their learning, that learning was enriched when children had some sense of control over their learning. Within Montessori environments then, children were allowed to choose the activities that they would like to work on during every 3-hour block of work time.

Dr Montessori’s Method also regarded the environment as incredibly important to learning. The Method held that it was the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment that encouraged learning. Even so, the role of the teacher was to not only create a prepared environment that encouraged learning but, it was also to act as a facilitator, guiding the process of learning, and never getting in the way of learning. The Method also inspired a well-rounded approach to learning through its curriculum. Within Montessori environments, children were not only taught literacy and numeracy skills but, they were also taught social skills like learning to be considerate of others as well as practical life skills like learning to set the table. The Method also embraced the idea of supporting children’s development through mixed-age classrooms, gathering children into 3-year groupings, letting younger children learn alongside and from older children. While these were some of the values that were assumed by the Montessori Method, it is also important to look at how Dr Montessori’s Method was nothing like Steiner’s Method.

As mentioned earlier, the Waldorf Method was developed in Germany, just north of Italy, by a male philosopher to equip children and adolescents to develop into responsible and independent adults. Steiner, who adopted a well-rounded approach to education, believed in the importance of educating the mind, body, and soul of each child, believing that each property had a unique way of learning and that the process of education had to reflect this. Though both the Montessori and Waldorf Methods focused on children’s development, the Waldorf Method’s ideas were markedly different from those of the Montessori Method. The Waldorf Method believed that children developed in 7-year cycles, that certain qualities had to be respected during each cycle, and that the programme had to be designed to support each stage of children’s development. For example, different from the Montessori Method which encouraged play but rejected imaginative play, the Waldorf Method, on the other hand, encouraged children to learn through meaningful imitation and creative play during the first stage of development which addressed children’s physical development.

In addition, not like Montessori environments where the teacher was seen as a facilitator, Waldorf environments were teacher-driven with teachers often remaining with the same learners for more than 5 years at times. The curriculum was developmental, highlighting the importance of developing children’s emotional lives ahead of the development of their intellectual lives. Steiner believed that to raise independent and responsible adults, it was important to build a healthy body first, a healthy soul second, and third, a healthy mind. Also, even though both Methods focused on teaching literacy, numeracy, social, and practical life skills, in Waldorf environments, however, in addition to children painting, singing, role-playing, reciting poems, and baking, children also engaged in routine work like organising their classrooms. Subjects were also managed as projects and were introduced through pictures and stories. Because textbooks weren’t used, children were encouraged to learn by listening to stories and creating imageries from these stories.

These then are among the most important values that set both Methods of Education apart from one another. Although both the Montessori and Waldorf Methods were created in Europe, during the first half of the 20th century, and both had adopted related views with regard to the importance of children’s development, imaginations, and environments, these Methods, however, also had very important dissimilarities. These dissimilarities included the role of teachers, the curriculum, as well as how children learnt. Notably, although responsibility appeared as an important issue in both Methods, both Methods, however, held different views on the subject of responsibility. While the Montessori Method believed in letting children assume responsibility for their learning, the Waldorf Method, on the other hand, believed in actually preparing children to develop into responsible adults. Even so, even though there were these noticeable similarities and differences, both Methods seem to have understood not only the importance of a well-rounded approach to education but too, the importance of training children to grow to take on responsible for their own learning.

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