How Does Montessori Compare With Waldorf?

Students at a Montessori school speaking with the state governor.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Montessori and Waldorf schools are two popular kinds of schools for preschool and elementary school-age children. But many people aren't sure what the differences are between the two schools. 

Different Founders

  • A Montessori school follows the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), a medical doctor and anthropologist. The first Casa dei Bambini, a "house of children" rather than a school, was opened in 1907 in Rome, Italy. 
  • A Waldorf school follows the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). The first Waldorf School was founded in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. It was intended for the workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company after the company's director requested such. 

Different Teaching Styles

Montessori Schools believe in following the child. This way, the child chooses what he wants to learn and the teacher guides the learning. This approach is very hands-on and student-directed. 

Waldorf uses a teacher-directed approach in the classroom. Academic subjects are not introduced to children until an age that is typically later than that of students in Montessori Schools. Traditional academic subjects — math, reading, and writing — are viewed as not the most enjoyable learning experiences for children and are such put off until the age of seven or so. Instead, students are encouraged to fill their days with imaginative activities, such as playing make-believe, art, and music.


Montessori has no set spirituality per se. It is very flexible and adaptable to individual needs and beliefs.

Waldorf is rooted in anthroposophy. This philosophy believes that in order to understand the workings of the universe, people must first have an understanding of humanity.

Learning Activities

Montessori and Waldorf recognize and respect a child's need for rhythm and order in his daily routine. They choose to recognize that need in different ways. Take toys, for example. Madame Montessori felt that children shouldn't just play but should play with toys that will teach them concepts. Montessori schools use Montessori designed and approved toys.

A Waldorf education encourages the child to create his own toys from materials that happen to be at hand. Using the imagination is the child's most important work, according to the Steiner Method.

Both Montessori and Waldorf use curricula which are developmentally appropriate. Both approaches believe in a hands-on as well as an intellectual approach to learning. Both approaches also work in multi-year cycles when it comes to child development. Montessori uses six-year cycles. Waldorf works in seven-year cycles.

Both Montessori and Waldorf have a strong sense of societal reform built into their teaching. They believe in developing the whole child, teaching children to think for themselves, and, above all, showing them how to avoid violence. These are beautiful ideals that will help build a better world for the future.

Montessori and Waldorf use non-traditional methods of assessments. Testing and grading are not part of either methodology.

Use of Computers and TV

Montessori generally leaves the use of popular media to the individual parents to decide. Ideally, the amount of TV a child watches will be limited. Ditto the use of cellphones and other devices.

Waldorf is usually pretty rigid about not wanting young people exposed to popular media. Waldorf wants children to create their own worlds. You will not find computers in a Waldorf classroom except in upper school grades.

The reason why TV and DVDs are not popular in Montessori and Waldorf circles is that both want children to develop their imaginations. Watching TV gives children something to copy, not to create. Waldorf tends to place a premium on fantasy or imagination in the early years, even to the point where reading is somewhat delayed.

Adherence to Methodology

Maria Montessori never trademarked or patented her methods and philosophy. Therefore, you can find many flavors of Montessori teachings in many different schools. Some schools are very strict in their interpretation of Montessori precepts. Others are much more eclectic. Just because it says Montessori doesn't mean that it is the real thing.

Waldorf schools, on the other hand, tend to stick pretty close to standards set out by the Waldorf Association.

See for Yourself

There are many other differences. Some of these are obvious, while others are more subtle. What becomes obvious as you read about both educational methods is how gentle both approaches are.

The only way you will know for sure which approach is best for you is to visit the schools and observe a class or two. Speak with the teachers and director. Ask questions about allowing your children to watch TV and when and how children learn to read. There will be some parts of each philosophy and approach with which you will probably disagree. Determine what the deal-breakers are and choose your school accordingly.

Put another way, the Montessori school your niece attends in Portland won't be the same as the one you are looking at in Raleigh. They both will have Montessori in their name. Both might have Montessori trained and credentialed teachers. But because they are not clones or a franchise operation, each school will be unique. You need to visit and make up your mind based on what you see and the answers you hear.

The same advice applies with respect to Waldorf schools. Visit. Observe. Ask questions. Choose the school which is the best fit for you and your child.


The progressive approaches Montessori and Waldorf offer young children have been tried and tested for almost 100 years. They have many points in common, as well as several differences. Contrast and compare Montessori and Waldorf with traditional preschools and kindergarten and you will see even more differences.


  • Edwards, Carolyn Pope. "Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia." ResearchGate, 2002.
  • "Home." American Montessori Society, 2020, New York, NY.
  • "Home." Rudolf Steiner Web, Daniel Hindes, 2019.
  • "Home." Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2019.
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Kennedy, Robert. "How Does Montessori Compare With Waldorf?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kennedy, Robert. (2023, April 5). How Does Montessori Compare With Waldorf? Retrieved from Kennedy, Robert. "How Does Montessori Compare With Waldorf?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).