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What’s the difference between Steiner and Montessori?


When it comes to describing methods of teaching various education philosophies, people always start with “What’s the difference between Steiner and Montessori?”. It’s an area that interests me  … so many people are asking me what the difference is between Montessori and Steiner. If you don’t know anything and are looking for a basic parent’s-view explanation, this blog is for you.

I’ll start by saying that Montessori seems to be quite serious in focus, in comparison to Steiner’s Waldorf (if you hear of Waldorf, it is the education philosophy and technique taught by Rudolf Steiner). Steiner is for the whole child with an emphasis on earth and imagination, where Montessori is for little minds who want to be empowered – to learn and develop useful skills, and even mimic adult activities in a smaller setting.

Montessori and Steiner have their similarities in that they are both child-led, individualised, gentle experiences. They both encourage natural learning and are perfect for Natural Learners.

Rudolf Steiner believed that children can be left to be children, up until the age of 7. He encouraged that they be free to use their imagination and make-believe, play, explore physically, emotionally and spiritually, and most of all, creatively. His schooling program involved rhythm and routine, group activities in 20-30 minute blocks, singing and gentle movements, ceremonies, celebrations of the seasons, and gross-motor and creative (hand making) activities and interactions with the real world, i.e., earth and its creations.

Embracing that the foundations for reading and learning begin with listening and interacting in everyday life, Steiner schools don’t introduce formal curriculum for learning to read and write until age seven. This is on the premise that learning to read and write on paper will distract the child from developing their gross motor skills fully, and will also affect their development emotionally, spiritually and creatively, which are the most essential skills to develop before age 7. At age 7, some Steiner schools have a concentrated 6-week literacy program that children respond exceptionally well, and usually the children can read/write even better than their non-Steiner peers. This is because they have developed so completely in all other areas, that the words, sounds and visual characters, and ability to write and draw, comes easily and naturally.

Maria Montessori developed her schooling system for children who had difficulties learning in a large group, and found that most young minds were yearning to learn and be challenged. She felt that children must learn for the sake of ‘now’ and for fully exploring and enjoying the present day – not learning for the sake of the future and what is next to come (I love this aspect).

Montessori schools focus on taking advantage of the child’s early years because the mind learns so readily and productively in this time. By allowing the child to work at their own height with materials created for their special little size, we can stimulate their current psychological and physiological abilities, and the child can easily learn and grow and advance to more difficult challenges – when they are interested and ready to advance.

I personally found that my son started to need the challenges that Montessori presented at age 3. Without the focus, individualised activities and the challenging tasks, he resorts to hyperactivity and detachment from his environment, and he started to use his energy in other obstructive ways, such as jumping on furniture and snatching from me to get attention.

But I only give him the Montessori experience 1-2 days per week for small periods – that is, as long as he is clear in focus and is interested. I feel it is extremely important to put imagination, creativity, music, candle-type ceremonies, bread-making, nature-walks, crafts, outside play and story-times, with my company, guidance and friendship, first. So Steiner influences 70% of our week – Montessori the remaining 30%.

I hope this has helped you! For those who know more than I do (I’m sure there are thousands of practised Steiner and Montessori parents around Australia) please give me feedback on how you have liked Steiner and Montessori and what you have loved most.

Day by day we aim to repair our bodies and have trust, faith and optimism for the future. You can join me as I walk to wellness in the private facebook group Joanna Haley Homestead (Journey to Wellness)

Joanna Haley, Author

6 thoughts on “What’s the difference between Steiner and Montessori?”

  1. Hi Joanna,
    Thank you for sharing this information. I am also exploring the Montessori and Steiner approach for my 2 years old son. Ideally 1.5 days Montessori child care and 3 days Steiner child care. The challenge I have is the travel time for my little one to get to a Steiner child care, about 40 mins each way. My husband and I feel comfortable with the commitment because it is along the way to our work but I am unsure the impact it has on the little one to travel 80 mins (40 mins each way) in a car for 3 consecutive days. Another thing to consider is pulling him out of the existing centre where he has spent over 1 year there and starting to make little friends there… Do you have any views? help..

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for reaching out and sharing in this conversation with me 🙂 I personally feel it will all depend on the centre’s individual ambience, and the staff who work there and their contributions, and how well their personalities fit with your family culture. My experience is that a combination of Steiner, Montessori, Reggio, is also great and it has the added benefit of flexibility. I have found the best thing for us is a community preschool that combines the above with an art program and outdoors program. It suits our family because we also love home schooling and more outdoor / child led exploration and imagination time. What did you end up trying, or deciding?

      1. Hi Joanne, thanks for your response, we have been going to the steiner based child care for 2 weeks now, I can see a lot of positives already but at the same time we have to overcome the logistics challenge because my son seems exhausted. It might be just the transition and the weather… We have to see how it goes…

  2. Hi Ladies, I’m looking at doing a mix of Montessori and Steiner centers for my 3 year old son. Do either of you have any recommendations on Centres especially Steiner based ones?

  3. Hi Joanna,
    I am opening a Family Day Care and found your website while researching philosophies. My son is 3.5 years old and has started at the Steiner Pre-School. He has been with me the entire time up until now. I don’t know your background but I am wondering why you think your son finds it difficult during the day at the Steiner pre-school? I am having the same issue with my son. I have decided to pick him up early as he has been so worked up and almost in his own hyperactive world upon my arrival.

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