I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to describing methods of teaching various education philosophies. But it’s an area that interests me and I’m learning quickly … 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.
Joanna Becker, Author and Wellness Medium
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