Difference Between Montessori And Waldorf

difference between Montessori and Waldorf

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Both methods of education prioritize the individual needs of your child and encourage self-directed learning and exploration.

But what exactly is the difference between Montessori and Waldorf? I will explain both approaches to education in the simplest way possible.

Montessori prioritizes individualized learning and structured classrooms for independent thinking, while Waldorf emphasizes holistic development through arts, nature, and imaginative play.

We chose the Montessori approach because it aligns with our parenting style but we also apply some of the Waldorf philosophies because it further nurtures our child’s development.

By the end of the article, you will have a solid understanding of each philosophy so you can select the best school for your child or apply the method that resonates with you at home.

Montessori vs Waldorf comparison table





Natural curiosity, independent learning, real-life experiences

Emphasize creativity, imagination, and fantasy


Emphasizes early academic subjects

Flexible curriculum with arts and nature, delays academics

Learning environment

Structured and orderly classrooms

Warm and homely classrooms with natural materials

Use of technology

Limited or no technology use

Limited or no technology use

Age groups in classrooms

Often mixed-age groupings with 3-year span

Grouped by age

Introduction of lessons

Individual lessons given by Guides

Lessons are given in group settings

Play-based learning

Structured play with learning materials

Imaginative play and storytelling


Teacher-student relationship

Strong teacher-student relationships, same teacher over several years

Difference between Montessori and Waldorf

Let’s look at the differences between Montessori and Waldorf by examining each approach separately.

Montessori Philosophy

The Montessori philosophy is based on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, who was an Italian physician and educator and opened her first Montessori School in Italy in 1907. 

This philosophy is child-centered and involves giving children choices of learning activities while the teacher acts as a guide instead of giving instructions and directing all of the learning.

Montessori learning materials

Follow the child

Dr. Montessori observed that children are naturally curious and they have an innate desire to learn about the world around them. 

One of her most famous quotes is “Follow the Child,” and this truly represents the Montessori philosophy.

It means that we, the adults, need to observe our children to see what their interests and needs are.

This way we can adjust their learning environment accordingly to make sure that they are always being met with the right level of developmental challenge. 

So essentially we are creating an environment to meet our children’s needs, and they use this environment to develop themselves.



There is a focus on independence and self-sufficiency in the Montessori approach. One way they become independent is by giving them freedom within limits.

Children independently choose activities that align with their current interests and this helps them learn at their own pace.


Realist books and images 

Montessori environments typically only include realistic images and books with no fantasy or fictional characters. 

Real images resonate with a child’s innate desire to understand and connect with the real world.

This is why you will find books about emotions featuring real images of people rather than illustrations.


Academic subjects

In Montessori, the main focus is the development of children through practical life skills like cleaning and gardening.

But at around age three, children are introduced to academic subjects like math, language, and cultural studies.


Child-size furniture and materials

Montessori classrooms have child-sized furniture and tools made of natural and high-quality materials such as wood and glass.

The room is highly organized with learning materials in baskets or wooden trays and are placed on low open shelves to make it easily accessible to children. 

A lot of the materials you see in a Montessori classroom like the sound cylinders, the pink tower, and cylinder blocks were designed by Dr. Montessori. 

She tested them out and modified them so children could be fully engaged as they worked with these materials.

There are also clearly marked areas in the classroom for the various subjects including language, math, social development, culture and sciences, and practical life activities.


Freedom of movement

The way the room is organized allows children to move about the room as they complete various activities rather than sitting at a desk all day. 

Children also learn to respect everyone’s space and not interrupt as another child works on the activity.


Individual lessons

In a traditional school, you will never see a teacher standing at the front of the room with children sitting at desks and everybody learning at the same time. 

But in a Montessori school, Guides give one-on-one lessons because they can tailor their instructions to meet the specific needs and interests of each child. 

The Montessori Guide can also adapt the pace and style of instruction to match the child’s readiness and learning preferences.


Mixed age groups

Montessori classrooms typically have mixed age groups spanning a full 3 years. Some schools have Montessori programs for babies and infants but are hard to find.

You’ll find classes for children from ages 3 to 6, 6 to 9, etc. This encourages learning and collaboration and fosters a sense of community and empathy among children.


No pretend play 

Other items you will not find in a Montessori school are play kitchens, doll houses, or anything that could be used for imaginative play.

As we mentioned before, the Montessori philosophy promotes connection to reality and encourages children to gain experience through real-world activities.


The Waldorf approach

The Waldorf approach is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who was an Austrian philosopher and a social reformer. 

Believe it or not, he opened the first Waldorf school in a cigarette factory in Germany in 1919. 

He began teaching the children of factory workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company, which is how the philosophy got its name.

Waldorf classroom setup

The head, heart, and hands 

Waldorf’s mantra is “education of the head, heart, and hands.” 

The approach focuses on a child’s intellectual development (“head”), the nurturing of emotional and moral qualities (“heart”), and practical, hands-on skills and abilities (“hands”).


Play-based learning

The Waldorf approach integrates play-based learning with teacher guidance. Play is central to the method that promotes creativity and imagination. 

However, this play is structured and directed by teachers to ensure that it aligns with Waldorf’s educational goals and values.


Imaginative play 

Waldorf education places a strong emphasis on imaginative play as a fundamental element of a child’s development. It encourages creativity, problem-solving, and emotional development. 

But they also include storytelling and fantasy as a way to nurture a child’s imagination.


No academics 

Instead of introducing reading, writing, and arithmetic at an early age, Waldorf allows children to explore their world through play, movement, and artistic activities during the early years. 

This is because they believe that children benefit more from a relaxed and holistic approach that nurtures their physical, emotional, and creative development before starting formal academics.


Classroom setup

Waldorf classrooms are designed to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere. They use lots of pastel colors, wooden toys, essential oils, and candles. 

This sort of fosters a sense of security and comfort.

You will also see walls decorated with artwork from students, which adds a personal touch to the environment. 

The lighting is warm and welcoming and contributes to the overall atmosphere of tranquility and creativity.


Classroom age

All of the children in a Waldorf classroom are the same age and the teacher usually stays with the same group of children for about 5 and 8 years. 

This creates a positive teacher-student bond and also helps the teacher gain a comprehensive understanding of each child’s unique strengths, challenges, and developmental progress.

Similarities between Montessori and Waldorf

Although both approaches have their unique philosophy, they do share some similarities. Let’s take a look at what Montessori and Waldorf have in common.

Outdoor play in Montessori and Waldorf

Child-centered approach

Both Montessori and Waldorf follow a very holistic approach to education. The goal is to educate the whole child. 

Both philosophies believe that children are unique individuals with their own developmental timelines and interests.

Practical life skills

Montessori and Waldorf value the development of practical life skills

Whether it’s through Montessori’s practical life activities or Waldorf’s focus on practical and artistic skills, both methods see these skills as vital for your child’s independence and growth.

Hands-on learning

Both approaches also tend to focus on concrete learning with hands-on learning materials. 

This is because hands-on learning actively engages their senses and allows them to explore, experiment, and discover the world around them. 

This tactile approach also fosters a deeper sense of curiosity and self-directed learning, which ultimately empowers them to be more independent and resourceful.

Natural materials

You will also notice that both approaches use high-quality natural materials such as wood which is the most common material you will see in a Montessori or Waldorf setting.

You will not find plastic or battery-operated toys or similar items, mainly because these types of toys only entertain and fascinate a child rather than promote their development.

Limited use of technology

Both Montessori and Waldorf schools or homes tend to limit or even avoid the use of technology, particularly in the early years. 

They prioritize real-world experiences and prefer human interactions over screen time.

Respect for the child

Both philosophies also emphasize a deep respect for the child. And this is something we do at home.

We give our daughter space when she needs it, we respect her decisions and always follow her needs and interests.

All-weather education

The weather should not interfere with your child’s development. This means that regardless of what the weather is, the children spend a lot of time outdoors.

If it’s snowing, they play in the snow. If it is raining, they play in the rain and jump in puddles, if it is hot, they do a lot of water play.

Love for learning

And finally, both approaches seek to cultivate a love for learning. 

These methods foster a true passion for gaining knowledge to understand and engage with the world around them.

As you can see, there are a few similarities between both methods of education that we also agree on.

So what’s better, Montessori or Waldorf?

This is where you have to take the similarities and differences into consideration.

For us, the Montessori philosophy closely aligns with our parenting style and beliefs and this is why we are raising our daughter using the Montessori approach.

Plus she is in a great Montessori school where her developmental needs are being met. We also apply this method in our home to further nurture her development.

So the bottom line is, if you want your child to be independent, responsible, and confident, then the Montessori approach is right for you.

If you want to nurture your child’s creativity, imagination and hold off on academics, then Waldorf is a great choice.

It’s OK to use both Montessori and Waldorf

Can you mix Waldorf and Montessori? 

If you are looking for a Montessori or a Waldorf school, most likely you will have to choose one because there aren’t any schools that apply both philosophies.

But if you are a stay-at-home parent, homeschooling your child, or simply want to apply these philosophies at home, you have more flexibility and use a little of both approaches.

We use the Montessori method at home for about 95% of the time but we also emphasize nature as a way to learn about our environment.

There is no fantasy in our home but one day our daughter will want to dress up as a princess or other fictional characters and we are going to allow that.

We also allow our daughter to pretend-play using her play kitchen, dolls, and toys that nurture her creativity and imagination.

Play is crucial in brain development, we have a course on the benefits of play where we provide you with the tools to nurture your child’s independence, confidence, and a love for learning, all through play.

So go ahead and enroll in this course. We highly recommend it.

What to do next?

There you have it. These are the differences between Montessori and Waldorf education.

If you go the Montessori route, I have some articles to help you create a Montessori home to nurture your child’s development.

I also recommend some of the best Montessori toys and sensorial activities that foster brain development from birth to childhood.

About Leslie - Latinx Montessori

Hello, I am Leslie. I am on a mission to help you support the growth and development of your child. With the right tools and proper guidance, you can navigate parenthood with confidence and assertion! My goal is to equip you with knowledge to help you construct a strong foundation for your child’s life.

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