Montessori vs. Waldorf: What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference between Montessori and Waldorf?

When Maria Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1907, little could she have known that her ideas would create an educational model to celebrate and honor the individuality of each child—or that her model would endure and grow well over a century later.

Twelve years later, when Rudolf Steiner created the Waldorf School in Stuttgard, Germany in which play and fantasy would be integral elements to a child’s growth, he could not have known that his concepts would be so intriguing—and the source of confusion—for today’s conscientious parents.

Montessori and Waldorf methods are two of the fastest growing educational methods across the globe today. They have much in common, but there are differences in both the theory behind and the implementation of these popular educational systems.

Commonalities Between Waldorf and Montessori Methods

One of the more striking interesting similarities between Waldorf and Montessori methods is that both Montessori and Steiner believed that, in order to meet the needs of society, the needs of the individual need first be addressed. 

Both Montessori and Waldorf schools of thought center around ensuring that each child’s spiritual and creative individuality is nurtured each day. They also address education from a “whole child” standpoint—considering each child’s physical, spiritual, psychological, and mental development—instead of simply cognitive development.

They both lean toward the idea that less is more, limiting the use of computers and technology in exchange for toys that encourage imagination, role play, and the development of fine motor skills. 

They also focus on the importance of forging a connection with the natural environment, eschewing plastic and, instead, focusing on natural materials, and art, theater, music and dance are all encouraged expressions.

As an interesting aside, both Montessori and Steiner ran their schools based on individuality during WWII, and their theories ran counter to fascist ideology. Both were forced to close their schools as a result.

Differences Between Montessori and Waldorf Methods


Maria Montessori was a firm believer that children learn through play. However, she also discovered through her work that children embrace the opportunity to learn real-life skills such as cooking, self-care, cleaning, and caring for each other and the world around them if given the opportunity. In fact, she found that children would often choose these productive work tasks over make-believe if given the choice.

Maria Montessori also learned that children enjoyed when she incorporated age-appropriate math, language, and science lessons into work and play in fun and inventive ways, so she made these academic opportunities part of her method.

In contrast, though the Waldorf Method incorporates play and the arts, it does not incorporate as many life skills or academics into the day until children reach about the age of seven years old.

Division by Age/Level

In the Waldorf method, children are grouped by age, and they advance together each year.

In Montessori schools, children are kept together in groups of three-year spans: 3–6 years; 7–11 years; and 12–15 years. In preschool, the children are grouped into our infant rooms, transition rooms, and toddler rooms. 

As they get older or, in the case of preschool, gain certain skills, they move into the next age span, which often includes children they do not yet know well. This gives each child the opportunity to be a leader (particularly when they are among the oldest in the group), wa learner (often younger members of the group), and to develop socially.

The Role of the Teacher

In a Waldorf school or preschool, the role of the teacher is traditional; children are seated and the teacher leads the class. The teacher chooses the curriculum, and children learn the same lesson altogether.

The teacher or director in a Montessori setting plays a very different role than in Waldorf schools. Lessons are given one-on-one to each child, and are often taught by another child. The child chooses what to study or work on at any given time, and the teacher’s role is to guide the child when necessary.

Montessori allows children to learn by experiencing the world around them. They learn to conduct research and develop critical thinking skills, including problem-solving, because they encounter the need for them in real-life, age-appropriate situations.

The Role of Play

In Waldorf philosophy, fantasy and play are seen as the primary focus for education prior to about the age of seven. Storytelling and pretend play are the foundation for Waldorf-centered learning.

Montessori philosophy also sees play and imagination as integral, but it also includes experiencing work, including age-appropriate tasks, creative endeavors, and tending to each other and to nature. 

In a Montessori school, a child’s activities are termed “work.” That’s because we encourage children to think about work as something that brings satisfaction. 

In our Montessori preschool and in Montessori schools across the globe, we believe it is important to establish the idea that giving of ourselves to complete a task has intrinsic rewards, not just material rewards or acknowledgment by others. 

“Work” is any activity that fulfills our bodies, minds, and hearts, and for that reason, whether that work entails painting a picture or cleaning up a common space. It is a positive experience, and the enjoyment comes in the process itself. 

Visit North American Montessori Preschool

If you would like to learn more about Montessori preschool, contact us today! We encourage you to tour any of our three St. Louis-area facilities, including Kinswood Road in South County; on Watson Road near Crestwood; and on Conway Road near I-64 and Highway 141.

Come see what Montessori can do for your child!

Schedule a visit today!