Choosing an Alternative to a Conventional Preschool: A Look inside Montessori & Waldorf Education

For many parents choosing the school their child attends is a conversation that happens even before conception. It factors into where they choose to live, how much money they need to make and how many children they have.

Today I will offer an easy way to compare two alternatives to the conventional preschool model.

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Waldorf (Steiner)

  • Academics (math and language) are introduced when the child shows readiness, between the ages of 3 and 4 years old.
  • Academics are introduced around 7 years of age.


  • Children prefer real objects that fulfill a purpose.
  • Learning and play go hand-in-hand. Early learning focuses on make-believe, fairies, and the arts.
  • Children need to be grounded in reality until they are able to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy.
  • Fantasy and play are woven throughout the curriculum.
  • Montessori materials are scientific didactical materials that serve a unique developmental and academic purpose.
  • Children are encouraged to use their imagination with the classroom materials.
  • Lessons and activities are individualized, especially in the early years.
  • Early learning is group work.
  • Classrooms are multi-age and grouped according to 3-year age groupings.


  • Classrooms contain groups of same-age children.


  • Children remain with the same teacher for 3 years.
  •  Children remain with the same teacher for grades 1-8.
  • Children choose their work.
  • Lessons teacher directed (once children reach school age)

Education for the whole child

Montessori and Waldorf both 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 which will help build a better world for the future.

Preserving Childhood

Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori both believed in the importance of childhood and in protecting children from the stress facing adults.

Child Development Focused

Both Montessori and Waldorf use curricula which are developmentally appropriate and have based their education on the needs of children and not on governmental curriculum.

Learn by Doing

Both approaches believe in 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. [pullquote]Montessori is a very good fit for today’s head focused society[/pullquote]
While Montessori and Waldorf both hold the child in high regard there are some significant differences to each approach in regard to play, toys, social development and intellectual development.


Montessori appeals to parents who are very intellectual and have a strong desire for their child to be “kindergarten ready” when they enter the public school system the transition between Montessori and public school can be done relatively easily as the two methods do not differ widely academically.

Rudolf Steiner however was farther outside the box than Ms. Montessori.[pullquote]Steiner takes a much longer view of child development[/pullquote] He strongly believed in the unseen world, that we are spiritual beings. His efforts to speak to and enrich our souls are woven throughout the curriculum offered by Waldorf educators. For parents who are uncomfortable with believing in the ethereal Waldorf is often too far of a stretch. Much of the benefit of a Waldorf education cannot easily be seen until a child reaches adolescence or adulthood. Steiner takes a much longer view of childhood and growth of the human being than we in our immediate gratification based society have come to appreciate.

Montessori provides tangible practical and touchable results which appeal to concerned parents and is a very good fit for today’s society. It takes a special and dedicated parent to hold the ideals of Rudolf Steiner on their parenting path as the unseen world of emotion and spirit is not always immediately apparent.

Obviously a 700 word article cannot do either of these methods true justice but I hope this has been helpful for you in deciding which road you would like to walk down with your family. I encourage you to look more deeply into the work of both of these passionate teachers to learn more about your child’s growth & development.

Krystal Williams is a parent to 3 children in Kamloops BC. She runs several after school life skills programs at Loving Learning Education Development Center.

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