General Education

Montessori, Sudbury, Waldorf, Steiner: What’s the Difference?

Montessori, Sudbury, Waldorf, Steiner: What’s the Difference?
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Noodle Staff June 28, 2012

Noodle breaks down the educational philosophy behind Montessori, Waldorf/Steiner, and Democratic schools.

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When trying to decide what type of school is best for your child, it’s important to make sure that a school reflects your child’s personality and learning needs. Here are the basics you need to know about 3 popular types of alternative schools: Montessori, Waldorf / Steiner, and Democratic schools.

Montessori Schools

Montessori education emphasizes psychological development, independence, and spontaneous activity. Based on the philosophy that individuals develop themselves through interaction with their surrounding environment, the Montessori classroom typically contains students of mixed ages. Students learn through experience and are provided with uninterrupted blocks of time during during which they choose from a variety of different educational activities. In elementary, middle and high school, materials and lessons cover a wide variety of subjects, including work in mathematics, language, history, science and art.

Waldorf / Steiner Schools

Waldorf (also known as Steiner) education is characterized by interdisciplinary learning that emphasizes the role of imagination and creative thinking. Students are encouraged to develop analytic and creative thinking skills in order to become free, morally responsible individuals. In the U.S. there are both public and private Waldorf schools.

The approach is based on the philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s theory of educational development. Curriculum is structured around 3 major stages: early childhood (birth through age 7), elementary school years (ages 7-14) and adolescence (ages 14-18).

According to Steiner, early childhood learning is experiential and imitation-based. Students are given ample time for guided free play in a home-like environment and outdoors. Children learn through interaction with simple materials, nature, songs and story-telling. Emphasis is placed on helping children experience daily, monthly and annual rhythms.

Elementary education centers around a multi-disciplinary arts-based curriculum that often involves arts, craft, drama, movement, and music. Students learn 2 foreign languages, with afternoons often devoted to languages arts and mathematics.

High school curriculum focuses more strongly on traditional academic subjects. It is designed to foster a sense of social responsibility and ethical understanding in students. Pupils are encouraged to think independently and creatively.

Democratic Schools

Democratic schools are unique in that students are responsible for their own education. Schools do not have set curriculum or academic grades. During the school day, students are free to choose what they’d like to do and education takes place primarily through free play with students of all age groups. Democratic schools are governed by democracy in which each student and faculty member has one vote and school-wide rules are decided by the majority.

Although the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy was one of the first practitioners of democratic education, the first American democratic school, the Sudbury School, was founded in 1968 and was followed the next year by the Albany Free School.

These are just a few of the options to explore when choosing a school for your child. Learn more about charter, magnet and parochial schools or start a Noodle search to get recommendations for K-12 schools that fit your family’s needs and preferences.

Image Sources: Montessori; Waldorf, Sudbury


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