Monday, May 18, 2015

Best Schools: Waldorf or Montessori?

What education philosophy is the best approach for your child, Waldorf or Montessori?

Montessori schools follow a child-centered pedagogical approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and characterized by an emphasis on heuristic learning, independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social-emotional development. Her special teaching philosophy continues to capture the attention of parents and educators across the world. The popularity increased rapidly in the 1920s but slowly began to fade out in the 1940s due in part to WWII. Today, 100 years later, there are still Montessori schools that are open and accepting students. The Montessori philosophy uses a child-directed approach. This means that students are able to learn at their own pace and it is the teacher's job to provide guidance to the students' specific needs or interest. Students are grouped together in three-year ranges. For example, one room may have students from ages 3-5 in it. The older students assist the teacher in teaching the younger students by being role models.

Many educational practices exists under the name "Montessori", the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential: 
  • Mixed age classrooms
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours
  • A constructivist or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
  • Freedom of movement within the classroom
  • A trained Montessori teacher 

However, there is an alternate education system that is competing for popularity with Montessori Schools. This is the Waldorf schools. Waldorf (Steiner) education is a humanistic and holistic approach to pedagogy based on the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Waldorf pedagogy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning and aims to integrate intellectual, practical, and artistic approaches to the curriculum. Especially for younger children, qualitative methods of assessment are preferred over quantitative and summative methods. Individual teachers and schools have a great deal of autonomy in determining curriculum content, teaching methodology and governance. The Waldorf method uses a play-centered approach. There is emphasis on singing, fantasy, and in short, play activities. There are no desks so the students feel like they are at home as opposed to in an academic environment. That is, until the students begin their academic classes at the age of seven. Also, up to this point the students are not given homework or tests because Waldorf does not follow the traditional grading system. 

Waldorf Schools or Montessori schools?
The students who attend Waldorf schools do not begin academic learning until much later than those who are in Montessori schools. The students who attend Waldorf begin their academic learning when they are seven years old. The philosophy behind this is that traditional learning is often thought of as boring. Children should be able to be children and the learning can be put off as long as possible. They generally spend their time in play with make-believe stories and fairy tales. The students in Montessori schools are given the option of playing or learning how to take care of themselves and others by learning skills such as cooking and cleaning. It is found that when they are given the option, they will choose real work over play almost every time.

Montessori Home Preschooling?

Developed from key principals of Dr. Maria Montessori, this style of teaching and learning aims at duplicating natural laws that a child faces in real life. Thus the aim of the parent is to guild the environment and not the child. It is observed that children who are left free to interact with their natural environment developed an innate self-discipline, love for order and natural curiosity.
The Montessori method of teaching is especially suitable to the 
preschoolers who wants to do everything by himself. Finding ways in which your child can participate in the cleaning, washing, 
cooking, gardening and other 'adult' activities sets the perfect 
backdrop for the learning experience. By providing such 
opportunities for independence, the child's self-esteem also gets 
a huge boost.

Artistic, cultural and scientific activities abound in the Montessori Preschool with 3-6 year olds. There is no TV, junk food, or computer. Education material are selected carefully. The child is never forced to work. Instead, he is encouraged to do things that interest him, and the parent picks up the teaching from cues given by the child. 

The Montessori method focuses on the child's inborn ability to learn from his surroundings. Thus the parent aims to encourage the natural curiosity of the child. He is never forced to learn or explore. When the child understands why he needs to learn something, he will love the learning process.

At Waldorf schools the students stay with other children their age. They have the same teacher from the time they are in kindergarten up until when they are in eighth grade. This gives the teacher time to know the students and teach them how they learn best. It is not until the students are learning their academic areas that they are in desks with the teacher lecturing. This helps to separate play time from learning time because the environment changes. In Montessori schools, the children are not grouped by age. Instead, they are grouped in age ranges such as 3-6 years old. The teacher gives the lesson to the students individually and then the students teach each other. The students are given the choice of what to work on or study so they are in control of their learning.

Fantasy and imagination are crucial to the Waldorf philosophy. This philosophy views play as integral to the learning process. In the early years, the teachers incorporate song and fantasy as often as possible. The Montessori schools believe that fantasy and imagination are very important to the creative process, but they do not put as much emphasis on it as Waldorf schools do. On the contrary, they introduce the students to the real world and how to navigate through it with a creative and open mind.
Yes, Waldorf schools and Montessori schools are very similar. Both of the schools put emphasis on teaching the whole child. The Waldorf philosophy is more focused on play and making learning fun where the Montessori philosophy is focused on directing students to make better choices when it comes to their education. Parents know their children better than anyone and should send them where they think they will be the most successful. Children learn in different ways. Some environments would be good for your child and you would see them thrive. However, the same environment could also cause your child to fall behind.

Before we can see how they are different, we must first see how they are the same. They have a lot of commonalities that tend to make the differences not as clear. Both schools have an emphasis on respecting the child as an individual. They both want to protect the child from the stress of everyday life and the overuse of technology. In fact, Waldorf does not use technology in their classrooms and they recommend the same environment to the parents. Many tech gurus and silicon valley visionaries send their children to Waldorf schools. Both of the educational philosophies stress the importance of learning with the natural environment and only using natural products. All of the education is focused on the child and this is how decisions are made about the curriculum. It all sounds so lovely, doesn't it?

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