Creative Child

A Different Kind of Classroom

Unpacking the Waldorf and Montessori Traditions

Julia Child. Chelsea Clinton. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. What do these successful folks share in common? A Montessori education. Advocates of non-traditional elementary schools argue that tossing out tests and rote learning in favor of creativity and freedom begets smarter, happier kids, but is an alternative classroom right for your child? We break down two fast-growing approaches. Here are some parenting tips on choosing schools.

Waldorf Schools

The history: The Waldorf method was developed in the early 1900s by German spiritual-scientific researcher Rudolf Steiner. His education-as-art approach seeks to stimulate children's hands and hearts as well as their minds.

The approach: All the world's a stage, and childhood is its wondrous first act. Waldorf's rich curriculum encourages kids to seek meaning through interactions with music, myth, theater, writing, dance, language, and nature. Waldorf divides development into three phases: birth to six/seven years, seven to 14 years, and 14 to 18 years. The idea? Inspire kids with age-appropriate curriculum tailored to awaken their natural empathy and curiosity. Young learners are dazzled with music and make-believe, with traditional academic subjects delayed until grade one and reading deferred until after writing. The use of electronic media (especially television) is heartily discouraged at home.

Related Article: How Changing My Language Changed My Child's Outlook

The classroom: Waldorf classes run from preschool through high school. School grounds are lovingly decorated with colorful student murals and boast rambling gardens. During the elementary years, students have the same teacher and classmates for up to eight years. There is little competitive testing and few textbooks before fifth grade. In lieu of grades, teachers provide comprehensive yearly evaluations.

Things to Consider: Waldorf's strict screen-time policies can be tough to enforce, and delaying reading skills may disadvantage kids who later transfer to a traditional school or have latent disabilities. Many Waldorf schools also lack ethnic diversity.

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