Creative Child

A Different Kind of Classroom

Unpacking the Waldorf and Montessori Traditions


Montessori Schools

The history: Early in the 20th century, Italian doctor Maria Montessori honed her approach while working with Rome's poor youth. Her method views play as a child's "work," and places kids  "not teachers" at the center of the educational experience.

The approach: Schedules, be gone! The Montessori tradition nurtures freedom by letting kids learn uninterrupted and on their own terms. Children work through weekly study plans in the order and pace they choose, with emphasis on true-to-life tasks such as cleaning, studying maps, and caring for pets or plants. Teachers are facilitators, guiding quietly from the periphery. Learning is gauged through oral exams, presentations, portfolios and self-assessments. Families are often asked to significantly limit at-home screen-time.

The classroom: Formal education begins at age three, and many schools run through grade eight. Students stay with one teacher for several years running, and the emphasis on diversity and community means classes are large (25-30 kids each), with a two-to-three-year age range. Younger children learn from older peers, who mature through this mentoring. Classrooms are buzzing workshops filled with realistic, tactile learning materials, and children move about freely, dusting, polishing, sewing, and hammering.

Things to Consider: Mixed-age classrooms may disadvantage older or gifted kids, while easily over-stimulated or aggressive children may not thrive in this less-structured environment. As with Waldorf, strict screen-time rules may be unrealistic for some families.

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Related Article: Are you thinking about homeschooling your child?

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