Interested in the difference in Steiner vs. Montessori education methods? These educational models, conceived in the early 20th century as a response to traditional methods of education really don't have many similarities. These differences reflect the differences between the two founders of the movements, Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori.
Keep reading to learn about these two fascinating people, their theories for educating young minds, and what their educational models look like in practice.
Steiner vs. Montessori: The Founders
Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, the founders of these eponymous educational models, were not educators, interestingly enough. So, who were these pioneers of 20th-century education reform?
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was well-known for a number of different things but educator was not one of them until late in his life. Steiner initially gained a reputation as a literary critic and writer. However, he is remembered today as the founder of anthroposophy, which was Steiner's attempt to discover a bridge connecting science and spirituality. Through his work in anthroposophy, Steiner conceived biodynamic farming and anthroposophical medicine.
It wasn't until 1919 when Emil Mott approached him about creating a school curriculum that Steiner became involved in education. Mott was the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco company in Stuttgart, Germany. He was concerned that the children of his workers would suffer the same fate as their parents without access to a proper education. It was Mott's desire to raise these children beyond their parents' circumstances that led him to ask Steiner to create a method of education that would lift them up.
So it was in 1919 that the first school to bear Steine's name was opened in Stuttgart, Germany.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a confident and tenacious woman who chose to ignore societal expectations and the widespread bias against women in the workforce to earn her place as the lone female in the University of Rome's Medical School class of 1896. Dr. Montessori focussed on pediatrics and psychiatry in her final two years of medical school. Upon graduation, she continued her research at the University's psychiatric clinic.
Part of her research consisted of visiting asylums in Rome where Montessori encountered children with mental disabilities. It was these children who reminded her of the works of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard (1774-1838) and Édouard Séguin (1812-1880). Itard was a French physician who is remembered for his pioneering work in educating the deaf. Séguin, also a French physician, wrote about his methods of educating children with mental disabilities. It was this revelation that influenced Montessori to pursue educating children with mental disabilities who had been written off by society, in much the same manner as women.
In the decade between earning her medical degree and teaching her first Montessori class, Dr. Montessori was a busy woman. She was auditing classes, presenting lectures, and translating the works for her mentors, Itard and Séguin from French into Italian – by hand. She also gave birth to her only child, Mario Montessori, the product of her relationship with Giuseppe Montesano, a fellow physician. As a result of societal expectations of the day, had Montessori chosen to rear Mario herself, she would have been expected to relinquish her career to care for her child. As such, Mario was reared in the countryside away from Rome, though his mother was a frequent visitor.
So it was in 1906 that Maria Montessori found herself helming a class of students using the method that continues to bear her name today.
Steiner vs. Montessori: Teacher Roles
The role of the teacher is one of the most profound differences between these two progressive education models.
In Steiner schools, teachers are authority figures and mentors, afforded respect and reverence. The direct instruction method of teaching is the norm in Steiner classrooms. In this method, the teacher is standing in front of a class of students who are sitting at desks; the teacher is presenting information using a story format, or presenting a lecture, depending on the grade level. This portion of the day is the morning lesson or main lesson.
At the conclusion of the story or lecture, the children settle into their morning work. Teachers who are working with younger students model the work, creating their own morning lesson work, usually in the form of a drawing in a morning lesson workbook. Older students work independently, creating their own textbooks, consisting of intricate drawings, disseminating and distilling the information presented in the morning lesson in artistically rendered cursive writing.
It is not uncommon for Steiner teachers to loop with their students, staying with them from first grade through eighth grade, creating an indelible bond between the teacher and the students.
Montessori classrooms are child-centered. In Montessori classrooms, the teacher is a gentle guide. There is neither morning lesson nor morning work beyond that which the individual child deems necessary. The Montessori method recognizes that children are capable of teaching themselves, and as such Montessori students are the planners of their day. The Montessori teacher is a full-time observer as well as a part-time director. The teacher is a mediator when classroom scuffles escalate to a point that requires intervention, and dispenses suggestions regarding best practices and safety protocols. Students, however, are responsible for their own academics.
Steiner vs. Montessori: Curriculum
Curriculum, or lack thereof, is another area in which these two models of education diverge.
The rich curriculum used in Steiner schools was created and developed by Rudolf Stiner himself. Steiner outlined a general theme for each grade level:
- First Grade: Fairy Tales and Fables,
- Second Grade: Saints and Legends
- Third Grade: Old Testament Stories
- Fourth Grade: Norse Mythology
- Fifth Grade: Ancient Culture
- Sixth Grade: The Middle Ages
- Seventh Grade: The Age of Exploration
- Eight Grade: Revolutions
However, the individual teacher decides the best way to implement the theme. For example, the third grade Steiner curriculum calls for the study of Old Testament stories. However, the teacher may choose to teach creation myths from around the world. And one fifth grade teacher may focus on ancient India, while another may concentrate on ancient Greece. Steiner believed that the teacher was the final authority in decisions regarding their class, free of interference from administrators and administration.
Apart from the central theme for each grade, Steiner school students stay busy learning a variety of practical arts from knitting and crocheting to machine sewing and woodworking. Music is also in the curriculum that Steiner proposed. Children have singing classes in the lower grades (1-5), which develop into a choir in the upper grades (6-8). Along the way these students have perfected four-part harmonies, singing acapella, and singing in rounds.
In the first grade, Steiner students each receive their own pentatonic flute. In third grade, they not only begin to play recorders, but also begin studying a stringed instrument. Some Steiner schools introduce wind instruments in fifth grade, as well. The upper grades have orchestra classes that culminate with two performances a year.
Curriculum is simply not a part of the Montessori method. Rather than concentrating on developing a curriculum. Maia Montessori conceived five principles for educating children:
- Respect for the whole child
- Acceptance that the child has an absorbent mind
- Awareness of sensitive periods in which a child is prepared to learn new skills
- Access to a prepared environment in which to explore and embrace their interests and talents
- The child is a capable teacher, able to educate him/her/themself. auto-education
Though individual students in Montessori schools may create their own individualized syllabi and curricula, they are the products of their absorbent little minds and not the work of Montessori, who would, however, no doubt approve of the students' initiative. It is precisely Montessori's understanding of the child's ability to create their own meaningful work, that allowed her to create an education model without a curriculum.
Steiner vs. Montessori: Homework, Tests, Grades
In the case of Steiner. vs. Montessori schools, they're convergent in their lack of homework, tests, and grades. Both Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori recognized that tests and grades harmed the psyches of those who underperform. Conversely, they understood that the abilities and intellect of students who performed well were not affected by the outcome. instead of letter and number grades, Steier and Montessori students are evaluated by their teachers through written narrative reports to and conversations with parents. These reports offer detailed insights and understanding of students that simply are not adequately reflected in a letter or number grade.
Though both of these methods of education remain popular over 100 years after being conceived, the Montessori method has outpaced Steiner's model. As of 2022, Montessori boasts 15,000 schools around the globe, 3,000 of which are located in the U.S. Steiner on the other hand has 2,000 schools throughout the world, 130 of which are located in the U.S. Regardless of which model you choose, each model has stood the test of time.