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

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.

A photo of Rudolf Steiner in a frame with a mat. The frame is slender and possibly wood or plastic with gilt (gold) around its edges.  The mat is quite wide and below the photograph,  type-written on a piece of paper that matches the neutral tone of the mat has Steiner’s name and then some German words that are not distinct. The frame is hanging on a neutral wall.
Rudolf Steiner was well-known for a number of different things but educator was not one of them until late in his life.

©Stefan_Sutka/Shutterstock.com

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

The Doctor

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.

Full Frame: A very colorful Italian postage stamp with white, scalloped edges. An image of Maria Montessori as an elderly woman with white hair, holding a walking stick /cane in her right hand looking toward the frontof the frame, in deep red and white is visible in the left 1/3 of the frame. Behind her, center and right frame are depictions of seven little dark haired children and one dark haired adult seated in green grass, with their arms outstretched at their sides. Trees are visible in the background. It is an illustration, not a photograph. In the upper right frame is the word Italia, in the bottom right corner the number 50, nd in the lower left corner iare the words: Maria Montessori with the years 1870 1952 below her name. all of the writing is deep red.
Maria Montessori was the lone female in the University of Rome's Medical School class of 1896.

©Boris15/Shutterstock.com

The Teacher

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.

Steiner Schools

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.

pages from a first grade Waldorf school morning lesson book. The left pages is a drawing of a red snake in grass. The right page is a drawing od the letter S. All of the drawing is with crayons.
At Steiner schools, students create their own textbooks.

©Krejci.praha6, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

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 Schools

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.

For young children are visible in a natural setting with Pineneedles and a branch with green leaves. From left to right there is a little olive-skinned girl seated in the pine needles wearing a short sleeve white shirt and chocolate brown pants that have been rolled up around her ankles. She is wearing white sandals that consist of several narrow straps closed with Velcro at her ankles and she is holding a pine needle. To her left but to her right in the frame is a young brown-skinned girl wearing a long sleeve white and black striped shirt and coverall shorts of light blue denim. She has black hair and she is bending down. To her left is a little olive skin boy wearing a plaid mostly black and white shirt with a thin red stripe long sleeve flannel he is on one knee crouch down holding a magnifying glass in his right hand and appears to be looking at the branch of green leaves. Next to him is a young olive-skinned boy wearing a long sleeve denim button up shirt and very white tennis shoes he is holding a stick in his left hand.
Students are responsible for their own academics in Montessori schools.

©Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com

Steiner vs. Montessori: Curriculum

Curriculum, or lack thereof, is another area in which these two models of education diverge.

Steiner Schools

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.

A young, slender, brown-skinned girl wearing a white and light pink striped top is visible slightly left of center frame playing a violin. Her dark hair is pulled back with a purple and white chick bow on the right side of her head her left arm is supporting the violin her right arm is holding a bow. Her gaze is focused on the violin. The background appears to be a chalkboard with nothing written on it.
Children at Steiner schools play stringed instruments beginning in third grade.

©wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

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.

Montessori schools

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.

a light skinned male presenting child looking sad and forlorn,. He is propping up his head with his right hand, though he ihis face is looking down, and his eyes are closed. In his left hand he is holding a white sheet of paper with typed multiple choice questions with black letters. On the bottom right side of the test paper is a BIG red uppercase letter F, circled in red. indistinct classroom background with yellow, blue, and green elements.
Steiner and Montessori recognized that tests and grades harmed the psyches of those who underperformed.

©Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

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.

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