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Don't Rudolf Steiner schools believe in Gnomes, mysticism and homeopathic farming?
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I did some research when looking for a new school for the Troll, and basically Montessori and Steiner/Waldorf are at each end of the spectrum when it come to academic emphasis, but both put the individual needs of children at the centre of the learning process.
In short (partly copy and paste, partly our experience):
Who they were:
Montessori: an Italian doctor who wanted to develop a teaching philosophy that would give equal chances to all kids, rich or poor. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Steiner: an Austrian philosopher, author, social reformer, architect, and esotericist.
Montessori: Academics (math and language) are introduced when the child shows readiness, between the ages of 3 and 4 years old. Our experience is that the teaching is very much science based. Lots of math, lots of experimenting and learning about how the world works. In our school, they have a theme they follow for the entire year. First year it was evolution, the second it was human needs and this year it is the Earth (geography and geology).
Waldorf: Academics are seen as necessary but not necessarily enjoyable and are introduced later, around 7 years of age.
Real vs. Make-Believe:
Montessori: Believe that children prefer the opportunity to do real work such as cooking, cleaning, caring for themselves, each other, and the environment rather than play make believe. Compared to his previous school, they focus a lot about being able to fix himself and be independent.
Waldorf: Early learning focuses on make-believe, fairies, arts and music. Play is viewed as the work of the young child and the magic of fantasy is an integral part of how the teacher works with the child.
Reality vs. Fantasy:
Montessori: Children need to be grounded in reality until they are able to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy. VERY! And things are said as they are, all the time. Some Montessori schools have been criticised for not fostering creativity and imagination in children. In ours they do a fair share of arts and crafts and have music (choir and instrument) on the program, but it's true that it's not an important focus area for the school. On the other hand, as a parent I find it easier to help my son's imagination at home than teaching about math and chemistry so I'd rather have it that way.
Waldorf: Fantasy and play are woven throughout the curriculum.
Materials with Purpose:
Montessori: Montessori materials are scientific didactical materials that serve a unique developmental and academic purpose. Another thing is that there aren't any toys in our school. Actually, there is very little playtime as one would qualify it. The kids have a lot of say in how their days are structured, but they work a lot and are expected to be able to concentrate for long periods of time.
Waldorf: Children are encouraged to use their imagination with the classroom materials.
Individualized vs. Group:
Montessori: Lessons and activities are individualized, especially in the early years. Our son is expected to be able to motivate himself to work and to evaluate his own progression. They do some group work if the kids initiate a group project together.
Waldorf: Early learning is group work.
We didn't consider Steiner at all once we had gathered the facts, mostly because of the lack of focus on science and math and the esoteric basis. I do see that the schools have a lot to offer to kids in terms of developing their imagination and creative streak, but I just can't go with the moon phases, theosophist thinking, anti-vaccine stance and support for homeopathy.
Call it a personal weakness, but I have a hard time pretending that I'm ok with something when I'm not; sending Junior to a Catholic school and pretend that I'm not an atheist would also be a challenge. But we have a few friends who went to Steiner and they all turned out well and have good memories of their time there.