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Philosophy. Both Montessori and Waldorf education view the child with utmost respect and reverence as an individual, spiritual and creative being. Both methods believed in the education of the whole child, to teach it how to think for itself, with the goal of producing a better society living in respect, peace and harmony. According to Maria Montessori, “establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
Both methods based their education on satisfying the needs and capacities of the child, believing that this will lead to responding to the needs of the community they belong. Both methods also believe in alleviating and protecting our children from the stresses of modernization.
Curriculum. According to Maria Montessori, “one test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”
Both methods adhere to developmentally appropriate principles and provide a variety of art, music and other creative means in their curriculum. Waldorf education is divided into the three phases of growth: the imitative nature of the young child, the imaginative undertaking of the middle childhood and the thoughtful age of the adolescent. Montessori education, on the other hand, is according to the child’s sensitive years where they easily master particular learning skills. They adopt a three-year age grouping called the Planes of Development, which corresponds to the child’s natural stages of development (three-six, six-nine, nine-twelve and twelve-fifteen). While Waldorf curriculum moves with changes of the season, Montessori education is set at the pace and will of the child.
Both emphasize on spiritual, mental, physical and psychological development rather than academics. Waldorf education, however, introduces academics at later ages, particularly when the child “changes his teeth.” During this time he is deemed ready to take on more intellectually-oriented activities but prior to this, play, both indoor and outdoor, which they hold as the highest integral part of learning, enhanced by the arts, music and cultural beliefs, takes an enormous part of a child’s learning regime as it is believed to develop children emotionally, mentally and actively. While Waldorf emphasized on the cultivation of imagination, Montessori education, however, shifted from make-believe play to real life work, when children prompted that they are more interested in such activities. They now offer children mathematics, manipulative language and academically oriented materials that would introduce them concepts and certain functions.
Although Waldorf education is more of an integrated-approach, or what they call spiraling, and Montessori education more child-directed, both methods have great regard for the hands. Both believed in that education should be highly experiential and sensorial. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, “the hands are the instruments to man’s intelligence,” while Rudolf Steiner proposed education through the art with the hands, heart and head as mediums to achieve its goals. Both believe that the use of the hand and the development of fine motor flexibility lead to the development of the brain.
Intellectual development. Both Montessori and Waldorf education emphasize on the importance of imagination in education. According to Maria Montessori, “we especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.” Montessori education sees the child as having an absorbent mind. They believe that to fully educate the child, she must be offered intellectually challenging tasks even from an early age, that is why at casa level (nursery), children are already being introduced to subject matters like botany, zoology, geography and history.
Waldorf education on the other hand, sees the child as growing and evolving and aims to nurture the child’s imaginative and creative potentials. They believe that the key to critical and scientific thinking is through creativity and imagination. Quoting Albert Einstein, “The greatest scientists are artists as well. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”
Interactions. In a Montessori prepared environment, children work individually, sometimes in groups, according to their interests, while in Waldorf, children work as a class on activities prompted by their rhythm, the natural flow of the day. Both methods implement multi-age classes, most especially during pre-school years. Both methods see the benefits of employing mixed groupings like older children providing scaffolding for younger children and acting as models for younger children to imitate. However, Montessori teaching emphasizes on socialization as a form of respect; children are not to bother each other while doing their work, that they should help a younger child to perform a new task and that each would take turns in the activities they want to engage in inside the classroom. Waldorf on the other hand encourages that children should play together, move together and to solve conflicts together.
Montessori teachers facilitate interventions by offering children new materials when she deem the child is ready to move on to more difficult tasks, while Waldorf teachers orchestrate children’s rhythm and learning activities and act as mediators for all children to socialize. Both Montessori and Waldorf encourage the looping of the students, or that the children and teachers stay in a class for a certain number of years to provide stability, ease of communication and familiarity in the class. However, this may be optional for some schools under these methods.
Both methods emphasize on the importance of nature, its part in the children’s lives and the roles of children in nature. They highly encourage keeping in touch with the environment and to make use of natural materials. Montessori education has specific subjects for getting in touch with nature. Waldorf, however, has designated outdoor playtime for the children to devote themselves in appreciating their environment. Furthermore, while in a Montessori setting, the children are encouraged to make use of materials especially designed for their learning purposes, Waldorf encourages children to create their own toys and materials as they go about their imaginative and creative activities.
Maria Montessori Children’s School Foundation Inc.
I visited Maria Montessori Children’s School Foundation Inc. It is actually one of the original Montessori schools here meaning the founder of the school and the first batch of teachers trained in Italy. While other Montessori schools use the Montessori method they still mix it with other learning methods. This school is one of the few schools in the country that are true to the Montessori teaching.
The point that struck me most is that when a child is at “work,” they are not to be disturbed so as not to lose the momentum of learning. It is also notable how they leave the child to learn for himself and that learning takes place in a manner that is child-centered, sensorial, active and child-directed. It teaches kids practical stuff to learn how to survive on his own in the world. They have a relatively advanced curriculum like as early as four, they were already learning about basic botany, zoology, history and geography.
They also started to learn how to multiply and divide and how to write in cursive. Aside from the academics, they also learned practical things like how to button up shirts, wash dishes, do the laundry pour water into a glass from the pitcher and transferring food from one bowl to another. It provides an excellent foundation for children. It is individualized and the children get to choose what they want to learn and how to learn it.
They assure that even though they are highly progressive, the children will not have a hard time adjusting if you transfer him to a traditional school in the future that is because Montessori children are highly adaptable. There are no written periodical tests because what the teachers do is interview and ask you to explain in your own words how you understand concepts. The teachers have a checklist, and if the teacher thinks that you have mastered it, then you will move on to your next lessons. One is deemed to internalize learning in the hope that one will not forget what she learned.
The three main qualities that make Montessori teaching unique are: first, the use of specially designed materials and the prepared environment they set up for the children. Montessori schools are proud of their materials inside the classroom that are especially made for the purpose of learning and are to be manipulated freely by the children. Maria Montessori intended that the children made use of their hands in exploring these materials. She believes that the hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence. It is through them and their other senses that they achieve the growth and reap the fruits of normalization. The prepared environment is set up to assist the children as they occupy themselves with work, equipping themselves with experiences they need in the present. However, it is truly the initiative of the students that keep them learning and their innate thirst for knowledge that drives them to master their work.
Second is teacher training. Mainly, the Association of Montessori International and Association of Montessori Schools certify true Montessori teachers. They undergo training in different parts of the world, while some are trained in house. This training is rigorous and all the fruits of which are highly personal meaning during the course of such training, the teachers acquire experiences and make albums that document they journey, all of which only belong to the teacher and the teacher alone.
Third is the curriculum. They mainly adhere to the principle of learning by doing, which is the most crucial part of their teaching. Some schools deviate from this by incorporating traditional methods into their curriculum. Maria Montessori designed her teaching method originally for children with learning disabilities but she figured that if special children are able to learn from the method, using it for regular children will make them extraordinary. Montessori also made it’s mission to educate not only the parents but other people surrounding our children as well, for they believe that these people are those who have great influence on them too; and that in some sense, they too are parents to our children.
It was an Open House, and so I came with the group of parents that were to observe their children. I was lead into the classroom by teacher Aida Borres, who was telling me that classes are already ongoing. Curiously, I peered inside only to be shocked by an astounding silence. It was like watching a silent movie. There were children going about tasks while being observed by their parents. The parents were equally silent, probably keeping their end of the bargain – to be supportive audience of their kids.
This silence was not just in one class, but is ever present in the entire school. My curiosity was answered by teacher Aida, “we do not disturb the children as they go about their “work,” so as not to lose the momentum of learning which is essential as they make meaning in their experiences.”
Teacher Aida never used the word “study” to describe what the children were doing. She calls them “work” or “occupation,” that each child is engaged in, which is an activity introduced by their teacher from one of the 4 corners of Montessori education: Practical Arts, Sensorial Arts, Language and Mathematics.
What caught me was the discipline that was already fortified in the children even at a very young age. They would not touch any material unless offered by the teacher. This offering is some sort of introduction, which is not only about how the materials are to be cared for and properly stacked when their occupation is done, but also includes the workings of how the activity is of value to creating various experiences to the child. This is why, despite the number of students in each class, their materials remain in tact and properly maintained.
With the thought that I cannot disturb the child at work, I moved to the side to observe a young boy busy completing a puzzle. The puzzle is made of wood, and the pieces are of various colors. The picture on the puzzle seemed to be a turtle, and the tiles on the shell have the letters of the alphabet.
When I came into the room, he was already working on his task and was still working on it when I left. He was sitting there quietly, trying to figure out where each piece falls. His concentration was so intense, that he didn’t even mind others going around the room, including strangers like me. When he completed his task, he repeated it again on his own initiative. I was so impressed that he did not tire nor got bored with what he was doing.
This task was probably part of the Language Area. And the young boy was probably mastering the order of the letters of the alphabet and at the same time trying to figure out the pattern being made by the colors and how the whole picture will turn out. He was also learning about discipline and concentration to accomplish his task. He was also probably learning about himself, that he can do what he is doing and that what he is doing is part of learning.
I noticed that it was not really how well the children manipulate the materials in front of them, but how they strive hard to get to know these materials, how they put their effort into mastering and re-mastering what they were learning.
Manila Waldorf School, Inc.
I visited Manila Waldorf School, Inc. at Timberland Heights, San Mateo, Rizal. The first few instructions I got were not to wear makeup, to remove anything fancy on me and not to wear black. I was also instructed not to bother the kids but instead busy myself with hand knitting. Good thing, they allowed me to take pictures, document everything and even ask all the questions I want.
They hardly use plastic materials inside the school premises. They want everything to be all-natural. Toys and furniture are made of wood. Some children even make use of bags that are bayongs and baskets. Dishes are glass and ceramic. Everywhere there’s thread and cloth. And they use citronella oil as insect repellent.
Their early childhood curriculum is focused on the physical well-being of the child. They want them to be “malusog, matatag at matibay.” This is their path to learning – to nourish first the body, then the heart and then the mind. Children engage in indoor and outdoor play, with creativity and imagination as their core concepts. To engage the children in activities that would train their concentration and nurture their love for learning are what they offer to prepare them for life.
They advocate that the child be taught in a calm manner. Children are taught life lessons and values through rhythmic activities and instructions. Teachers sing songs and make birdcalls to mark the transitions from an activity to another. By the end of the day, teachers write notes on each child and come up with a narrative detailing the development of the child and particular instances that the teacher thinks are noteworthy. These narratives become basis for assessing how and what children are learning and how they are applying what they learned. In their classroom, children make bread, weave baskets and are taught to pray as they play. They go home with a book in hand and a plethora of talk about so many things.
Teachers, as well as parents, caregivers and other adults surrounding the child, play the active role of creating an environment for them to make meaningful interaction. Teachers consciously and continuously strive to be “worthy of imitation” – for it is during these formative years that we make imprints on our children that would last them a lifetime.
I arrived at Waldorf E. Rodriguez, which was an old house, to catch the shuttle that would take us to San Mateo. I met some people who work at the school, both faculty and non-teaching staff, and noticed how simple and humble they are and their presence will truly make one step back and look at herself. One of the teachers in kindergarten, Tita (), went inside the old house first to change into her working clothes, comprised of a white undershirt, a white skirt and a yellow apron.
I sat at the back, not wanting to cause any distractions on the incomers. I immediately noticed most of the kids were carrying library books. A sight I really don’t normally see in regular school. And they were discussing a mystery they have in class. Teachers and students, alike, were conversing about regular school things until they started talking about weird food they like to mix and match. They went on until we were near the school. They even had a game determining what time they would exactly arrive at the front steps of the school.
The view from there was amazing. One can almost touch the sky. The fresh air was so good to breathe. And the greens were simply breathtaking. The school was big and situated magnificently down the slopes of the mountain. We then drove up to where the preschool classrooms were located. The grounds were clean and the grasses were trimmed. I also noticed native chickens running around the parking area and across the fields. I was asked to wait outside the administrators’ office but I took it as my chance to take pictures of the scenery.
I was then met by one of the secretaries, Miss Dina, and was brought to the class that was about to start. It was 8:00am.
The door to the classroom swung open taking in the students who already was in queue, and the teachers wearing yellow aprons immediately greeted them while rubbing “citronella oil” on their arms.
I was welcomed by the teacher, but was not formally introduced in class, rather I was given the task to busy myself with finger-knitting. They requested me to keep to myself and not to disturb the ongoing flow of their class. I can only take short glimpses and was requested not to talk to any of the children.
They proceeded with their “rhythm.” One of the “titas” was already working with the other kids on their bread. They were kneading the bread and were shaping them, getting them all ready for the oven. The other children on the other hand were conversing with each other trying to decide what they want to play. They settled on singing and acting out a scene from a play. I noticed how their play was deeply rooted on singing. The children took turns being the “Anghel.” The teachers on the other hand were busy with preparing things in the kitchen and baking the bread. Once in a while, the titas would call the attention of the students asking them questions about their play. Other times, they would discipline some students causing any disturbance in class by saying that it is better to take such behavior outside.
When time came, one of the “titas” sang a song to mark the transition of the class, and then lead all the children into more songs and group movements. The children then washed their hands and readied the tables for eating and the mats for sleeping.
Once done, the children again were rubbed with citronella oil and were lead outside to play. They decided to stay at the sandbox under the tree house. Each child was given a spade and a pail to use for water. One was tasked to help in getting the big pail for water and each child was asked if they want to use some of it. Others were building sand castles, others were looking for shells while others were absorbed in their building things they can imagine.
When time came again, the teachers sang a song to get the attention of the children and to signal for them to start packing up. Each child was responsible for his own things and shoes, and after removing the sand from their clothes, they immediately went inside the classroom to wash their hands and change their clothes. Again, they were rubbed with citronella oil.
After cleaning up, the tita sings a song to invite everyone to take their places on the mats, signaling the time for silence and rest. Even the titas and I stayed on the mats to get some rest. After a while, one of the titas sings the names of the kids to rouse them up. Immediately the children arise and take their pillows and help put away the mats.
Once the floors were cleared, the titas sings their instruction to take their places at the table. A prayer was sung, and then they marked that all the grownups will be the ones to serve. Each child was given a bread each but they can get more if they like as long as they will finish everything that’s on their plates.
Once finished, the children took a drink from their glasses. Then, a few children were chosen to help out clear the tables, put away the mats and move the tables and chairs to the side. While some of the children were clearing up, the others were given the signal that they can again engage in play, this time with the toys. The toys were made of wood, cloths, rattans, threads and other woven materials. The children engaged in play, transforming areas of the room into places one can only guess. While the children were busy with play, the titas busied themselves weaving.
When time came, the titas again sang songs to mark the transition of the class, signaling the children to put away all the toys and the wooden planks used. While they were clearing up, some of the children were setting up the chairs into a semi-circle, and one of the children set up a place for on of the titas. A chair and a table with candle, a match box, and a candle extinguisher.
Once they were done clearing up and setting up for the next phase of class, all the children took their places and one of the titas signaled for silence, while the other one readied herself with an instrument.
The titas then lead the children into a recitation of a poem and some songs, and then signaled the children to keep quiet. The tita in the center, with a wooden harp, started to play the harp. She then told the children a story she knew by heart.
After the story was told, the tita put out the candle then sang her instructions that the class was over.
The children were then lead to the door, again rubbing each with citronella oil.
During the course of the day, I think the children were learning about everyday living, about themselves, about each other, how to play and be in harmony with each other, how to conduct one’s self, the rhythm and natural unfolding of life, the things that take place inside and outside their classroom, how to be at peace with the world, how to fully appreciate life and nature, and all its intricate details, and the roles they play and everybody else’s.
The Montessori Teacher
Teacher Aida Borres explained that the Montessori teacher is a guide for the children. “The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.””
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
“The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”
“To aid life, leaving it free, however, that is the basic task of the educator.”
The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.”
“And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.”
“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth.”
“We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.”
The Waldorf Teacher
Tita () explained that a Waldorf teacher should be worthy of imitation.
“All of nature begins to whisper its secrets to us through its sounds. Sounds that were previously incomprehensible to our soul now become the meaningful language of nature.”
You have no idea how unimportant is all that the teacher says or does not say on the surface, and how important what he himself is as teacher.
I leave this paper with Rudold Steiner’s words, “receive children with reverence, educate them with love, and let them go forth with freedom.”
“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.” MM
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