Waldorf vs. Montessori: What's the Difference?

A teacher facilitating learning with two children and wooden toys.

When researching the best learning strategies for you child, you may have come across both the Waldorf and Montessori approaches to child-centered learning. More and more, people are flocking towards child-centered learning for their own child's educational experience, especially for younger children. 

According to the Universal Journal of Educational Research, a great child-centered educational environment should be interactive, promote self-regulation and awareness, and increase confidence and self-understanding in children. 

When it comes to Waldorf vs. Montessori education, which one is the best for your child and what kinds of toys and educational tools do you need to foster a fantastic learning environment? Stay tuned for an overview of both models and some of our favorite toys in our collection to support their playful learning journey. 

The Difference Between Waldorf vs Montessori Education

A classroom teacher and student playing with unique blocks.

Both Montessori and Waldorf prioritize holistic approaches to learning, with the student at the center of their own educational experience.  

A Waldorf classroom is all about inspiring imagination with a warm, home-like classroom presence. It emphasizes a balanced development of the child's intellectual, artistic, and practical skills. The approach seeks to nurture the whole child, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects, while embracing a holistic view of education.

Natural materials and art are both essential in a Waldorf learning environment. Toys made of natural materials are thought to connect students to nature and emulate the warm, home-like environment essential to a Waldorfian education. 

Students are mentored by teachers who guide them through lessons and activities involving imaginative play and other age-appropriate activities. The curriculum is guided by the developmental stages of childhood (early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence), children enjoying subjects like practical life skills, sensorial exploration, language, mathematics, and cultural studies.

A Montessori classroom is all about independence and letting a child guide their own educational destiny. The child is an active learnermeaning they are in charge of what they learn and are encouraged to pick what interests them with age-appropriate activities. Montessori promotes independence, self-direction, and individual growth, all while fostering exploration and discovery.

In a Montessori education, parents are considered essential partners in their child's education. So much so, that they encourage parents to volunteer and observe the classroom environment. Children receive feedback about their learning with qualitative feedback about their growth. The student guides their own learning pace

A Montessori classroom has children of similar ages (birth to 3, 3 to 6, etc.) in one setting. You'll never see tablets or other technology often in the classroom. Instead, focus is on other values, like their character and values.

No matter which approach to education you take, both methods are child-centered and nurture growth at their own pace.  

Waldorf Toys

Waldorf toys should be simple, but provide opportunities for open-ended play. They should also be heirloom quality, lasting for generations of awesome play. Throw in qualities like eco-friendly, organic, and sustainable, and you have a great Waldorfian toy! 

At Hearthsong, we've designed and curated some pretty cool Waldorf-friendly toys. 

Hearthsong Wooden Chicken Coop and Felt Chickens Play Set

Made from solid pine wood and soft felt, our Wooden Chicken Coop and Felt Chickens Play Set is a petite-sized set perfect for future farmers and animal lovers alike. Create your own little farm and imagine what kinds of adventures your chickens will have! 

Bunny Hopkins

Known for purposeful wooden toys honoring the joys of open-ended play, Bunny Hopkins makes a wide variety of Waldorf-inspired toys. Inspired by Waldorfian education as well as modern research on the value of play, Bunny Hopkins' line of toys celebrates simplicity in children's toys.

So get your kids ready to wiggle, wobble, and explore with purpose

Tikiri Dolls

Tikiri makes beautiful, soothing dolls from non-toxic, organic, and biodegradable materials. From the day a child a is born, they can find comfort in one of Tikiri's many lovely dolls. 

Handmade in Sri Lanka by ethical manufacturers, purchasing a Tikiri doll means you have a reliable friend...forever! 

Tender Leaf My Forest Floor

This little wooden kit includes wooden nature-inspired toys to build your dream forest. The lid is removable and can be used as a chalkboard to create your forest floor. The wooden compartments can also be removed and the box filled with sand to create a magical woodland play scene. Set includes: 6 gray flat pebbles, 4 multi-faceted rocks, 3 cone trees, 8 twigs, a snail, a moth, 6 little toadstools, a large toadstool, 10 leaves, 2 acorns, 3 beetles, 4 tunnel pieces, and a bird's egg.

Stack, count, assemble, and so much more! 

Montessori Toys

A teacher with two children interacting with toys.

Montessori toys should promote independent thinking and experimentation. They should inspire creativity, meaning there will be no battery-operated toys in the Montessori world. Toys should also teach children a skill, whether it's as simple as cleaning or advanced problem-solving skills

From our own products to our curated pals, we have plenty of Montessori toys fit for your littlest ones! 

Hearthsong Stacking Monsters

Crazy, kookie, spooky...and educational! Hearthsong's Stacking Monster Wooden Blocks comes with 18 colorful, stackable monsters and suggested building patterns. But the beauty of the set is that kids can explore all sorts of stacking combinations...or create a monster army. The potential for open-ended exploration is beastly! 

Wee Gallery Clutch Balls and Soft Blocks

Wee Gallery's gorgeous products aren't just fun to look at...they're also bursting with educational potential! The Soft Blocks and Clutch Balls have high-contrast imagery for visual stimuli with soft, textured materials for sensory exploration. Available in several adorable themes. 

Ball Pits by Balu Organics

A stimulating environment for your kids to have BIG play, Balu Organics' ball pits are innovative and stimulating for little hands. Children can explore new textures, bright colors, and interactive features that make them oh-so Montessori! 

Best of all, Balu Organics' products pair beautifully with any playroom decor with soft neutrals and a lovely ballerina pink variation. 

Toki Mats

What if "nice-to-haves" were non-negotiable must-haves instead? Toki Mats brings style and comfort to play mats, all while utilizing organic and non-toxic materials. Playtime CAN be portable and on-trend, perfect for a Montessori environment or beyond. Any kind of play is possible! 

Waldorf vs. Montessori: Is One Better Than The Other?

The short answer? Nope! 

The long answer is that it depends on your child's needs and what you want for them to have as part of their education. 

Would you rather them focus on discovering their skillsets with guidance or direct mentoring and lessons? Should they focus more on imagination and art or are they already little engineers? Or maybe there's an approach that allows for them to do both! 

You can also observe your child in both environments or with certain toys. What do they respond to? Play with? Even learning in both styles could be beneficial to find out which ones work for your kids. You won't know until they try! 

Can a Toy Be Both Montessori and Waldorf Friendly?

Absolutely. Many of our products "double dip" to suit both sides. 

Hearthsong Has the Toys, You Have the Imagination!

We're curious...do you use our toys in your curriculum as a teacher? Are you starting your kids off with a love of learning from Day 1? Tag us and share with @hearthsong_toys!

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