30 Mar
Alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner
Posted by client_admin
By Jeni Wilson

This article explores 2 types of alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner (or Waldorf), and how they can benefit the student. Both have maintained popularity over time and are similar in their child or student-centred curriculum that values both curiosity and play


Choosing the right type of education for your child is not an easy task. Some people choose a school because it’s local to their home, others choose a school based on where they went. Some decide on an alternate school. 

Alternative schooling resists conservative models of education and traditional practices. In alternative settings students are more likely to be exercising creativity, play, and freedom of thinking. They will do this through student voice and agency rather than operating in strictly controlled settings where teachers make most, if not all, of the decisions.

Montessori & Steiner

In our increasingly rushed and tightly scheduled lifestyles, Montessori and Steiner, (or Waldorf), offer a learning alternative. Action-oriented learning and kinaesthetic learning are key features of these types of teaching and learning.

They are both more hands on, student directed, and an individually paced way of learning that focuses on the whole child. In other words, social, emotional, intellectual and physical aspects of the child are all considered important. 

“He did not want the sand in the pail, but he wanted the exercise of putting it there. He wanted to feel the joy of doing something by himself.” – Maria Montessori

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori

Creativity, often neglected in traditional schooling, is given a high level of importance in both these methods. Characteristically the importance of play, student goal setting and problem solving, are also high on each method’s teaching agendas.


Focuses on self-directed activity, collaborative play and hands-on learning. Students make creative choices about their learning and are offered age-appropriate activities.


Focuses on the development of well-rounded students through a broad and integrated curriculum, including an emphasis on the arts, physical education, academics, emotional and social education. 


Waldorf education is also known as Steiner education. It is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. It has a predictable integrated and holistic pedagogy based around developing intellectual, artistic, and practical skills. There are over 1300 Steiner/Waldorf Schools and 2000 early childhood centres around the world.

Common Characteristics and Key Beliefs

Despite looking different in practise, Montessori and Steiner have many common characteristics and core beliefs as alternative learning options:

Montessori & Steiner
Learning is a natural process driven by students goals
Take into account developmental stages – sensitive periods to learn
Trust children will learn
Learning is an active process
Goal setting, motivation and self-esteem are fundamental
Montessori Steiner
Creativity and curiosity are importantCultivation of students’ imagination and creativity and the arts are central
Self-direction and independence are key features. Students are able to learn at their own paceDevelop independent thinkers capable of higher order questions
Students learn through active explorationStudents can make choices for themselves
Hands on materials and resources developed to match agesIndividuals are able to create meaning in their own lives
The prepared environment – should reflect the lifelong environmentThe environment provides a context for learning
Students are eager and ready to learnEncourage oral mastery of language, not reading until year2
Respect and moral values are paramount No text books until Year 6

‘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.’

Maria Montessori

Children playing and engaged with a Nüdel Kart with the adult "observing" not directing the play
Children are observed playing with a Nüdel Kart – Self directed learning

The importance of play

This teaching/learning scenario, where students are given multiple opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning, is often captured while children are engaged in self-initiated play. Play is recognized by both methods as crucial for children. It enables many of the central beliefs of both Montessori and Steiner to be realized.  

“Play is the work of the child.” Maria Montessori

In contrast to traditional forms of education, Montessori and Steiner allow children to take their time doing what comes naturally – to play and to develop holistically. It is of no coincidence that many students from these systems become creative all-rounders who are curious about their world and creative problem solvers.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need our children to grow up to tackle increasingly complex challenges in innovative ways. It makes sense for them to use these skills during play.

“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
― Rudolf Steiner

Self directed learning using the Nüdel Kart

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Wilson, J. and Wing Jan, L. Focus on Inquiry (second edition). Education Services Australia, Carlton South.