I grew up attending school in France and never liked it. I have always been successful, ranking top of my classes, graduated high school at age 16… but I always hated school. I felt like I did not belong. I was not interested in the way we were taught – feeling that I was forced into a mold I did not fit in.
When I moved to the U.S. to attend college, a whole new world opened to me. School was fun and engaging. I could be myself without being looked at strangely. I was allowed – and encouraged – to think outside the box. Bottom line: I could be ME.
I am not weird. I am not the anti-social person who refuses contact. I am not a nerd, nor a silly head. But I am ME. And each one of us processes information in our own way. We run with it in differently and look for different inputs.
Before I had children, I knew I didn’t want them to have to fit the mold. I knew they could like school if the school was willing to listen to who they were.
When we lived in Germany, I came across a Waldorf school. The Waldorschule Ismaning happened to be located in the village near ours and each time I drove in front of it, I saw children running around, dressed in fairly alternative clothes, enjoying the outside, getting dirty in the mud. I saw calm and quiet teachers. I saw joy.
I did a little bit of research, we toured the school and immediately requested to interview for it.
Our oldest daughter was 3 at the time. Her younger brother was just over a year and a half. So they actually attended the Walforkindergarten Ismaning.
We found a beautiful building – full of light, round with no real angle, high ceilings, and only natural materials.
In a Walforf school, you will not find the usual toys found in other schools. Instead of Playdoh, our kids built with bee wax. Instead of plastic animals, they role played with hand carved wooden animals, where the toy trees were built of felt and the duckies’ lakes were made of scarves.
The large outdoor area did not have a playground. Instead, the children were given a very large garden with hills to run around and play hide and seek. They used shovels and wheel barrels to collect stones, leaves, and dig holes. They jumped ropes and ran through mud. Each class took turns in caring for the animals and the vegetable garden.
They were HAPPY CHILDREN. The Walford methodology taught our children to be creative, imaginative and happy!
The Waldorf Methodology
The Waldorf education was started by Austrian artist and scientist Rudolf Steiner. He believed in a holistic approach to education, where arts would be a part of the academic curriculum in all disciplines, from pre-school to 12th grade. He opened the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919.
Waldorf students develop essentials skills, including the “ability to integrate thinking and assimilate information as opposed to memorizing isolated facts. [They learn] to be flexible, creative, and willing to take intellectual risks; and are leaders with high ethical and moral standards who take initiative and are passionated to reach their goals.”
The teaching grows with the child and adapts to each child’s unique capacities. Waldorf students are genuinely interested in learning and do not learn to test well. They learn for the enriching beauty of learning. That skill and curious mindset set them up for a life-long love for learning and development.
You will find that children are not given textbooks. Rather, they create their own textbooks throughout the year. It is an engaging way to learn and remember.
Waldorf students are also enrolled in classes, not usually found on classical schools’ schedules. They have crochet classes starting in 1st grade, knitting, wood carving classes and so much more.
Something unusual about Waldorf schools, is the fact that children move along grades together, with a single teacher. The philosophy believes that the children and their teachers will work better by moving from grade 1 to 5 together as unit, which I think is a very neat idea and allows everyone to get very comfortable.
Another important aspect of the Waldorf education, is its reluctance to using screens and media. In today’s world, it can seem like an odd way to raise children, but in a Waldorf school, you will find no screen or cell phones. As parents, we were not allowed to use our cell phones on the parking lot. The school prefers for that philosophy to continue at home, firmly believing that watching TV and playing video games, takes away from children’s natural ability to play and be creative. I was always fascinated by the fact that, one of the biggest and most successful Waldorf school, is located in the middle of the Silicon Valley, where many Google / Apple / Microsoft executives have their children enrolled!
Parents are fairly involved in the school, which typically requires a number of hours of family volunteering each year. We helped with cleaning the garden in the spring, I sat on the animal committee (where we took care of the resident rabbits and their habitat), we cleaned the inside of the school twice a year, and loved preparing for the Christmas and Spring markets!
Our Experience With The Waldorf Education
Our family LOVED Waldorf. From beginning to end, all of it, with no exception. To the smallest detail of having every single child, up until the age of 6, rest / nap an hour every day! Everything from the daily morning candle ceremony, symbolic for the start of light. All the way to having to leave 2 full-body mud suits for the kids since they would be too wet after the morning outdoor session and needed a second pair for the afternoon.
We loved the no-screen policy. We loved the natural materials. We loved the overwhelming feeling of calm and silence inside the school. We loved the amazing drawings our children created with natural wax crayons. We loved the birthday ceremonies. We loved the entire class preparing lunch together every morning. We loved seeing our 18-month old peel potatoes every morning – I mean actual potatoes and an actual peeler!! We loved picking up children with dirty finger nails and wet hair. That is what childhood should look like. That is what a good day looks like for a 3-year old. No boundaries outside of safety, and giving them the tools to be safe and making the right choices!
There is just so much and so little time for me to write about it. But we also loved growing as a family. The Waldorf education changed the way we parent. We embraced a philosophy as we saw it have an incredibly positive impact on our children, and it made us better parents.
We felt that we were part of a family of like-minded parents. We were immediately welcomed, even with the terrible language barrier I experienced. Everyone was second family and I knew our children were LOVED. Truly and deeply LOVED by their teachers.
When we moved back to Florida, it was the biggest heartbreak to leave our beloved Waldorf school behind. With only 3 Waldorf schools in Florida, and none near us, we started looking at other alternative schooling system and chose the Montessori education for our children.
Montessori is probably the most widely-known alternative education system in the world.
We started our children in the Children’s House when they were 4.5 and 3 years old.
We loved the small feel of the school, the natural materials, and the fact that children led their own learning with guidance from their teachers.
The Montessori Methodology
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator, with an alternative education pedagogy, who started the first Montessori school in Rome in 1907.
In the Montessori methodology, children lead their learning by self-directing their in-class lessons. There are two pillars to the education: hands-on learning and student collaboration.
I found incredible how every activity/lesson is thought about and purposeful. In the Children’s House, our kids would plug kernels from dried up corn cobs. While the activity seemed ludic, it was actually strengthening the hand muscles needed to learn how to write.
In a Montessori school, you will find the children moving from station to station, “as they please.” In reality, the children are gently guided and wouldn’t fall off the charts in math, because they favored reading. However, a 1st grader could be working on 1st-grade math, while studying 3rd-grade literature.
I loved the way they teach math, introducing a very concrete model for younger children to learn. They use beads and tables to feel and see the math! As they grow older, math becomes abstract once they fully understand the concepts. You will find upper elementary children working on math problems that weren’t introduced to me until high school in France!!
The Montessori students study at their own pace and level. Each classroom groups children belonging to three classes. In other words, after the Children’s House, the Lower Elementary class has all children attending grades 1 through 3. After 3rd grade, they move on to Upper Elementary, where grades 4 through 6 are grouped.
What I probably loved most about the Montessori education is the physical freedom it gives to the children. A typical 6-year old (at least my kids…) needs to move in space. Walk through a Montessori school and you will see children working on the floor, standing, or laying on their bellies, and that is ok! That’s how that particular child learns best. That’s all that should matter!
In a good Montessori school, teachers are able to be very hands-off and gently direct the children. They teach lessons to small groups of students, but for the most part, Montessori children are able to teach themselves by using the tools at their disposal!
Our Experience With The Montessori Education
We loved having our children in a Montessori school, and so did they. I would however say that, not all children are cut out for the Montessori education.
While our daughter was able to advance quickly and pace beyond her grade level, we noticed that our son was lacking structure and directions. His classroom seemed a bit chaotic at times and he didn’t seem like he was getting enough out of the pedagogic methodology.
For children who are very curious by nature, who love to learn and are able to stay focused for a while, Montessori is absolutely wonderful. The method teaches the children to teach themselves. It allows them to love to learn!
We also loved the fact that children could advance beyond their grade level in a topic they were interested and naturally strong in!
Another strong advantage of the Montessori school is its openness to foreign cultures. Many Montessori schools organize international festivals and are linked to other international Montessori schools.
For the child who needs structure and has shorter attention spans, I was not fully convinced of the method.
Additionally – this might have been an isolated case with our school – but I would ask how many teachers are actually Montessori-trained prior to enrolling your children. In our case, we came to understand that only the lead teacher was Montessori-trained in my son’s classroom, which probably led to the feeling of slight chaos and unfocused work.
Waldorf Vs. Montessori
This is a very hard one and I would definitely think about what would work best for your specific child.
Both the Walford and Montessori methods are heavily focused on the child as a whole. They develop the kids’ intellect at their own pace and give them freedom in learning styles. Both schools will raise well-rounded and open-minded children.
We have loved both methodologies and I would think about it this way – if you recognize your child and yourself in the statements below, you might want to consider this methodology:
- does your child enjoy quiet environments?
- do you have a crafty child, who enjoys building and using his hands?
- is your child seeking close relationships with his teachers?
- do you enjoy getting involved with your child’s school?
- does your child enjoy doing big people things (i.e., peeling veggies, cooking, building using Daddy’s tools, lighting up candles, etc.)?
- are you enjoying a lifestyle closer to nature and less materialistic?
- do you believe in free play rather than screens?
- does your child like art, music, and nature?
- are you comfortable with your child moving along with a single teacher over several year?
- do you foster and value imagination in your child?
- do you believe in learning by doing?
- is your child highly motivated to learn?
- is your child focused and seeking to learn?
- is she interested in learning about a variety of topics and like to pick up books to learn about those topics?
- does your child work well in groups?
- are you ready to be hands-off and not needing to know everything going on in the classroom?
- is your child needing to move throughout the day?
- does your child seem independent? does he thrive with less structure?
- do you agree with multi-age classrooms?
- does your child enjoy learning about cultures, foreign countries, and diversity?