Montessori, Freinet, Steiner Waldorf: new ways for child learning

When one is parents, the anxiety of the school sometimes exists as much as among the children. Did I choose the best school for my child? Will pedagogy be suitable for him? And if he encounters difficulties of adaptation, is the traditional school system able to accompany him?

At a time when consciences are awakening to the importance of personal development, so-called alternative teachings are attracting more and more parents. A brief overview of these new methods of education and teaching.

What role for the school? Learn or give the taste to learn?

It is this question that poses and opposes two conceptions of education that parents are invited to think about to define the model that they deem most appropriate for their child. Between traditional school and innovative pedagogies, the choice is very personal. It depends on the child but also parents’ beliefs on the subject.

The French public school places the transmission of knowledge and diversity at the heart of its educational system. Allowing children to access the same knowledge regardless of their family environment is the cement of this republican school.

But while this ideal is commendable, it leads in practice to very vertical relationships between teachers and students, leaving little room for the personal development of children. When asked about the subject, many of them regret that the word is not given them enough to assert their opinion or to allow them few initiatives. What can be experienced as a simple frustration for some children, can become for others – especially those in difficulty – a real obstacle to their success.

The so-called alternative teachings are then a new way for these families in search of a less fixed system, where learning is done by accompanying the child in the discovery of what he is, what he loves to awaken in him the desire to learn.

Alternative teachings

Although this name encompasses many currents, it is often associated with Montessori, Freinet, and Steiner Waldorf schools. Three pedagogies developed in the 19th century that are now back in the spotlight.


Among the most well-known, Montessori schools, named after the Italian pedagogue Maria Montessori, who first developed a method resulting from new education in the 1900s, are in first place. In recent years, these schools have been spreding in France. There are 200 Montessori schools on the territory, although only 72 are members of the Montessori Association of France, which ensures the conformity of education with the pedagogy developed by Maria Montessori. Only 5 schools are recognized by the State.
This method is based on respect for the rhythm of each child. It assumes that the child is an actor of his own development. “It is therefore important that the child has freedom of movement and free choice of activities, which will allow the development of autonomy and accountability,” reads the website of the Montessori Association . To do this, the pedagogue has developed a variety of materials to accompany the child in his development: objects with different colors, volumes and textures that contribute to his awakening. The adult is placed as a companion, a mediator between the child and these objects.


Another current of new education practiced in France, we find the Freinet method, developed by the French Celestin Freinet in the 1920s.
Spread throughout the country in departmental groups, the ICEM-Pédagogie Freinet association groups around 3,000 people and provides ongoing training for teachers. Like the Montessori pedagogy, the Freinet method believes that every child must learn at his own pace, with an additional specificity: he advocates experimentation as the basis of all learning and advocates the free discovery by children of the laws of language and grammar, mathematics, science. For this, it encourages many to experiment, to observe compare, to imagine theories, and to check. There are some rare “Freinet institutions” that have received a derogation from the national education allowing their teachers to co-opt colleagues sharing the same pedagogical project.

Steiner Waldorf

Another recognized pedagogy is the so-called “Steiner-Waldorf” method, developed by the German Rudolf Steiner in the 1900s. Openness to the world is at the center of German thought, including learning two languages. living in the preparatory course, as well as internships in agricultural, industrial and social at the end of high school, so that adolescents discover the reality of all these environments.
If it brings together nearly 250,000 students worldwide, this method has only 2,300 in France, in twenty schools and kindergartens.

National Education VS alternative teachings: two worlds turning their backs?

Pedagogical training is at the heart of teachers’ preoccupations. There is a whole series of incentives for teachers to engage the public school in a more active pedagogy that puts students in a situation of genuine dialogue and debate, but the practice is more complicated. Teachers face the limits and constraints of the National Education which is still struggling to start innovation. No specific training for alternative pedagogy is currently provided in the higher schools of teaching and education that replaced the IUFM.

However, it is possible for volunteer teachers to build educational projects around activities offered to students outside of class time, after a validation of the project by the National Education.
The learning and practice of these alternative pedagogies is a personal choice on the part of each national education teacher, who can undergo continuous training within associations.