Schooling in the U.S.

    The Montessori Method

    Waldorf Education

    The Arts

    Right Brain/Left Brain


Schooling in the U.S.

About 55 million children and teens between the ages of 5 and 18 attend school in the U.S. every year. Statistics vary, but most sources suggest that about 90% of these students attend public schools, while the rest of them attend private schools, or are home schooled.

Of those who go to private schools, most of these are parochial, such as Catholic schools, and about 13.6% of private schools are nonsectarian. A charter school is a school that has state approval, but is exempt from some of the requirements. In 2008-2009, charter schools enrolled about a million and a half students.

It is estimated that about 1 to 2 million children are homeschooled every year, and homeschooling numbers have reportedly been going up steadily, as have charter school enrollments. Some children who are homeschooled attend regular classes for part of the time.

Most of the private schools retain the traditional structure that is found in the public school classroom, but there are some interesting and notable exceptions.

The Montessori Method

The Montessori system was developed by Italy’s first female physician, Dr. Maria Montessori, in the early part of the 20th century. There are now 20,000 Montessori schools around the world. The techniques used in the Montessori method are quite different from a traditional classroom.

For one thing, instead of all children in a class being the same age, each class consists of three age levels. One class might contain ages 6 to 9, another ages 10 to 12, for example. In this setting, the older students help teach the younger students, which builds self-confidence.









The classroom is divided into sections, with the students moving from one section to another during the day, such as moving from the math corner to the reading corner, for example. Every child is not working on the same thing at the same time, nor are all those in one class necessarily at the same level in all subjects. One child may be on a sixth grade reading level, and a fourth grade math level, without being labeled a failure; instead, he keeps working with the materials until he progresses to where he needs to be. All of this allows flexibility within structure, and the children learn to be self-reliant and organize their day. The idea is to teach themhow to learn, not just what to learn, so that this skill will be with them their whole lives.

Montessori teachers are specially trained in Montessori methods. There are two or three teachers in a classroom, supervising what each is working on for that day or that week, and keeping track of their progress. The teachers give lessons in groups or individually, and monitor what the children are doing when they are learning on their own.








Most importantly, the materials used in the Montessori method consist of hands-on items like beads, blocks, large letters and numbers, cubes, etc., all designed to be handled by the child, so that he or she can see and feel what the concepts mean. It is important, especially for younger children, to be able to interact with their environment, and these materials are designed for that. Then when they move to the books, they have a better understanding of what the words and numbers really mean.

Although most Montessori schools are geared for the younger ages up to 5 or 6, many Montessori schools go far beyond this. The intention is for the children to develop independence, self-initiative, self confidence and creativity.

Waldorf Education

Waldorf Education was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early part of the 20th century.

The Waldorf system uses art in its various forms as a central point of the educational experience, rather than as an “elective” or a minor subject. It is used to instill a sense of being in the world, being part of the world, and appreciating its beauty. Subjects taught are integrated with each other, rather than being compartmentalized, the way most of us learned in school.







Physical movement, exercise, music, drawing, painting singing, rhythm, drama, gardening and other contact with the earth, are all integrated into the curriculum. So when the fifth grade, for example, is learning about botany, they will be drawing or painting the plants they are learning about, or going out and finding them. If they are learning about ancient civilizations, they may act out a play about Socrates, or some ancient story.  The younger children have the opportunity to play every day, and they go outside every day. When these students leave the Waldorf system they have a  healthy of enthusiasm, incredible curiosity, and are willing to try new things, which makes them excellent students later on.

Being a Waldorf teacher is a creative process. The purpose is to generate a lifelong love of learning and help students find meaning in their lives, while striving for academic excellence, though never in a pressured or stressful way. “It is our task as teachers and educators to stand in awe of the individuality of the student and offer our help so that it can follow the laws of its own development. We are merely called upon to remove any obstacles in body or soul that might hinder the individuality from realizing its potential freely” (Selg, The Essence of Waldorf Education).

There are many websites that tell more about the Waldorf system of education, such as

The Arts

This emphasis on the arts is not just a nice idea. In 2005, it was found that students with music in their school curriculum scored 56 points higher on the verbal portion of the SAT (college boards) and 39 points higher on the math. Students who studied music and music appreciation scored 60 points higher on the verbal portion and 39 points higher in math. Students with four or more years of music education scored dramatically higher on the SAT. Low readers improved four grade levels in reading after six months of instrumental music instruction. In England, choir boys jumped a year forward in their reading levels after six months of joining the choir; all their learning skills improved, as well as their social skills and self esteem (5, pp 162-163).

But it does not stop with music. Acting and drama increased SAT scores at least 30 points, and participation in visual arts resulted in a gain of 20 to 30 points. The longer they are involved in these artistic activities, the more dramatic are the improvements. This was found on the College Board’s Profile of College-Bound Seniors national reports 2001-2005 (3).








Right Brain/Left Brain

The interesting thing about the innovative methods used in the Montessori and Waldorf schools is that they utilize the functions of both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The left and right hemispheres of the brain tend to specialize in different kinds of skills, although, ideally, they work together. For most people, the right hemisphere tends to process visual and spatial information, and to comprehend the overall picture in an intuitive, holistic way (1, p. 4). The left hemisphere is more detail- and linear reasoning-oriented, tending more to step-by-step analysis of information (5, p.79).

It is beneficial to activate both brain hemispheres when learning and processing information, just as you would do better using two hands to complete a task, or lift something heavy. This allows the whole brain to work together, for a joyful and balanced experience.

Teachers and schools are becoming more aware of different learning styles today, and how to maximize the potential of each child. We continue to learn more each year about these processes through research and experience, and new discoveries help inform us of how best to educate our children.

If your child is in a traditional classroom, there are many things you can do to promote balanced brain functioning and better learning. A sport that they like is always good. Any type of creative pursuit like music lessons, dancing, art (drawing, painting, etc.), singing, even drama, will be much more beneficial than watching TV or playing video games every day. It should be something they like, since forcing them to take part it would be counterproductive.

The hope expressed on one Waldorf website is that by innovative ideas like school vouchers, or tax credits for education, anyone may one day be able to attend the private or public school of their choice, without financial hardship. In the meantime, if our children are to reach their potential, which is needed for the new millennium, we need to find ways to integrate the excellent techniques used by schools like Montessori and Waldorf into the schooling of children across the country. Parents, educators and teachers need to work together to make this happen.


1. Arden, John, Rewire Your Brain (2010) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


3.    /facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff15.html


5. Hannaford, Carla, Playing in the Unified Field: Raising and Becoming Conscious, Creative Human Beings (2010) Salt Lake City, Utah: Great River Books.

6. Hannaford, Carla, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head (1995) Alexander, NC: Grand Ocean Publishers.


8. Selg, Peter, The Essence of Waldorf Education (2010), Steiner Books, Great Barrington, Massachusettes.