There are three quite different types of teaching methods offered by nurseries. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you and your child?


Picking the right nursery for your child can be a minefield of difficult choices, from location, to price, to gut feeling.

But did you know there are also different teaching philosophies to think about? Montessori and Steiner nurseries offer different approaches to the more ‘mainstream’ nurseries, but is one better than the others?


What’s it all about?

This approach allows children to explore the world for themselves and at their own pace. They learn through interaction with specially chosen and placed items and equipment. The child selects what he wants to play with, and uses his senses to begin to understand the items he discovers. Each little one is seen as an individual, and learning at his own pace is key.

Montessori teachers don’t instruct the children but guide them to learn for themselves. Barbara Isaacs, college chief executive of the Montessori Centre, is keen to point out that it’s not a laissez faire approach. ‘It’s the role of the teacher to provide an enriching environment for the child, and it takes a well- trained teacher to create the appearance of spontaneity,’ she says.

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The Montessori ‑ Saint Nicholas Charity


What’s it all about?

Children are at the centre of their own learning process and creativity is highly valued with this style of nursery education. For example, little ones bake their own bread, and use movement to music as a means of exploring the world around them. Cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills are valued equally, and teaching is done by example, not instruction.

The child leads the learning process, allowing her to come to know the world through active feeling, touching, exploring and imitating. She’s encouraged to master physical skills before abstract intellectual ones, such as reading and writing, which aren’t usually introduced until a child is over 6.

There are more than 100 nurseries throughout the country accredited
by the Steiner Fellowship. Accredited Steiner nurseries – sometimes called Steiner Waldorf – take children until the age of 6. Many more nurseries operate on the Steiner method but aren’t fully accredited because the children leave to attend mainstream schools at 5.

These are recognised as Steiner Interest Groups.‘Every day some time is dedicated to free creative play,’ says Janni Nicol, of the Steiner Waldorf School’s Fellowship. ‘Studies show that children who play well are more empathic and are less aggressive. Through play, children are able to exercise and strengthen their ability to understand, think and develop concentration.’

‘Every day some time is dedicated to free creative play,’ says Janni Nicol, of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. ‘Studies show that children who play well are more empathic and are less aggressive.'

Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

Mainstream nurseries

What’s it all about?

Most mainstream nurseries adopt the Foundation Stage Curriculum. It’s part of the Government’s 10-year childcare strategy, introduced in September 2000 as a distinct form of education for 3 to 5 year olds. Its purpose is to give guidance to adults who work with little ones, to make sure that all children have reached a similar level of education by the time they begin the National Curriculum. Most Montessori nurseries have aims that match the Foundation Stage Curriculum, but they use their own methods to achieve them.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) says that the key principle is that children need a balance of adult-directed and child-initiated activities. To be effective, the Foundation Stage Curriculum should be carefully structured and include ‘planned and purposeful activity that provides opportunities for teaching and learning both indoors and out’.

Choosing the right approach for your child

When choosing a nursery, look for the approach you feel most comfortable with, because what your child does at nursery will need reinforcing at home. Ask yourself which of the following statements you most identify with, and then see the type of nursery that would best suit your way of thinking...

  • I feel that my child’s unique developmental needs should come first, and I want him to attend a nursery that observes these needs. He should be allowed to develop at his own rate.

Nursery type: Montessori

  • I’d like to give my little one time to be a child. I want her to have the opportunity to play in a way that will capture her imagination, and to think broadly and widely and with a moral approach.

Nursery type: Steiner

  • A good education should start early, and, to be most effective, it should be structured. Well-planned activities that are led by teachers, as well as some initiated by my child, sounds like a very good balance.

Nursery type: Mainstream