Frans Van Leeuwen, from Holland, and Ida Arnesen, from Norway, are visiting Dundas Valley Montessori School for two weeks as part of their training at the Fondazione Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani (International Centre for Montessori Studies Foundation) in Bergamo, Italy. They are observing in our Elementary program.
They were kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about their training, Montessori, and how they came to observe in Canada
Note: in the transcription of their interview I tried to retain a degree of their accents so you hopefully hear their individual voices in text (so if you find any typos, I’m going to say I meant to do that).
How did you come to train at Bergamo, in Italy, being from Holland and Norway?
Frans: My school asked me to do the training in Bergamo. It’s the only AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) school in Holland and they want to have AMI-approved teachers. The course in Bergamo is the best they know. They really wanted me to do it and I was like, “Ya, why not?”
Ida: I worked really hard actually to come here [Bergamo]. I am originally a teacher in Norway, in some subjects, but I really didn’t find my thing there, in the traditional system. I found Montessori and I worked as an assistant for a year and then I heard about the centre. The more I am there the more I like it.
Frans, what led you to choose Montessori as a career?
Frans: It was actually sort of an accident. I never thought about teaching at all actually. I was working for myself and because of the economic crisis my company was broken down. So, I was looking for a job and I was working for a call centre for a couple of years. I was trying to go into the mental institutions, psychology kind of way, and a friend of mine, his mom, had a Montessori school. I was talking with her and they were looking for a guy like me that knows about working in the outside, with gardening and engineering kind of background. I visited and worked there for two or three weeks to see how it feels and it was really great. I just stayed there since then.
What levels are you training for? What levels do you want to teach?
Frans: Now, we are doing the training for 6-12, and I want to do the Upper Elementary first. Then, I want to do the Children’s House [Casa] course as well and after that, or before that, I want to do the adolescence program as well. That’s what I want to do in the end actually [adolescence]. I have to start that in Holland because there is nothing like that in Holland yet. I’m really interested in that.
Ida: The same, 6-12; the whole elementary. I’m not sure yet. I think it’s very nice to see the Lower Elementary, but I also am interested in the adolescence program.
How did you, being from Holland and Norway and training in Italy, end up observing at Dundas Valley Montessori in Canada?
Ida: Our teacher actually. I think Terrence had contacted her or they had communicated. She was saying that, “If someone is interested to go to Canada…”
Frans: And we were interested! [both laugh]
The beauty of it is also that this year was the first year that the observation week was two weeks in a row. Normally it’s just one week then you go back to school, then you have another week, and you have three blocks spread through the year. Now we had two weeks after each other so that was also, of course, much easier to go to Canada because we’re staying here for two weeks. For one week it’s a little bit too far away from Italy to do it, but for two weeks is perfect.
Are you getting a chance to do anything else why you are here – see other parts of Canada or Hamilton, or is it all just work?
Ida: I am trying to do that. We were thinking about Niagara Falls. Also, your colleagues are great. They recommend everything. I think also there is one… the guy with the beard? [Dylan?] Dylan! Thank you. He said he would make a list for what is cool in Hamilton or Toronto. So that’s very nice.
What kinds of things do you like outside of Montessori and schooling? What interests do you have?
Frans: A lot. Music, outdoors, different kinds of sports. A lot. A lot.
Ida: Hiking and theatre are kind of mine. Hiking we already did a little bit. It was really cool. We just went outside from our host’s house [DVMS Upper Elementary French Specialist Janice] and we can just walk from there. [Janice lives close to the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail].
Frans: Then you have all sorts of small hiking paths through there and…
Ida: We got lost there a little bit, but then we came back and we managed.
What are your impressions so far? Of DVMS? Hamilton? Canada? Cultural differences?
Ida: The children here are very polite.
Frans: I don’t know if it’s because of the language; the English language is also pretty polite, I guess. The children are very polite here and it’s really nice to see.
Was that a bit of a surprise?
Ida: Yah, kind of. Especially like how some of the children are with which word they choose. They say, “Pardon me…”
Frans: And “Excuse me,” and stuff like that. Working at my school and they don’t understand you it’s like, “What?” or “Huh?”
Did you have any expectations and has anything been drastically different than you expected, or what has fallen in line with your expectations?
Ida: I did expect more snow here though.
[We interviewed Frans and Ida on Tuesday; on Tuesday night, they got their snow, and their first snow day on Wednesday].
Ida: I thought it would be smaller, the school. There is a lot of room here. We were very pleasantly surprised about how open everybody is and I don’t think it is that common that people are used to going from Bergamo and having… I mean, Terrence came and picking us up from the airport. He was so nice – answering all of our mail so fast. Janice gave us a place to stay. She helped – we are borrowing bikes from them. And everybody here… Tony gave us a tour at the first minute we came here. Really nice.
Frans: Very open.
Have you noticed any differences in Montessori – how it’s taught, how it’s experienced – in Europe versus Canada so far, or has it been that Montessori is the same everywhere you go?
Frans: I think it’s more the same where you go. I noticed, and I’m not that experienced yet of course, but what I see at this part it’s similar to what I am used to at my school.
Ida: I noticed one thing, and that is that many of the materials in the classroom that we are in now [at DVMS] has two of them. In Bergamo, they are very strict that it is one per classroom. One of each material. But, I guess, I have seen them also being used, parallel. It’s probably just an answer to something that is needed.
Frans, you will be returning to the school you are already working at when you complete your training. Ida, are you already affiliated with a school? Where would you like to end up?
Ida: No, actually. I’m going for a job interview at Frans’s school, and I also am in contact with some other schools, so I’m not really sure.
You’re not just looking to go home?
Ida: My home doesn’t really have a Montessori school. Other places in Norway do, of course, but it’s not like my home, not like I would go home to work in an AMI Montessori school. That’s not an option. Yet! Maybe it will be. I will start one.
To end things off, as younger people who have chosen to get into the Montessori field, what does the phrase “Montessori education” mean to you? If someone asked you, “What is Montessori?” how would you answer them?
Ida: Happy children.
Frans: A fun way to learn very important matters. The math and language, it starts so basically and so simple and goes into very deep subjects; children of a young age are already able to work with big numbers – the billions. It’s insane how the material makes it so easy to work with and leads them step-by-step to an abstractive way to work and really understand the theory behind it instead of just learning a trick to solve a problem. To really go into the subject and really understand what they are talking about. It’s brilliant!
Ida: Also, the way that you work on a team with nature. I love that as well about Montessori. It is not like a person has an idea. You are actually learning from the children how they can learn things. I think it’s amazing.
Frans: It is the whole picture. Normally, at least at my school when I was young, it was a public school and it was like you just learn the things that society expects from school, but here it is more learning also that you are just part of a very big universe and everything is in balance and everything has its place, and it is very important, I think.
Thank you very much, Frans and Ida, for taking the time to sit and answer some questions. Hope you enjoyed shovelling that Canadian snow.