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Santa Barbara Montessori School to Throw ‘Barnyard Birthday Bash’

The Jan. 9 event, open to the public, will celebrate 104 years of Montessori education

Big plans are under way at Santa Barbara Montessori School for the school’s “Barnyard Birthday Bash” on Jan. 9.

A petting zoo will provide young children an up-close opportunity to enjoy farmyard animals, and several face painters will be on hand for those children wanting to look like their favorite animal. Special cupcakes and other treats also will be available for those who visit the school, 7421 Mirano Drive in Goleta, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“Our Barnyard Bash is a celebration of the opening of Maria Montessori’s first school in Rome on Jan. 6, 1907,” Head of School Jim Fitzpatrick said. “There wasn’t a barn involved with the first classroom; in fact, the tenement district was very urban, and still is. But we’ve planned this birthday celebration so young children can bring their families and have some fun.”

In addition to the specialty baked goods and the farmyard animals, the bash also will include mask-making and other hands-on activities.

“This isn’t an open house; it’s a birthday party,” Fitzpatrick said. “Everyone is invited to join with us. We’ll be outdoors, and if we’re lucky the goats won’t eat too many sweaters!”

During the past 104 years, Montessori’s method of education has grown from its humble origins in Rome’s San Lorenzo tenement district to become a favored philosophy worldwide. More than 4,000 independent Montessori schools have been established, with a majority of the schools in the United States.

“Which is about to change,” Fitzpatrick said. “This year, more than 300 Montessori schools opened in China, with another 300 scheduled to open next year, and the next. … The Chinese government is sponsoring the training of teachers, and once they graduate they’re being encouraged to start their own schools in China’s rural communities.”

Recent connections in the media of successful entrepreneurs, business people and others recognized for their accomplishments — including Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, England’s Prince William, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, legendary chef Julia Child — have brought newfound attention to the value of Montessori’s philosophy.

“Hands-on experiences is the simplest explanation,” Fitzpatrick said. “People today talk about ‘project-based learning,’ which is sort of funny, because children in Montessori schools have been busy with project-based learning for more than 100 years.

“A Montessori experience is much more than that, of course, because Montessori materials are intended to introduce basic concepts with activities and materials that give the young child a ‘real,’ sensible experience, and then through a series of activities the child arrives at the abstract concept. Algebra really does begin with 4-year-olds in Montessori classrooms. It’s what I demonstrated at the TEDx event in October with my presentation, ‘The Binomial Cube: Key to the Universe.’”

All are welcome at the Barnyard Birthday Bash on Jan. 9.

— Jim Fitzpatrick is the head of school at Santa Barbara Montessori School.

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