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Imaginal education was first piloted through preschool structures and then spread from there

The Fifth City Preschool in Chicago was the first structural application of image change.  Starting in the Fifth City Preschool in 1964, the curriculum and methods were adapted around the world. Some stories of global preschool replication are shared here as well as the Learning Basket program focused on parents of infants.

Fifth City Preschool Pilot

As the Ecumenical Institute began working in the Fifth City community in 1964, the community parents dreamed of a preschool.  Aimee Hillard recalls the research, design and first steps taken to launch the preschool.  A spiral curriculum was created for educating infants through five year old resulted uniquely in four schools:

  • The Infant School was for infants and toddlers  three months to two years. The nine month curriculum emphasized a different global culture each month; here is the daily schedule and  lesson plans for the first week of Infant School.  Learning from Dolman and Delacotto, professors at the University of Illinois, that baby’s could learn to read if the words were large enough, the reading curriculum was taught while the baby’s were diapered.

  • Kinder School provided five year olds attending a half day of public school a curriculum for the other half of the day. Marjorie Branch, the principal at Leif Erickson Elementary, told the preschool teachers that the Kinder Schoolers were always ahead of the other children who did not have preschool education. They had a a strong personal identity, an appreciation for learning and working with others, a sense of delight and wonder, and the ability to communicate with confidence.

Fifty years later the 5th City Preschool is still serving the children of 5th City.


5th City Preschooling Institute: An Experiment in Early Education, 1973 and HERE for more on the story of the 5th City Preschool.

Here are memories from the Fifth City Preschool 1967-1968 as Sandra Conant Strachan remembers from teaching there.

  • The Preschool was for three and four year olds. The Preschool program was accepted by the War on Poverty, under the Head Start program in 1965, because of its provocative approach to change images through art, images, dreams and metaphors.  The children are bombarded daily by strong positive images of personal integrity, freedom and creativity through rituals and songs. Karen Bueno documented the preschool songs in Children Singing the New Millennium.   The Preschool was recognized as one of the ten best preschools in the nation.

5th City Preschool Replication

Human Development Projects were launched globally, one of the first programs developed in each project was often a preschool, based on learnings from the 5th City model. Here are stories of some of them.

  • Egypt: Ronnie Seagren writes about how imaginal education was used to engage women in various community programs, including the El Bayad Preschool.

  • Marshall Islands:  Leah Early talks about the preschool miracle in the Majuro.

  • Philippines:  Aimee Hilliard and Efren Casquejo catalyzed the creation  of 33 preschools around Barangay, Philippines.

  • United States:  Mary Clutz began the  Community Interplay Preschool in California  with the curriculum emphasizing world cultures.  Starting with three and four year olds, the school added a year annually until they served preschoolers through sixth graders over the forty-nine years of the school.

  • Janelle Dove shares the 40-week preschool curriculum taught at Epworth United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

And Sandra Conant Strachan remembers experiences teaching in the Delta Pace HDP Preschool in 1977-79.

The Learning Basket

The Learning Basket enables parents and caregivers to nurture learning with infants and toddlers through play.  The following links give details on the Learning Basket:  Home Learning Basket®  Activities That Stimulate Brain Development Background Info Implementation Evaluation Results Message Play to Learn Book Learning Basket Training System Contact Info

  • The Aditi Learning Centre in Pune, India, reaches out to rural young women, providing them with a safe and caring environment in which to complete their high-school education.  The Potali program of the Aditi Learning Centre helps parents of children aged 0 to 3 years. More than one thousand families have taken part since the program began in 2012. Eight two-member teams of practitioners work with 14 to 20 families for three months, exposing them to twelve distinct aspects of child care. The program’s impact is seen in the children’s improved diet, in family paradigms that now value the girl child, in helping parents stop physical disciplining of children, and in parents singing songs and reading stories with their children and allowing children to play with other children in the neighbourhood.

  • A network of 17 ”books-in-a-box” library. Using the network of eight Potali staff, six Aditi teachers and three students in Pune, India, one thousand books for children and parents have been curated and distributed to 17 locations. While the program only began in February 2018, early reports indicate that children and parents are enthusiastic about the opportunity to read books. The system for stocking and exchanging the books is simple: take a few books and exchange them whenever they wish to.

  • Joaquina Rodriguez reports on the Learning Basket in Guatemala in the October 2018 Wind and Waves: “Social Dramas, Enchiladas, Toys and gardens: The Learning Basket Program Supports Rural Guatemalan Parents”.