Launched in 1964, the Fifth City Preschool in Chicago was the first structural application of changing images through a structure, a curriculum, a time design, and the entire school environment. Uniquely the preschool had four schools within the school – Infant, Mini, Pre and Kinder. The four schools were able to focus on the unique development of each age level from 18 weeks until age five.
Two preschool leaders recall the beginnings of designing and implementing the preschool: Aimee Hillard, “Launching the Fifth City Preschool – As I Remember It” (2018) and Sandra Conant, “The Fifth City Preschool (Chicago, 1967-68)” (May 2019). The first Imaginal Education Preschool Manual: Creating the Future describes the theory and practices of teaching..
Six steps for shaping images.
An Infant School serves children from sixteen weeks until they are eighteen months (or potty trained). A daily schedule and lesson plans provides continuity. Each month the infant curriculum emphasizes a different global culture. As the staff learned from Professors Dolman and Delacotto at the University of Illinois that babies could read if the letters of words were written large enough, they incorporated reading into the diaper changing time.
Mini School serves children eighteen months until they turn two. The 1967 Mini School Manual describes the school along with eight weeks of lesson plans. A summary of mini-school learnings are shared in this 1973 report, 5th City Preschooling Institute: An Experiment in Early Education..
Shapes of the imaginal daily time design communicate to the preschoolers their curriculum times, exercise periods (calimaginal), eating and nap times and rituals for opening and closing the day.
When the Preschool, serving three and four year olds, began in 1965, it was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Head Start program “because of its provocative approach to change images through art, images, dreams and metaphors”. The daily curriculum and environment bombards the preschoolers with 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. These songs often took old familiar songs parents knew from their past and rewrote the words to reflect the images of the present day. For instance”Old McDonald Had a Farm” became “Voom, Room Astronaut”. The Fifth City Preschool was recognized by Headstart in 1969 as “one of the ten best preschools in the nation“.
As the children turn five years old, they participate in a rite of passage of Preschool Graduation, moving from preschool to a half day of public school kindergarten and the other half day attending the Kinder School. Marjorie Branch, the principal at Erickson Elementary School, told 5th City Preschool staff that the 5th City Kinder Schoolers were always ahead of the other children without a preschool education because 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.”
The design of the CURRICULUM focuses on four areas: BASIC (yes reading, math and language skills could be taught to infants through five years), RELATIONAL (learning how to live and act with ones family and friends as well as becoming aware of the city/state/nation/world one is a part of), PSYCHOLOGICAL (developing personal skills) and IMAGINAL(developing personal self-images and social images of responsibility). These four curriculum areas are ‘spiraled’ to appropriately address each age level.ar
Each school has a similar TIME DESIGN, graphically shown beside the description of the Mini School. The shapes show the children what part of the day they are participating in, whether it is a curriculum block, a time for exercise, or a time to eat or rest.
The entire SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT was focused on constantly projecting positive images to the preschoolers about themselves and their lives. This included the decor on the walls, the songs sung throughout the day, informal conversations as well as the formal teaching.