ICA is a not-for-profit organization with more than 35 years of experience in community development. The organization began its work in a west side neighborhood of Chicago where it pioneered in working with neighborhood residents to create and implement an integrated plan for development. In the early 1960's the ICA staff responded to the need for childcare for infants and toddlers in the neighborhood by working with parents to establish a quality childcare center that provided competent care and nurturing as well as emphasizing learning. Drawing from the research of Jerome Kagan, J. McVickers Hunt, Burton White, and the practical approaches developed by Maria Montessori, the staff and parents created the Infant School for children age 6 weeks to 14 months and the Mini School for children 15 months through 3 years. The Infant and Mini Schools operated for seven years and pioneered in early learning with babies before the creation of the Head Start program for 3 and 4 year olds.
"Whole Person Approach" which considers development across four learning domains: the Cognitive, the Social, the Personal and the Imaginal.
A feature of the curriculum that was developed was the "Whole Person Approach" which considers development across four learning domains: the Cognitive, the Social, the Personal and the Imaginal. The curriculum approach also emphasizes the power of visual and verbal images for affecting ones self-image, one's image of others and the world in which we live. This approach has been taught across the world as "Imaginal Education". As a result of the pioneering work in early learning in Chicago children entered preschool programs and eventually the public elementary school with 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 Infant and Mini School programs were terminated because no public health regulations existed for group day care for infants and toddlers, but the ICA staff continued to use the curriculum framework in its work in early learning in 43 nations across the world. In addition the ICA staff continued to train local residents to be preschool teachers and as a result the Fifth City Preschool in Chicago has operated continuously for over 30 years. ICA has also developed community based preschool programs in Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Portugal, Egypt, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. In addition to developing an innovative learning approach out of its work in community development, the ICA has developed a facilitation approach that maximizes the participation of stakeholders and results in motivation to implement shared decisions.