The Inner Life of the Child in Nature

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice

A 2-year Program

Funded by

The Kalliopeia Foundation

The Gift Committee of the Congregation of St. Joseph

Approved by the following for Professional Development Hours:

American Montessori Society

NC Department of Environmental Education

NC Department of Public Instruction

NC Division of Child Development and Early Education

Since its beginnings in 2000, The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World has worked closely with the vision of ecotheologian Thomas Berry to re-imagine the child's relationship with the natural world in resonance with these words from Thomas Berry:

There is a certain futility in the efforts being made – truly sincere, dedicated, and intelligent efforts - to remedy our environmental devastation simply by activating renewable sources of energy and by reducing the deleterious impact of the industrial world. The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed with in wonder, beauty and intimacy. In our present attitude the natural world remains a commodity to be bought and sold, not a sacred reality to be venerated. The deep psychic shift needed to withdraw us from the fascination of the industrial world and the deceptive gifts that it gives us is too difficult for simply the avoidance of its difficulties or the attractions of its benefits. Eventually, only our sense of the sacred will save us.

Now in its 10th year, The Inner Life of the Child in Nature program cultivates an I and Thou relationship between human beings and the natural world. Contemplative in nature, the program evolves through eco-contemplative practices and reflective readings and journaling, and gives evidence, through practical applications, of ways of working with children and young adults that bring to life a sense of belonging to Earth as sacred community. In the first year, we focus on “Presence” – the development of inner capacities, both in ourselves and in children and young adults, that enable us to form a bond of intimacy with the natural world. In the second year, we focus on “Practice” – on new ways of being and working in the world. The program culminates with the publication of a Collection of Practices that is downloadable on the Center’s publication page.

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature Program is an in-depth process of inner development and group sharing. Thomas Berry's image of the Universe as a "communion of subjects" permeates every aspect of the program. In an atmosphere of trust and soul welcoming, we create a meaningful context for our programs by paying close attention to the rhythm of the day. Retreats begin with a moment of silence intended to quiet the mind and create a field of receptivity for the group. Every retreat includes solo time in the natural world, time for reflection and sharing, the fellowship of shared meals at lunch, and presentations related to the theme at hand. Retreats take place within the peaceful beauty of Timberlake Earth Sanctuary, a 165-acre nature preserve in the foothills of North Carolina between Greensboro and Burlington.

Every year, the Center accepts a new class of up to twenty participants into “The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice” program. The group is comprised of teachers, parents, child psychologists, guidance counselors, religious educators, child care providers, naturalists, college professors, and others who indicate a deep interest in nurturing a relationship between the inner life of the child/young adult and the natural world.


Director, Peggy Whalen-Levitt, has been with the Center since its beginnings in 2000. Working closely with Center Founder Carolyn Toben and cultural historian Thomas Berry, Peggy has been deeply engaged in the formation of a work for adults and children, based in intuitive, imaginal and contemplative ways of knowing, that recovers the inner vision of a society in harmony with nature. She holds a Ph.D. in Language in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, where she co-created a graduate Course of Study in Childhood Imagination. She has written widely on aesthetic communication in childhood and is the editor of Chrysalis, the Center newsletter, and Only the Sacred: Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century, a Chrysalis reader. Peggy coordinates the “The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice” program.

Director of Children's Programs, Sandy Bisdee, completed her Association Montessori International (AMI) Teaching Certificate in 1979. A born naturalist and Native American flute player, Sandy has developed the Center's eco-contemplative practices for children since 2005. She completed her certification in the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program in 2009. Sandy brings to her work a lifetime of loving children and of loving the earth and of finding ways to bring the two together!

Andrew Levitt holds a BA in English from Yale University and a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. He trained as a mime with Marcel Marceau and with Paul J. Curtis at The American Mime Theatre. Andrew performed and taught mime professionally for over thirty years and then helped found the high school at the Emerson Waldorf School in Chapel Hill, NC where he taught Humanities and directed theater for seven years. Andrew co-created a performance piece, “The Meadow Across the Creek: Words from Thomas Berry” for the Thomas Berry Centennial and is the author of All the Scattered Leaves of the Universe: Journey and Vision in Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Work of Thomas Berry (2015) and Heron Mornings (2017). Andrew received the Greensbor Public Library’s Thomas Berry Award in 2016. As Dr. Merryandrew, he currently works as a clown doctor in the Pediatric unit at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro.

Colette Segalla holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in California and is a practicing therapist in Raleigh, NC. Before returning to graduate school, Colette was an AMI certified Montessori teacher in a lower elementary classroom of six-to-nine year old children. The work of Steiner and Montessori has contributed to her current Jungian-based exploration of children's spirituality and how a relationship with the natural world contributes to the child's spiritual development. Colette is the author of I am You, You are Me: The Interrelatedness of Self, Spirituality and the Natural World in Childhood, published by the Center in the Fall of 2015.

We are now accepting applications for the class of 2018-2020 on a rolling admissions basis through October 22, 2018. Click here to download an application.

Cost: $750 (payment plans can be arranged)
Place: Timberlake Earth Sanctuary
1501 Rock Creek Dairy Road
Whitsett, NC 27377

Calendar of Retreats:

First Year 2018-2019
Retreat 1: Saturday, November 17, 2018 (9:00-4:00)
Retreat 2: Saturday, February 2, 2019 (9:00-4:00)
Retreat 3: Saturday, March 30, 2019 (9:00-4:00)
Retreats 4-5: Tuesday-Wednesday, June 25-26, 2019 (9:00-4:00)

Second Year 2019-2020
Gathering 1: Sunday afternoon, October 20, 2019 (2:00-5:00)
Gathering 2: Sunday afternoon, February 9, 2020 (10:00-3:00)
Graduation: Sunday afternoon/evening, June 28, 2020 (2:00 pm-8:00 pm)

The Inner Life Class of 2019