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 worked closely with Thomas Berry to re-imagine the child's relationship with the natural world. Seminal to these conversations is the following quote 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.

In considering the education, care and acculturation of children and young adults in our culture, we have come to believe that this “deep psychic shift” that Thomas Berry refers to is the central task of our time. To what extent does the schooling of children contribute to their view of the natural world as a commodity? How might we create a context within which children awaken to the wonder, beauty and intimacy of the natural world? What might be done to restore a sense of the natural world as a sacred presence in the lives of children? These are the questions that have concerned us.

In response to these questions, the Center initiated a two-year program in the Autumn of 2006 entitled “The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice,” designed to prepare educators and others with children in their care to develop capacities to nurture the deep inner faculties of imagination and intuition in themselves, children and young adults, and to create contexts within which children and young adults are given the opportunity to develop a bond of intimacy with the natural world.

Every year, the Center accepts a new class of 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 are entrusted with the care of children or young adults and who indicate a deep interest in developing capacities for nurturing a relationship between the inner life of the child/young adult and the natural world.

Designed as a co-research among participants, the program unfolds over the course of two years. During the first year, participants come together for Saturday retreats in the Fall, Winter and Spring, as well as a two-day retreat in the summer. In the second year, participants develop a practice in consultation with Center staff and reunite for a retreat in the Summer during which practices are shared. The program is intended to be a meaningful sequence of experiences that build one upon the other. Therefore, we request that participants make a commitment to attend every session and complete readings and assignments prior to each retreat.

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.

At the Center, we try to 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.


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, published by the Center in the Fall of 2015. As Dr. Merryandrew, he currently works as a clown doctor in the Pediatric unit at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital.

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.

Marnie Weigel is an eco-contemplative artist who enjoys knitting, making pottery, journals, and jewelry. Her creations are inspired by her reflections in silence and beholding in the natural world. She received a BA in Environmental Studies from Warren Wilson College in 1995 and an AAS in Professional Crafts: Clay from Haywood Community College in 2000. Marnie completed the Center’s Inner Life of the Child in Nature Program in 2010. Marnie is a lead Earth Guide at the Center and co-creator of our Thomas Berry Summer Programs for Children.

We are now accepting applications for the class of 2017-2019 on a rolling admissions basis through November 1, 2017. Click here to download an application.

Cost: $750

Place: Timberlake Earth Sanctuary

    1501 Rock Creek Dairy Road

    Whitsett, NC 27377

Calendar of Retreats:

First Year 2017-2018

Retreat 1: Saturday, November 18, 2017 (9:00-4:00)

Retreat 2: Saturday, February 10, 2018 (9:00-4:00)

Retreat 3: Saturday, April 7, 2018 (9:00-4:00)

Retreats 4-5: Tuesday-Wednesday, June 26-27, 2018 (9:00-4:00)

Second Year 2018-2019

Gathering 1: Sunday afternoon, October 1, 2018 (2:00-5:00)

Gathering 2: Sunday afternoon, February 10, 2019 (10:00-3:00)

Graduation: Sunday afternoon/evening, June 23, 2019 (2:00 pm-8:00 pm)

The Inner Life Class of 2017