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Coming Alive to Nature:
Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Forthcoming Courses
Awakening to Nature’s Open Secrets
Miracles of Light and Color
“The day is coming when a single carrot freshly observed will set off a revolution.”
    – Paul Cezanne

group photo of course attendees The poet and scientist Goethe developed a new approach to science involving a way of seeing that weds artistic sensibility with exact thinking and observation. The Nature Institute is inspired by Goethe's approach, and in its weeklong intensive summer courses aims to open up this new way of seeing to course participants.

We often view science as a discipline that deals with the world in cool and distant objectivity, gaining understanding of the world through experiments and instruments that overcome human limitations. Goethe wrote provocatively that the human being is the “best and most exact scientific instrument,” and he believed that science involves human development: “If we want to achieve a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself.” He saw that we can transform ourselves to ever better fathom the wisdom and depths of the world.

photo of two students examining flowers Much today stands in the way of this transformation. We form abstract concepts about the world that we take to be more real than the things themselves. Filled with our own predilections, we don't perceive carefully how the world actually appears and how we are interacting with it. And our experience is increasingly mediated by all sorts of instruments and gadgets, so we lose faith in our senses and in our ability to judge.

photo of students in the field To counteract these habits of mind, The Nature Institute's weeklong intensive summer courses emphasize immediate experience and practice. Participants practice observation: observation of natural phenomena, observation of thought processes, and observation of how we form judgments about the world. And this observing always involves doing-getting out into nature and observing and drawing plants; painting elements of a landscape; drawing geometric forms that “track” a progression of thought. By weaving together reflection and observation, taking in and actively creating, science and art, we bring ourselves into inner movement, and transformation begins. Our own process of knowing becomes more transparent and nature shows herself from new sides.

As one course participant has remarked, “It is such a gentle Aha! experience for me — a peeling away of a veil or film that has covered my eyes for years. It again gives me context and tools for seeing the familiar in a deeper and more penetrating way.”

To read other comments from summer course participants, click here.

2015 Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Awakening to Nature’s Open Secrets — Pathways in Science and Art

June 21 – 26, 2015

In this course we will take a phenomenological, experience-based approach to the world. Children today grow up with much of their experience mediated by technological devices on the one hand and abstract ideas on the other. As a result there is a growing disconnect between what they experience and the true ecology of life. How can we help children become healthily rooted in a real world?

As adults we need to learn how to attend carefully to what we directly experience through our senses. And we need to learn how to form our ideas in conversation with experience as a counterbalance to the abstract notions that dominate culture today.

The course will take as its starting point experiential learning in the study of nature in the mornings, and continue with artistic activities in the afternoons. The course will be of special interest to educators who want to improve their practical knowledge of phenomenological science teaching, where knowledge grows out of the encounter with the world in a living way.

“We need to give children—in all that we give them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—something that has growth forces and transformative forces in it. That means we must make our classes alive and ever more living.”
    Rudolf Steiner (1922), founder of Waldorf education

The course begins on Sunday, June 21, at Hawthorne Valley School:

6:30 pm — registration

7:00 pm — “The Importance of Experience-Based Learning”
                  Opening talk by Craig Holdrege and Henrike Holdrege

The course ends on Friday, June 26, at 5:30 pm.

Daily schedule:

Mornings at The Nature Institute with Craig Holdrege and Henrike Holdrege, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm with mid-morning break

  • Physics Rooted in Human Experience: The Visual World
  • A Living Understanding of Animals

Lunch: 12:30 to 2 pm

Afternoons at Hawthorne Valley School with the faculty of the Alkion Center

2 to 2:30: Singing for all participants with Eric Muller
2:30 to 4: Electives

  • Enlivened Observation of Nature through Drawing with Martina Angela Muller
  • A Study of Great Art through Enlivened Observation with Patrick Stolfo
  • Music in the Mood of the Fifth for Early Childhood with Channa Seidenberg

4 to 4:15: Break
4:15 to 5:30: Electives

  • The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education with Andree Ward
  • Drawing studio continued
  • Great Art workshop continued

Friday Only 4:15 - 5:30 Closing Forum and Exhibit


5:30 to 7:30: Dinner Break
7:30: Open Studios
Other Evening Events to be arranged

The Nature Institute and Hawthorne Valley School are ten minutes from each other by foot. The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store is located across from Hawthorne Valley School. It has groceries, warm food and a salad bar, and is open from 7:30 am to 7 pm every day.


Please register by June 1 through the Alkion Center. There you will also find information about housing. If you have logistical questions, please contact Martina Muller:

Registration fee: $50 (applicable toward tuition)


  • Application and registration fee received before or on May 15: $520 + $40 materials fee
  • Application and registration fee received after May 15: $560 + $40 materials fee
  • The $50 registration fee will be deducted from the overall amount due.

Tuition for currently enrolled Alkion Center Foundation Studies and Waldorf Teacher Education students: $330

Tuition assistance: We are pleased to offer some tuition assistance for Waldorf Teachers. To apply, fill out and return the scholarship form.

Miracles of Light and Color

July 9 – 14, 2015

In this course we will connect Goethean scientific practice (led by Henrike Holdrege) and artistic work (led by Jennifer Thomson). These activities will enhance each other, and together they can help us learn to see more and experience color ever more deeply.

In the mornings we will turn to color phenomena in nature through experiencing, observing, experimenting, contemplating and journaling. In this we will follow the scientific path that Goethe laid out in his Color Theory — a path we might call “model-free science”: the phenomena themselves, rather than preconceived concepts, will guide us in growing and deepening our feeling for and our awareness and understanding of color.

In the afternoons we will continue the work of observation and imagination through exercises in contraction/expansion, point/periphery, and the inner/outer language of colors. We will engage in light and dark sketching, try to capture color moods and gestures, and pursue studies of warm and cool colors. We will use water colors, with a focus on the process, not the result.

Daily schedule:
  • Morning activities from 9 am to 12:30 pm, with a mid-morning break (snack will be provided)
  • Lunch break from 12:30 pm to 2 pm
  • Afternoon activities from 2 pm to 5:30 pm, with a mid-afternoon break (snack provided) and closing of the day

The course begins on Thursday evening, July 9, at 7 pm and ends on Tuesday, July 14, at 4 pm.

On Sunday evening at 7:30 pm Jennifer Thomson will speak about her recent art work in a slide show (open to the public).

Tuition: $500 (less $30 if you register by May 1)
Tuition includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Registration deadline is June 15. Please download and complete the registration form.

We are pleased to offer some tuition reduction:

Scholarship for Waldorf Educators
General Tuition Assistance

Cancellation Policy: If you cancel your registration more than two weeks prior to the beginning of the course, you will be refunded the course fee minus $50. If you cancel less than two weeks before the course begins, you will receive a refund of the course fee minus $100. There is no refund once the course has begun.

Course Staff:

Henrike Holdrege is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has taught in its adult education programs since 2002. One of her research projects is visual experience and model-free optics, subjects she continues to teach to art students and others.

Jennifer Thomson is a visual artist and has been an art teacher for adults for many years. She offers painting courses and retreats at Sun Studio in Crestone, Colorado, where she lives. Visit her website at

Location of Courses:
The Nature Institute is located near the hamlet of Harlemville (town of Ghent), New York, and is nestled at the foot of the Taconic Hills. Our neighbors include the 400-acre biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm, the Hawthorne Valley School (a K-12 Waldorf school) and the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Walking trails wind through forests, wetland areas, and creeksides. Click here for directions.

Lodging and Meals:
We can refer participants to local families who rent rooms ($30 to $50 per night). Camping at nearby state parks is approximately $15 per night (see below). For a list of motels and bed & breakfasts, click here.

We provide morning and afternoon snacks. Course participants will be responsible for all other meals. The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store has extensive organic food and deli selections and is within walking distance of The Nature Institute.

For reservations and site information go to: or call the New York State Camping Reservation Service: Reserve America (800) 456-2267. Lake Taghkanic State Park (off the Taconic State Parkway) is the closest and most accessible campground to The Nature Institute. The Taconic State Park, Copake Falls Area is also nearby if the other one is full. Information for both campgrounds can be found on the above website.

To view brief summary information about earlier courses, see the past-event listing on our calendar page.

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