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Coming Alive to Nature:
Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Forthcoming Course
“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.

2016 Summer Course at The Nature Institute

Tending the Roots of Sustainability
The Significance of Experience-based Learning and Our Responsibility to Children and the Earth

June 19 – 25, 2016

“It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which
we have given heed to some natural object.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

“There is also drama in every bush, if you can see it.”
    – Aldo Leopold, 1948

These words of Emerson and Leopold present a challenge to those of us living in the 21st century. Do we perceive the sacredness and drama in the happenings of nature? Are we, as educators, able to provide opportunities for our students to experience the earth with all its beings and forces as their home and a source of wisdom? Does education provide the ground for students to later become respectful, insightful, and productive partners with other living beings in the evolution of the earth?

That we cannot necessarily answer these questions wholeheartedly with “yes!” is a symptom of a deeper problem. The late ecologist Frank Golley pointed to it when he asked: “How does one speak about connection in a culture of separation and isolation?” He then went on to frankly admit, “I don’t know.” Since our lives and our ways of studying and thinking are usually disconnected from nature’s dynamism and interconnectedness, how can we expect human actions to enhance a healthy relation to the natural world?

Our course is designed to nurture connectedness with the wisdom of nature. We tend the roots of sustainability when we inspire children to perceive, to probe, to question; to be astounded by the intricacy of nature; to understand and to value the interconnectedness of all beings and processes.

This means working on developing new capacities. In the course, we will

  • Engage in concrete experiences with nature.
  • Become aware of and work to break through habits of abstract thought.
  • Practice attending to and understanding the dynamic nature of nature.
  • Discuss developmentally appropriate ways to connect children to nature.
  • Explore the role of cultural activities (story, festivals, and art) in awakening capacities that embody vitality and a sense of connectedness.

A central aim of the course is to help educators develop awareness and skills that they can creatively adapt and evolve in their own teaching — whether they work in a nature-education program or in an urban school. The course will also be of interest to college or graduate students studying sustainability or environmental education, and to parents.

The course begins on Sunday evening, June 19, at 7 pm and ends on Saturday, June 25, at 1 pm with a potluck lunch.

Daily schedule:

Mornings: 9 am to 12:30 pm, with a mid-morning break; snack provided

Lunch: 12:30 to 2 pm

Afternoons: 2 pm to 5:30 pm, with a mid-afternoon break; snack provided

Evenings: free, except for Wednesday evening

Wednesday evening: Guest Lecture on course theme by George Russell, Ph.D., editor of the 2014 book Children and Nature: Making Connections, co-founder and former editor of Orion magazine, and emeritus professor of biology (Adelphi University). This talk will be open to the public.

Course Staff:

Craig Holdrege, Ph.D., is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has worked as an educator since 1980.

Henrike Holdrege, M.S., is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has taught in its adult education programs since 2002.

Registration: deadline is June 1st. Please download and complete the registration form.

Tuition: $600. The fee includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Tuition assistance: We are pleased to offer some tuition reduction. To apply, please fill out and return the appropriate form:

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.

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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