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Thinking in the Wild: A Nature-Based Philosophy Summer Camp

August 6, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 3:00 pm MDT

Summer Camp Details

A collaborative day camp venture with Cottonwood Agile Learning Center and Helena community youth. 

This week-long nature-based philosophy summer camp is designed to help youth experience the joy of thinking together outdoors & the power, beauty, and importance of perspectival shifts to critical, creative thinking and community. 

With nature as our guide, we’ll explore three different kinds of shifts, which can be thought of in terms of micro, meso, and macro thinking and translate these into ways of coming together as a community:

  • micro – how we relate with and understand ourselves, and our ideas and beliefs, within our local, social, and ecological community;
  • meso – how we relate with and understand one another in our local, social, and ecological community
  • macro – how we relate with and understand others beyond our local, social, and ecological  community

Each of these relationships are intertwined & will be explored in ways that foster and facilitate philosophical reflection, application, and meaningful conversation.  

~ Daily Outings

~ Thinking Games

~ Activities

~ Journaling/Writing

~ Exploring

~ Community

Our daily outdoors activities will be structured to help youth:

  • experience philosophical ideas and evaluate them through exploration & experience
  • remember, carry and apply philosophical ideas in their daily lives
  • express and address the questions they hold
  • develop philosophical approaches to their lives
  • explore how philosophical ideas might help them live better lives & make intentional, considered choices
  • practice inquiring within a community
  • think more expansively, broaden perspectives and shift points of view
  • focus attention in unfamiliar and intentional ways
  • understand their relationships to other people and nature
  • explore how philosophical ideas might help them create dialogic, multi-vocal experiences
  • cultivate, engage, and support community

These design principles are in line with our more general organizational goals which aim to help people of all ages discover and explore the wonder and joy of philosophy, the value (and fun) of doing philosophy together & the transformative power of philosophy to enrich lives and strengthen our communities and environment.

They are also aligned with Cottonwood’s organizational goals of supporting the growth of community members in a manner that respects each individual’s autonomy and of letting participant’s natural curiosity guide their activities and engagement with the world. 

Geared for youth ranging in age from 10-17 years old, Thinking in the Wild summer camp is open to the community.  Register through CottonwoodScholarships will be offered through Merlin for those in need.

When & Where

A collaborative adventure for Helena youth with Merlin & Cottonwood ALC.  Come explore the fun of thinking in the wild! August 2nd – August 6th from 10am-3pm. No background in philosophy needed.  Designed for ages 10-17.

Camp Details

 Date: August 2nd – 6th
Time: 9am – 3pm MDT
Where: Outdoors in the various locations w/in the Helena area

Registration Info

Registration: Sign-up through Cottonwood here!
Scholarships:  Available for those in need through Merlin 

Camp Leaders

Mitch Conway is a branch facilitator at Cottonwood ALC.  He is a student of philosophy, a theater maker, and a teacher who cares ardently about empowering young learners; his work has often been an interweaving of education, story, and inquiry.


At the BIRD Theatre in Tottori, Japan, among other productions, he collaborated with Korean group TUIDA to create The Poetry Class about the colonial period and Pacific war; he also directed students at Kei Ai High School in Romeo & Juliet. Using applied theater, he performed with Village Playback Theatre creating improvisations from audience members’ personal stories, and for a three month residency he taught embodied methods of community dialogue through the Colombo Americano in Medellin, Colombia. He has also taught theater to elementary school students at 82nd St. Academics and middle school students at Summer Institute for the Gifted.

For a year, he taught at the English Immersion Program in Umphium Mai refugee camp on the Thailand-Myanmar border using a curriculum based in literature and critical thinking. With the New York Foundling at Queens College, Mitch supervised the academic component of The Dorm Project, a program supporting youth in foster care through college.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theater from Skidmore College and a Master’s degree in Philosophy and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Mitch has recently presented at the North Eastern Philosophy of Education Society (NEPES) and Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) conferences. He also relishes walking in the forest. 

Abram deBruyn is a veteran facilitator of Public Philosophy. Since discovering that “the good life” is a Community of Inquiry, he’s keen to spread the news, finding and initiating more players into the infinite game. 


Besides IAPC certification in Philosophy with Children, he holds an MA in Philosophy and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and is pursuing a second MA in Philosophy at The New School for Social Research. Abram is a certified Agile Learning Facilitator (2014) with broad interests in self-directed education, including the University of Students and forthcoming research papers on the concept of Chronogenesis.

Marisa Diaz-Waian is a public philosopher, the Founder and Director of Merlin CCC, Board Member & Education Committee Chair for the Philosophy Learning &Teaching Organization (PLATO), and a speaker for Humanities Montana.


A “generalist” by nature, training, and practice, Marisa happily “hangs her hat” on Merlin Nature Preserve, where she lives and serves as its trustee and steward, listening to as much jazz and reggae as possible. 

She has a special interest in ethics and ancient philosophy, as well as existentialism, humor, and “fuzzy” things at the intersection of philosophy and psychology.  (She also really loves wolves, the ocean, art, dancing, and doing things outside of the box).  Her work focuses on philosophy in the community, across all ages and backgrounds, and frequently involves an interdisciplinary, environmental, and intergenerational bent. 

Louis Justis is going into senior year at Cottonwood ALC. He moved to Helena from Boise in mid 2020 and now spends most of his time playing guitar, drawing and listening to podcasts. He’s been interested in philosophy since 2018, when he stumbled upon a youtube channel talking about the intersection of philosophy and social issues, and has been hooked ever since.  Louis is our student scholar camp co-leader.

David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives. 


David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy; as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others. David has a consulting practice and serves as a Philosophical Advisor and Consultant for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.

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