Getting out there

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.    

Ian Henderson lIan Henderson, founder of Forest Owl near Bedford, has a Norwegian cow bell in the back of his van. His mum used it to bring him in for tea from the park at the back of their house when he was growing up in London. Absorbed by learning and play in the great outdoors – food for the brain – young Henderson needed to be reminded about feeding his body.

Which explains why Ian is a convert to the forest school approach to learning; something he describes as “more an ideology than being in a forest – a way of working rather than a place of work.

Recalling those early days in London, he suggests “I learnt more being outdoors in the park than being in school. More recently I’ve discovered I’m not alone in finding school didn’t suit me; it doesn’t suit two thirds of children growing up. Children grow kinaesthetically – by looking, doing and feeling. The problem in the classroom is more the method of teaching rather than the content… We’re talking about primary children aged 5 – 11 which is the age when they learn how to learn. Most children start primary school pretty much as intelligent as each other, but something happens between there and secondary school.”

Ian’s theory is that young children are taught in a way that doesn’t encourage them to learn. At Forest Owl they take a little of the classroom curriculum and teach it in a different way that can grow children’s self-confidence.

forest_owl_forest_school_logoForest Owl aims to encourage more children to spend more time learning outdoors – addressing this perceived gap in the school system. The enterprise has a Bedfordshire base and ‘a 22-acre classroom’ at Bowels Wood in Bromham, but the service and support is also mobile. Where access is an issue [taking a class out of school creates considerable paperwork] and where a school has a playground, the forest environment comes to the playground “bringing it alive, making it exciting” enthuses Ian.

Ian’s ambition doesn’t stop with primary age children in the playground. “We’re talking to a couple of businesses about ways of working with their staff – in teams – to help them understand how people learn, in a creative and stress-reducing natural environment. That works whether you’re 5 or 55”.

Knowing that Ian has a background in design and marketing, I’m not surprised that his advice for others is about how you present your enterprise to the outside world.

“Look the part. The reason Forest Owl is getting into schools and talking to businesses is that we communicate effectively through our website and social media. We’re also building credibility by nailing our colours to the mast. We live our brand by getting out and about, not sitting indoors in an office.”

Get out and about with Forest Owl at

To discover another forest school – working with older young people – go to


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