Originally from Denmark, long-time London resident Helene is the founder of Outdoor Owls, Richmond’s outdoor nursery. She also recently welcomed her first baby – a gorgeous little girl called Else.
We caught up with Helene to talk business & motherhood during a pandemic & to find out more about outdoor education for little ones.
Congratulations on welcoming your daughter!
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Thank you, I’m over the moon! She is the best little human ever! But I must admit that the first couple of weeks with her were mixed. She arrived just before the Corona crisis escalated so I was partly in a blissful baby bubble and partly stressed about the state of the world.
I also had to navigate a stressful time of temporarily closing the nursery and making sure that my team and our families would be okay through lockdown.
Tell us about Outdoor Owls – where did the idea come from?
My inspiration takes me back to my Danish upbringing, where there is a long-standing tradition of outdoor education and ‘Forest School’, so I guess I brought that idea with me to London.
We believe that not only is it healthy for children to be outdoors but it’s also a much better learning environment for them. With this in mind, we created a holistic, child-centred learning and development programme.
Children are very capable, so Outdoor Owls actively encourages ‘safe risk-taking’ to help build independence. For example, climbing trees (to a safe height) and using tools (under guidance of an educator). Our focus is much broader than simply getting each child school ready – we also want to help them get ready for life!
What does a typical day look like for a child at Outdoor Owls?
We offer full time care from 7:45am – 6pm, 51 weeks a year. It was important for us to create an exciting full daycare option where parents can feel good about leaving their child while they work.
We start the day indoors with breakfast, then get dressed in our waterproofs and into our 6-seater buggies. After a lovely nature stroll, we arrive at our green space where we set up our tipi and basecamp for the day. Then we play, explore and learn for a couple of hours before lunch. In the afternoon, the smallest children can nap in our tipi (complete with camp beds and sleeping bags!) while we continue to play before packing up to return indoors for 4pm. The last couple of hours we spend indoors reading, playing and dancing, and enjoying a lovely warm dinner – appetite is usually high after an active day out in fresh air!
Most days are spent in our green space, but we also organise regular outings to places like Ham House, the local library, a school, a flower nursery… One of our favourite visits is to an elderly home – it’s so lovely to see that the visits are of mutual joy to the children and the elders.
Find out more about a day in the life of an Outdoor Owl here
What are the benefits of your outdoor approach?
Where to start! The major benefits are health, educational and environmental.
Outdoors, children naturally move around more, building stamina, muscle strength, balance, and coordination. They also develop a stronger immune system with improved gut bacteria, while plenty of fresh air gives viruses less opportunity to spread. Not to mention the mental health benefits, from improved resilience, attention, and self-confidence to reduced anxiety.
As for education, i think of it as a ‘wall-less’ classroom where you can teach maths to a 2 year old by counting sticks and measuring up puddles, and literacy by talking about the things you see in an ever-changing environment. It’s a much more stimulating setting with hands-on opportunities for learning and endless room for curiosity, imagination and creativity!
Finally, the time our children spend outside helps them build a positive attitude towards nature, biodiversity and our planet. Hopefully, they grow up to be custodians of it!
Find out more about the benefits of outdoor education here
How do you see yourself balancing motherhood & business in the future?
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Not sure if it will be a ‘balance’ as such, it will probably more be the case of letting it all merge. I am really ambitious about running the nursery and in the last year my working hours have been pretty full on. Going forward I will surely have less time, but the good thing is that I can be really flexible. And since my business is a nursery, the surroundings are child friendly, so I can bring my daughter with me.
What was your best maternity buy?
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I’ve been living in my 3 in 1 Seraphine maternity jackets. I have the hoodie and the parka. During pregnancy they were the only ones that could zip over my belly and they’re also great after birth. The extra pouch on the front means I can snuggle the baby inside which is the best feeling!
I also recommend Seraphine maternity leggings – I’ve been using mine for the last 2 months of my pregnancy and they are even better after birth when you just want to be comfortable. I am conscious of not buying clothes too often so I like pieces like this of good quality that can be used again and again.
Any advice for other mums thinking of starting their own business?
As for anyone starting a business, you need to prepare and plan carefully. Adding motherhood to the equation means less flexibility, so you need to be realistic about the timing of each step.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a good team. My co-founder and I put a LOT of energy into hiring an outstanding team. I am reaping the benefits now – even through this extremely difficult time when we had to temporarily close and I had just given birth. I could trust the team to manage things in my absence with minimal guidance.
Outdoor Owls is now back up & running after a temporary closure during lockdown. If you are interested in finding out more, visit the Outdoor Owls website for more info.