Local Business Spotlight: Lotus Heart Preschool
Updated: Feb 16
This month we sat down with Brynn Anderson, a Hayhurst teacher and the founder of community preschool program Lotus Heart Preschool. This play and nature-based half-day program offers parents in Hayhurst and neighboring communities a preschool program where their kids will be experiencing nature as they learn.
Phil: You obviously have a very diverse educational background. Tell me a bit about how you started this business.
Brynn: I started the school when my children were much younger. I’m a mother of four. I had been teaching preschool for 15 years in various areas. At that time, I was interviewing for jobs and most were 40 hours per week, across the river, with a need to figure out aftercare for my kids, etc. And I thought “I’ve been doing this long enough to do it myself and be home for my own kids”. So it came out of wanting to have my own family together. Being able to work from home and until 1:30 PM has also been very beneficial for my own well-being, my stamina in the classroom, and a good balance of work and family life.
It started small with just a couple of neighborhood kids and I built it really slowly from there. When I started, I looked back at my own education and came up with an eclectic mix of everything I’ve loved about what I’ve learned and the different places I’ve worked at. Things like the Montessori approach or the Waldorf philosophy, and the emergent curriculum. I created a curriculum that includes a lot of giving kids the confidence of letting them try things by themselves and be creative- learning with natural materials instead of just specific toys, and shaping the teaching around their interests. I try to be in tune with what their needs are, where they are developmentally, and pull from the different curriculums.
Phil: How does the play-based curriculum work and how does the mixed-ages class change the dynamic?
Brynn: We have a mixed-age classroom from 3 to 5-year-olds. In the play-based curriculum there’s a lot of room to meet the different developmental needs. For instance, I love the way that the older ones can help the younger ones. At the same time, the younger ones can look at the older ones for inspiration or learn how to do new things. There’s a lot of nurturing and fun play that comes with bringing the younger ones, so I love the mixed classes, especially with the play-based curriculum.
Play-based means that the children are doing everything experientially and learning through play. We’re still doing a lot of pre-literacy and pre-math, just don’t use worksheets or written material. We may spend a morning seeing how many words we can come up with using the letter N and being silly. That kind of thing. There’s also the social-emotional aspect of play where they’re learning to share materials, share space, and how to work out conflicts. These are some of the most important parts of not only being prepared for Kindergarten but also for the world. They learn to coexist in a peaceful way and how important it is to talk to each other and work things out.
There’s a misconception that play-based is just throwing kids into a room with a bunch of toys. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot that goes into it. There are focused times with movement, rhymes, and songs, we practice Spanish and sign language. Play time is important imaginative work, and of course, all the social/emotional skills and negotiation that goes into play and friendship.
Phil: Are most of the people who come to you from Hayhurst and Maplewood and surrounding areas? What types of family dynamics do you see?
Brynn: I would say the majority come from Hayhurst and Maplewood. I have a couple of families from Bridlemile, Stevenson, Capitol Hill, and Reike. Every once in a while I’ll have a family coming from further away, but that’s the average.
In most of my families, both parents are working but maybe there’s one who works at home, or maybe one works during the day and another in the evenings. There are also families with nannies or help from grandparents.
How did you utilize the spaces in your house to make the school and how does the licensing work for that?
Brynn: I took what would’ve been the former dining room and living room to make what is now the preschool. So when you walk into the house, it is set up like a school. It is set up to be a completely separate classroom sectioned off from my kitchen or any of the other rooms.
As far as accreditation, I am a recorded program with the Early Learning Division, which is a specific educational license to work 4 hours a day with potty-trained 3 to 5-year-olds. So it’s a very specific license. I can’t work longer days with naps for the children. I could, but I would need another license for that, which I am looking into for the future.
Phil: How many students do you have and what is the criterion to fill out the remaining spots for the year?
Brynn: I have ten children per day. I have more families than that but I just have up to ten children in the classroom. Usually, half the children will move up to Kindergarten and half will return, so for example, this year I’m expecting about five kids to come back in the fall.. There’s also a varying schedule. Some children will come every day and some will come either Mon-Wed-Fri or Tue-Thu. So I might have about fifteen families that fill those ten spots every day.
It would be great to be able to handpick everybody to work well with each other but I don’t choose kids specifically other than first come as long as they meet criteria, such as potty training and readiness to be in a group. I’m really honest with parents about the fact that this is a group of ten kids of mixed ages and I teach by myself, so if it’s not a good fit I will let them know. Everyone that comes has a fair chance and most of the time it works out really well.
Phil: You have an open house this month, correct? Tell me a bit about that.
Brynn: Yes, I’ll have an open house this month on the 25th and probably another one in March. It’ll be from 11 AM to 1 PM and children are welcome. The new school year will start after Labor Day. It can be tricky to enroll early in the year because many kids are still around 2 ½ years old and they are very different now than how they will be in September. However, I’m just following the market. The very first year I opened I did it in June and I sat around waiting for someone to call. So I had to get in the game and learn to promote myself six months ahead, and fill the classroom, which is actually really helpful to know what’s coming for the school year ahead.
Phil: Do you have a message for the Hayhurst community?
Brynn: This is a community preschool and we’re invested in the neighborhood. I don’t actually have an outdoor play space in my own yard so we go across the street to Pendleton Park. So we’re constantly interfacing with the neighbors and the people walking their dogs. We have a community garden membership so kids can experience that as well. It’s a community business and a community service. We’re here for the long haul to be part of the Hayhurst neighborhood.
Lotus Heart Preschool is located in Southwest Portland across from beautiful Pendleton Park and Hayhurst Elementary School. You can contact Brynn at: www.LotusHeartPreschool.com.