The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel director Karen Mullen (left) and area manager Jennifer Tibbetts share a table in the center’s Make Believe Blvd. (Photos: Charmaine George)

The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel, located near the front of the Lexington Oaks community off S.R. 54, just opened in August, but is already a busy, bustling learning center filled with happy children.

“We are quickly growing,” says Kristen Nyilas, the operating manager who oversees both the Wesley Chapel franchise and a Brandon location. “As of right now, though, we are still accepting new students at every age group.”

The center offers both full-time care for ages newborn to five years old and also VPK-only classes. VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) is three hours a day for students who will enter kindergarten the following year and it is offered at no cost to parents. Instead, the cost is paid by the state of Florida. Some part-time care is offered, such as three days a week or mornings only, based on availability.

Nyilas says The Learning Experience Wesley Chapel provides a foundation that gives students a jump start in elementary school.

The school’s director, Karen Mullen, adds, “When they come to The Learning Experience, they graduate with skills that set them apart from their kindergarten peers.” 

School History & Programming

The Learning Experience was founded by Michael and Linda Weissman in 1980 with a single location in Boca Raton, and was built on teaching through cognitive, physical and social principles; summarized in the school’s motto, “Learn, Play and Grow.”

When it comes to early childhood education, all of The Learning Experience centers use the proprietary Learning Experience Academic Program (L.E.A.P.) that Kristen says was written by educators who specialize in early childhood education. It guarantees that children will graduate with “exceptional core academic skills.” 

The curriculum was written around what the school’s founders believe are the six stages of development — Infant (6 weeks to 1 year old), Toddler (1-2 years old), Tawdler (2-2-½ years old), Prepper (2-½ to 3 years old), Preschooler (3-5 years old), and Kindergartner (5 years old, but it is not offered at the Wesley Chapel location and some others).

“Even infants have a curriculum,” explains Kristen. “A lot of parents like that their children are learning as soon as they come to our center.”

L.E.A.P. includes sign language for infants and toddlers, a phonics program and even a foreign language program, teaching children Spanish or Mandarin (although currently, only Spanish is taught at the Wesley Chapel location). 

L.E.A.P. workbooks include a journal, an interactive book and Fun With Phonics, which is specifically designed to teach reading to 3- and 4-year-olds.

Imagination Blvd.

Children also take part in activities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. The Learning Experience offers eight enrichment programs for children, including Suddenly Science, Dancing Feet, Talent Sprouts, Super Soccer and more.

“Our enrichment programs are included, and there’s never an added fee,” says Kristen. She explains that the programs are offered once a week for three months. Each student gets a kit to use in class — such as a yoga mat and CD for “Yippee 4 Yoga” — that the student takes home at the end of the unit.

The Learning Experience mascots, including Flexi Flamingo (P.E.), Lionstein (Science) and Bubbles the Elephant — the leader of the mascots — help lead the children through their day.

The Latest & Greatest

What truly sets The Learning Experience apart, says Karen, is its commitment to the newest technology and newest ideas in early childhood education.

“It’s colorful and bright and happy,” she says with a big smile.

Karen is a lifelong educator who has earned a Master’s degree in Education (M.Ed.) from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN, and a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from California University of Pennsylvania in California, PA. She has experience as an elementary school classroom teacher and as a curriculum specialist, among other roles.

“The Learning Experience is on the leading edge of what’s new in early childhood education,” she says. “So many places aren’t willing to take the chance to change, but not here.”

She says that’s evident not only in the school’s curriculum, but also in its technology. All classrooms for kids ages three and older have L.E.A.P. Interactive smart boards in the classroom. Students being taught a new lesson interact with their smart board to circle the correct answer, for example.

The Learning Experience also has a proprietary app — which can be used at home on a computer, tablet or phone — to continue learning. Called “BubblesU,” it allows students to reinforce lessons learned in school in a fun and interactive way.

But, that’s not the only app offered by the school. Kristen and Karen say parents love the Show and Tell app, which is how The Learning Experience’s staffers communicate with parents all day about what their child is doing in school. 

“We send notifications so the parents know when they were diapered, when they slept, exactly what they ate, or if they need to bring supplies, like if they’re running low on diapers,” explains Kristen, “and we send them at least five pictures every day.”

The school also emphasizes dramatic play and allows all students who are potty trained to visit Make Believe Blvd. daily, where there is a slide and a ball pit, plus storefronts and more to encourage imagination.

The outdoor play areas are covered in turf, not mulch, and feature a splash pad for cooling off in the summer.

The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel provides all snacks and meals daily and is an allergy-friendly and completely peanut-free facility.

One other thing that sets The Learning Experience franchises apart is their commitment to cleanliness. Not only is the center spotless, but during construction, an air purification system was installed, similar to what hospitals use, with ultraviolet lights.

“It means our air is very clean,” Kristen says, “and that helps to reduce the number of illnesses.”

The cleanliness — including the air quality — is one of many things that Heather Barnhart loves about The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel, where her daughter Hailey, who is two-and-a-half, attends.

She says that’s just the beginning.

“I love that in art class, they do the art themselves and not have the teacher do it for them,” Heather says. “They use their imagination and their hands, markers, paint and crayons.”

Heather also has been especially pleased with the education being provided to her daughter, who comes home singing songs and counting, sharing things she’s learned at school.

The biggest compliment for The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel might be that even though Hailey spends all day there, she doesn’t always want to leave at the end of the day.

“Sometimes, she’d rather stay there and play,” says Heather.

The Learning Experience of Wesley Chapel is open Mon.-Fri.,  6:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. It is located at 5440 Post Oak Blvd., just outside the entrance to Lexington Oaks, off S.R. 54. To learn more, visit and search for the Wesley Chapel location or call (813) 994-3865.

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