Many parents enroll their children in piano lessons, but have you ever thought of signing them up for etiquette lessons? Or what about Spanish for your three-year-old? An introduction to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright for your six-year-old? Kids Creative Arts Center Director Tracey Brownell offers these things and much more to her young students.

Brownell, a Peoria Heights native, came from a family of creative people. “My mother is an artist, and while I was growing up, she was always creating something from nothing. We didn’t have a lot of money, so creativity was a must. My dad exposed the family to all kinds of music: jazz, rock, blues, and opera. I give my family a lot of credit for nurturing my need to create.”

She fell into teaching developmental art and creative movement while working as a Montessori preschool teacher in Houston, Texas. “I fell in love with the children and was amazed at how much they could absorb at such a young age,” she said. “I learned so much through teaching them; every day was a new and exciting adventure.”

When she came home to Peoria 13 years later, Brownell said she knew she wanted to work in art education. “I began working at Lakeview Museum as a museum school instructor in 1995, and I also began working as the creative movement teacher at the Peoria Montessori school, where I continue to teach. I left Lakeview Museum in 2000 to pursue my own creative calling. I wanted to have a place exclusively catering to children and the arts.”

The result is Kids Creative Arts Center in Peoria Heights. “The foundation and philosophy for all of our programs is Montessori based—respecting the child’s abilities and honoring his own learning style,” she said. “Each child is unique and needs to be able to express himself as an individual. Therefore, we limit our classroom size to eight participants.”

The Center offers a variety of classes in art, movement, music, foreign language, and etiquette, Brownell said. “We also added a Montessori pre-preschool program that includes music, movement, art, and the use of Montessori materials. I’m a licensed Musik Garten instructor, and I’ve studied various forms of movement: yoga, Laban, Bartenieff, Feldenkrais, ballet, and modern dance. I have a strong background in early childhood and the hospitality industry. I learned to teach etiquette while working for the Hotel Sofitel in Houston in the 1980s. From there, I developed my own curriculum by studying books on etiquette using cookbooks, etc. I believe that by teaching children good manners, it will help instill a sense of self-confidence. I teach etiquette in an age-appropriate fashion using humor, visual aids, role playing, and interacting with the children.”

She said the preschool art and music program has been the most popular class over the years. “It’s fun and age appropriate. We aren’t here to create famous artists or musicians; rather, our focus is on developing good social, fine motor, and language skills. We’re always process oriented—not product oriented. Kids just want to have fun.”

Positive feedback from parents lets Brownell know she’s on the right track. “They’re always commenting on their children’s ability to remember songs, stories, movement pieces, and on their improved social skills,” she said. “They’ve also commented on their children’s increased understanding of the visual arts and their developing fine motor ability—and, of course, how creative and fun the classes are.”

Another favorite among parents and children alike are the Center’s birthday party packages—A Wiggly Party, Musikgarten Party, Can We Build It?, Pajama Party, Tea Party, Little Picassos, and Fairy Tale Party. “Our birthday party packages were designed with fun in mind. Even though we have themes, each party is as unique as the birthday child. I always gather personal information about the child’s likes and dislikes, whether the child is shy or outgoing, what activities he or she participates in, etc. We have a good variety so we can meet the needs and interests of most small children. We really wanted to stand out in the community and offer a memorable experience that wasn’t canned,” she said.

Kids Creative Arts Center hosts a fine arts camp from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., August 1 to 5, as a way to incorporate more arts into the summer break. “It will feature several guest artists from the community, as well as our staff teachers,” Brownell said. “We’ll experiment with various mediums and two- and three-dimensional art forms: printmaking, clay, plaster releif, sculpture, collage, and more. The cost is $125 for one child or $200 for two children in the same family.”

As for new ideas for future classes, she said the Center is always looking for quality instructors with creative ideas for new classes. “We’re adding our extended day Montessori program in the fall, and we also have space to sublet at an hourly rate to dance, yoga, Pilates, and martial arts instructors.”

Brownell hates the paperwork associated with her creative endeavor, but loves interacting with the children and developing new curriculums and projects for the classroom. “Every day is different for me. I’m blessed to be able to serve the public in such a creative, enjoyable position.” AA!