Happy Anniversary Children’s Corner!

Kathie GibboneyBy Kathie Gibboney

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Happy Anniversary Children’s Corner!
From left: Shonna Wright, Iris Sheldon, Linda Hinrichs, Kathie Gibboney, Dawn Geer. Photo by Carlos Pogai
In spite of the challenges of the past eight months, local Topanga treasure, Children’s Corner Play Center is open for business and its business is play. The Center reopened in early September, in compliance with state guidelines and happy children grace the grounds once again. A boy running across the yard yells out, “Let’s have a hunt for rubber duckies!” “No let’s have a tea party,” a young four-year-old girl reports. “Let’s do both,” answers the boy. “The duckies can swim in the tea.” Suddenly, all is right in our mixed-up world! Children’s Corner Director, Linda Hinrichs, embracing the teachings of Emme Pikler and Magda Gerber, respects a child’s right to be a child. She first brought a Gypsy-like Mother Goose traveling Children’s Club to the Canyon, which evolved into Children’s Corner Play Center, “play” being the operative word. This is the 41st year she has been bringing her gentle magic to young children in Topanga. “This was a calm reopening of our school year,” Hinrichs said. “We started with two groups of five children in each. The parents were so supportive and appreciative. After taking temperatures, the children were delighted to come through the gate. Then they naturally reentered the world of play. The masks we wore were not off-putting; they saw our true selves.” The affable staff of professionals at the pre-school, Iris, Shanna, Dawn, and Kathie, are rightly proud of the nurturing atmosphere they have helped create. “This is my 20th year at Children’s Corner,” Iris shares. “It has been my great pleasure to work with four- and 5-year-old children and getting them ready for Kindergarten, ‘The Big School.’ When Covid hit, it was the longest Children’s Corner had been without children in 40 years. Now, the children have returned ready to meet friends and play. It’s been wonderful for them, as well for us.” The current classes have been going so well, with the children healthy and happy, and all the teachers confident and communicating that in response to the needs of the community, Children’s Corner is ready to offer some extended programs. Understanding how isolated many children have been as they sit through Zoom classes, a special Sharing Zoom Time session is available for a group of about four local students who will each have their own space for concentrating online with the guidance and supervision of a staff teacher. They come together for play and snacks between sessions. In addition, the Play Center would like to invite older siblings, friends and alumni for ‘Beyond the Zoom,’ a play-filled afternoon, including enrichment activities such as, Yoga, stories, and art. For information contact justus@gmail.com.
Children’s Corner, 1983. Photos courtesy of Children’s Corner archives.
Of course, the matter of reopening the school wasn’t easy. “We want to comply with all the reopening guide lines but they keep changing,” said Hinrichs.

“We want to keep everyone safe and happy but you can’t keep children from playing with each other; that’s what they do. I wouldn’t want to have a Play Center where there is no touching, holding hands, or hugging, and what about the masks?”

The sudden decision to close the school in March, due to pandemic, was somewhat like a children’s story where the Big Bad Wolf shows up. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”

In conjunction with the closing of Topanga Elementary, Children’s Corner sat empty and quiet for months without the laughs and squeals of delighted children sliding down the slide, playing together in the sandbox, or singing a little song, happy in being a child blessed, ‘who’s got their own.’ A poetic mother wrote this in 1994:

There is a bit of light, at a place where three roads meet,
We’re so lucky to have found it, and it’s only down the street.
There is laughter on the inside, and children playing in the yard,
At Children’s Corner Playhouse, being happy is not hard!

With the summer of COVID-19 passing and the normal, back-to-school start date quickly approaching, Hinrichs juggled 20 balls in the air at the same time. Topanga Elementary would not be opening, but pre-schools may. Community families were enthused to return their children, so in need of playful interaction, to the gentle grounds of 1555 Valley Drive.

Hinrichs and the staff, however, had to balance the confusing, official state reopening, restrictive recommendations, with the homey welcoming, child-friendly, hands-on environment that has always been Children’s Corner.

One day the guidelines required that no more than ten children be in a room together and maintain distance; the next day the number expanded to 12.

In one communication, it was estimated that the virus can remain on a surface for 48 hours or 24 or 12. Another report stated the virus does not survive on surfaces at all. Hinrichs continues to keep up to date in a dizzying study of information that could make the most affixed and steady head begin to smoke and spin like a crazed character in a Daffy Duck cartoon.

Children’s Corner, 1994, Linda Hinrichs standing
To her credit, she did not give up. She believes that even in these impossible, unknowable times she can trust that she has a knowing. Her wisdom whispers, “Why rush to open? You may wait! Take your time and be ready to open the doors, only when you, the families, and the staff feel safe, stable, and sheltered from the storm.

In the end, familiar bubbles of dedicated, like-minded families formed. Small groups of children were separated into different classrooms and spent time in outside play. It was a wise approach. Temperatures are taken upon arrival, little hands washed frequently like a family of raccoons. Distances were maintained, and extra care was taken with cleaning. Staff wear masks, smiling behind them. Welcome back!

Children’s Corner is a place where I know my son will be emotionally heard, acknowledged, socially engaged and accepted for exactly who he/she is. Linda and staff create a warm, nurturing and welcoming environment. Her knowledge of child development and genuine spirit has helped me understand and support my son.
Sara Canning October 2020

Although the children range in ages from two to six, there is a natural flow that moves through the group; one little girl may be digging for treasure in the sandbox with an older boy, while a five-year-old takes a two-year-old by the hand. The inside rooms are large and airy offering sanitized, easily accessible toys, blocks, puzzles, books, and activities for play. Comfortable furniture welcomes sitting, reclining, or climbing.

Outside, the sandboxes invite tactile exploration, wheeled vehicles provide mobility, a large wooden airplane takes the imagination on flights of fancy, and swings lift the spirit. Of course, use of a safe and approved disinfectant is part of the daily routine. Extra upkeep of the house and grounds is provided by Linda’s husband, the dexterous Randy Just, who knows better than anyone how to put up a Christmas tree, but then, he is a close friend of Santa.

This may be our last day, but your school is lodged in our hearts always. The Humphries 1988
In 2004 Children’s Corner was facing a different kind of challenge. The property was going to be sold.

When Linda announced the bad news that Children’s Corner would have to close, the parents rose up to keep the school open, hence the, “Keep the Magic in The Canyon” campaign was born. Community fundraisers were begun, (no GoFundMe sites existed then) and, indeed, this team of families who cared so much about Children’s Corner and what it meant to their children succeeded in securing the property.

I learned to trust my children to play and [did] not intervene. They were able to interact with other children and expand on their natural curiosity. At Children’s Corner they learned to make a life sandwich with the toppings they found all around.
Gaidic Trapman-O’Brian. 2005

Seeing the playschool up, running, and thriving today is indeed heartwarming. Here are children being children and it is a triumph over The Big Bad Wolf. He didn’t blow the house down after all and not because it is made of bricks, but of love.
Kathie Gibboney

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