With new exhibits, the Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon opens Friday to everyone after 2+ years
Jedidiah Rennels, 5, plays with moving fabric in air tubes at the Reimagined Children’s Museum in downtown Medford on Thursday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Sunny Spicer walks through the new Children’s Museum on Thursday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Jordan and Marie Miller play Thursday with their daughters Eliet, 4, and Waverly, 1, at the Children’s Museum. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Jedidiah Rennels, 5, tries to catch a ping pong ball floating above the air tubes at the Children’s Museum in downtown Medford on Thursday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Cheers, gaping smiles and outstretched arms showed the excitement Thursday as children exploded on the second floor of the Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon.
It marked a soft opening of the newly renovated space inside the Carnegie Building at 413 W. Main St. in downtown Medford. A grand opening is scheduled for Friday, when the museum will be open to everyone, not just members.
“It’s very much alive,” said Sunny Spicer, executive director of the museum, which resumed operations last month after the pandemic and complications surrounding the completion of the renovation pushed back the opening date. “I hear (kids) crying when they come down the stairs because they don’t want to leave.”
Spicer – who has led the museum through many iterations since its founding in 1998 – couldn’t help but point out that the pandemic hasn’t ended his children’s museum, unlike the one in Portland, which ceased in 2021.
“We’ve been able to get through the pandemic and create a really beautiful space for our community,” Spicer said.
And what a space it is – with exhibits that teach kids about everything from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to local agriculture.
And unsurprisingly, they’re very interactive and fun, with some incorporating Pacific Northwest themes.
“We first looked to our community’s heritage as a driving force for the first room you walk into,” Spicer said. “We want children to think about the world around them.”
Exhibits in the PNW category would include “The Lumber Yard,” “The Wildlife Rescue” treehouse, and — yes — a giant replica of Bigfoot, thanks to the former Portland Children’s Museum.
Not too far from the mythical creature is a barn-like structure, which contains “farm-fresh food grown by Snape.” Children can use a series of conveyor belts to push food up and around the barn to a “farm-to-table” play area at the top.
Medford’s father, Jordan Miller, took his daughters, Eliet, 4, and Waverly, 1, to the museum on Thursday. It was their third visit since the reopening for members of the museum.
“We love this place,” Miller said, noting the exploration and safe space the facility provides.
Eliet is preparing for preschool and “learning to learn,” he said. But her daughter is also learning to be “a little more independent”.
“She’s already very curious about a lot of things, and it just gives her another outlet for that,” Miller said.
A separate area on the second floor of the museum includes the STEM-based exhibits, where you won’t find children touching a magnetic field to make their hair stand up. Instead, children can study the dynamics of wind by placing a series of colored cloths in a network of tubes, engage with a giant “Lite-Brite” board or pulsing colored walls in the “light lab” , and experiment with different sounds that they make on their own. in a soundproof booth.
“We wanted to make sure everything went really well,” Spicer said. “I think if you walk by there, you get that feeling.”
“I think it’s really cool,” said Porter Christopher, 7, who came to the museum Thursday with his mother, Sam. She comes to the museum with Porter and her two other children, Noah, 2, and Wesley , 4 years old, once a week.
“I like having an indoor play option for the kids,” Sam said. have an option inside.”
Of the museum’s renovations, she said, “It’s different from their other one, but I think it’s just as great.”
“It gives them more opportunities to play independently and it helps their imaginations grow,” Sam said.
A highlight of the museum’s latest location is an exhibit called “The Makery,” inspired by popular makerspaces encouraging STEM careers. It was funded by the sister-based Roundhouse Foundation, which partners with organizations such as children’s museums to implement “creative, place-based approaches and programs.”
Kathy Deggendorfer, who founded Roundhouse in 2002, is particularly proud of the exhibit her foundation has funded.
“It’s hands-on learning; it’s super important for child development and parenting skills,” Deggendorfer said. “You watch your child do something and you realize what a creative child you are.”
For Deggendorfer, who has traveled to children’s museums around the world, the one in downtown Medford is “breathtaking.”
“If you haven’t been, it’s one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever been to,” she said. “It will be an anchor to restore the beauty of downtown Medford and its downtown area.”
With the renovation of the Carnegie Building, Spicer said she believes the Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon is a marked improvement over the spaces it previously occupied on Central Avenue and Rossanley Drive. It took a long time for an organization that was founded as a “museum without walls”.
“We wanted the outdoor space, and we wanted to have a long-term location for us, to be part of this downtown revitalization and this partnership with the city,” said Spicer, who noted the 50-year anniversary of the museum, $1 per one-year lease of the building with Medford.
With a grand opening, Spicer said she wanted patrons to know “we’re back…with a twist” and recognize the community’s patience in waiting for the museum to reopen.
“We’re not gone – so many children’s museums are gone for good, and instead of being angry all this time, so many people are just grateful that we’re still here,” Spicer said.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Staff can be reached by phone during normal business hours at 541-772-9922.
Contact journalist Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.