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A kids’ place reborn — the Children’s Museum has reopened

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With new exhibits, Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon opens Friday to everyone after 2+ years
5-year-old Jedidiah Rennels plays with fabric moving through air tubes at the Reimagined Children’s Museum in downtown Medford Thursday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Sunny Spicer walks through the new Children’s Museum 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]
5-year-old Jedidiah Rennels tries to catch a ping-pong ball floating over air tubes at the Children’s Museum in downtown Medford Thursday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Shrieks of joy, gaping smiles and outstretched arms showed the excitement Thursday of kids exploding onto 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 alive,” said Sunny Spicer, executive director of the museum, which resumed operations last month after the pandemic and complications surrounding completion of the renovation pushed back the opening date. “I hear (children) crying when they come down the stairs because they don’t want to leave.”

Spicer — who has led the museum through numerous iterations since its founding in 1998 — could not help but point out the pandemic did not put an end to her children’s museum, in contrast to Portland’s, which ceased in 2021.

“We were 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 not surprisingly, they’re highly interactive and fun, with some incorporating themes of the Pacific Northwest.

“We initially looked at the heritage of our community as a driving force of the first room that you walk in,” Spicer said. “We want kids to be thinking 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 barnlike structure, which has “farm-fresh Rogue-grown food” in it. Kids can use a series of conveyor belts to push the food up and around the barn to a “farm-to-table” play area up top.

Medford dad Jordan Miller took his girls, Eliet, 4, and Waverly, 1, to the museum Thursday. It was their third visit since the reopening for museum members.

“We love it here,” Miller said, noting the exploration and safe space the facility provides.

Eliet is getting ready for preschool and “learning how to learn,” he said. But his daughter also is learning to be “a little more self-reliant.”

“She’s very curious about a lot of things already, and this just gives her another outlet for that,” Miller said.

A separate area of the museum’s second floor includes the STEM-based exhibits, where you won’t find kids touching a magnetic field to make their hair stick up. Instead, kids can study wind dynamics by placing a series of colored rags into a network of tubes, engage with a giant “Lite-Brite” board or pulsating colored walls in the “light lab,” and experience different sounds they make all to themselves in a soundproof booth.

“We wanted to make sure it all flows together very well,” Spicer said. “I think if you walk through there, you get that sense.”

“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, once a week.

“I like having an indoor play option for the kids,” Sam said. “We love going to parks, but especially during the smoky season and when it’s hot outside, it’s good to have an indoor option.”

Of the museum’s renovations, she said, “It’s different from their other one, but I think it’s just as awesome.”

“It gives them more opportunities to do independent play, and it helps their imagination grow,” said Sam.

One highlight of the museum’s latest location is an exhibit called “The Makery,” modeled after the popular maker spaces encouraging STEM careers. It was funded by the Sisters-based Roundhouse Foundation, which partners with organizations like 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 helped fund.

“It’s hands-on learning; it’s super important to the development of kids and parenting skills,” Deggendorfer said. “You watch your kid make something, and you realize what a creative kid you’ve got.”

For Deggendorfer, who has traveled to children’s museums all over the world, the one in downtown Medford is “a stunner.”

“If you haven’t gone in there, it’s one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever visited,” she said. “It’s going to be an anchor for restoring the beauty of downtown Medford and their city center.”

With the renovation at the Carnegie building, Spicer said she believes the Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon is a marked improvement from the spaces it previously occupied on Central Avenue and Rossanley Drive. It has been a long time coming for an organization that was founded as a “museum without walls.”

“We wanted the outdoor space, and we wanted to have a location that would be long term for us, to be part of this downtown revitalization and partnership with the city,” said Spicer, who noted the museum’s 50-year, $1-per-year lease of the building with Medford.

With a grand opening, Spicer said she wants patrons to know “we’re back … with a splash” and recognize the community’s patience in waiting for the museum to open back up.

“We didn’t go away — so many children’s museums went away for good and, instead of being angry that whole time, so many people are just thankful that we’re still here,” Spicer said.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Staff can be reached by phone during normal business hours at 541-772-9922.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.