Sunny Spicer, Executive Director
Sunny didn’t set out to run a children’s museum. She wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. In the tiny Oregon coastal town of Gold Beach where she grew up Sunny’s father was well-known, and not just for his law practice. He was involved in the community and local politics, which meant Sunny, her two brothers and sister were immersed in it, as well. “I grew up campaigning with my dad,” she says. “I was drawing campaign posters in second grade!”
She was 15 when she started dating Paul, a fellow high school student. They attended Southern Oregon University (then Southern Oregon College), married, and stayed in the Rogue Valley. After graduating from SOU with a communications degree Sunny once again found herself working on campaigns. “It seemed important as a civic duty,” she says, “as a way to affect change.” She campaigned for issues and candidates, including one major party presidential nominee. “It was intense but fun,” she says. “We worked all hours. Those campaigns don’t stop; they’re 24/7!”
Add to the chaos the fact that she was raising two small boys (her daughter came along later) and the pace was unsustainable. So, in 2002, when a budding local children’s museum reached out to her for what was supposed to be temporary assistance, she jumped at the chance… and stayed, not only taking over as executive director but growing the children’s museum from a handful of small touring exhibits into a 2-story, 20,000+ square foot hands-on museum and early learning facility complete with daily programming and a full-time preschool. “I go about running a children’s museum differently than most,” Sunny says. “I look at it as a true community resource, something available to parents who need a place to have a visitation with their child, for grandparents suddenly watching their own children’s children after not having any at home for many years, for kids to learn about music, arts, and culture. We’re filling a void and providing things that used to be available in the community that aren’t any more.” With more than 9,000 visitors a month, partnerships with a slew of other local service agencies, and the ever-changing political landscape which often affects non-profit funding, Sunny is as busy as ever – and affecting the kind of change she’d hoped to as an attorney. “When our bus program picked up one little boy to bring him to Kid Time for the first time he was so excited he commented it was the best day of his life. That’s when I know we’re doing good work.”
Britt Zimmerman, Director of Education
To her coworkers Britt is a ray of sunshine: quick to laugh and always looking on the bright side. To her family, though, Britt has another side: that of a competitor. The oldest of three kids, Britt was raised in Portland but grew up on Mt. Hood where she started skiing as a toddler. By her early teens Britt had switched to snowboarding and, like her father, one of the sport’s ground-breakers, she was also competing. “Skiing is a family affair,” she says, “our family culture.” So much so that she welcomed her husband, Jake, into the fold at their Mt. Hood wedding by skiing the mountain in her wedding dress!
That same adventurous spirit led Britt to Costa Rica while earning her degree in early childhood education at Southern Oregon University. The trip gave her the opportunity to volunteer teaching preschool. “I fell in love with the age group. There’s something about seeing kids get excited about the littlest things every day.” The experience showed Britt where she belonged. “[The kids are] so excited about – and interested in – everything! I’m kind of like that, too.”
At home, Britt and Jake are raising their own students: Paxton, a preschooler, and Nash, a toddler. Being the only female in the house is fine with Britt. “I was meant to be a mom to boys but it is a constant swirl of activity!”
And that’s how she likes it. While she’s almost never without a child within arm’s reach Britt thrives in the chaos, relying on the same drive, nerves of steel, and resourcefulness that made her a formidable snowboarder. It’s that freedom to be creative that Britt most appreciates about her work at The Learning Loft Preschool at Kid Time. The school’s philosophy is one of exploration, allowing kids to follow their own interests while using teachers as their guide. The process is unique and transformative. “I’ve never seen anything like what we do here; it’s magical.”
Connor Reese, Director of Museum Education
As the director of museum education, Connor represents the ideal mix of responsible adult and fun-loving kid. Raised in his mother’s child care center in wee Pearl River, New York (which he assures us is an authentic “hamlet”), Connor was introduced to the importance of early learning right out of the gate.
At the age of 12 he picked up a guitar, and spent the next year struggling to learn to play. Despite taking lessons he says he was “terrible”. But years of practice paid off and his music skills earned him a spot at the prestigious Berklee College of Music where he graduated with a degree in Professional Music. Along with the guitar, Connor now plays – and teaches - bass, banjo, ukulele, violin, mandolin and, “kind of” the drums. “There’s a difference between talent and skill,” he says. “I have no musical talent, but I have practiced a skill longer than most people would have.”
That skill landed him a gig touring with the Hillary Reynolds Band when he responded to an ad looking for “a guitarist to play in the style of Chet Atkins” (see Connor in the band’s video for “Honey, Come Home” here). In the two years he was with the band he says his favorite performance by far was in a 2000-seat theater in Appleton, Wisconsin. When the show was over, two young girls fascinated by the guitar approached Connor with their father. He says the ensuing conversation was the highlight of the tour.
Americorps opened the next door for Connor, landing him at Kid Time as a music teacher and program volunteer in 2015. But his enthusiasm, musical abilities, organizational skills, and overall happy, can-do attitude led to his being hired full-time as the head of the children’s museum’s programs and classes.
If you know Connor, you’ve probably seen his many Star Wars t-shirts, or maybe even swapped Star Wars trivia with him. He attributes his love of the science fantasy series to being raised in “a family of nerds”. His mom and older brother would often join him in watching Star Wars movies in costume! That’s how Kid Time classes like Star Saber Training came to be. The program is loosely based on the Jedi Training from Star Wars and incorporates pool noodle “light sabers” hand-made by Connor himself. The classes have a huge following and not just of kids; Parents love them, too. When asked about the appeal of Star Saber Training Connor says, “You can teach anything if you have the right lore. Those stories and themes empower kids towards wonder and discovery naturally. All I do is set them on their way. “
Ed Grant, Facilities/Exhibits Director
Everyone on the Kid Time staff is a little in awe of Ed. While his official title may be Facilities/Exhibits Director, the truth is he’s Kid Time’s very own magician. Whether he’s repairing water damage caused by too much snow, installing new bathrooms in the Learning Loft Preschool, or transforming the most ordinary of items into the most extraordinary of exhibits, Ed works wonders all day, every day.
The path he took to get to Kid Time was a windy one but equipped Ed with the “can-do” attitude and construction skills he needs to build things and keep them working in Kid Time’s ever-changing environment. As a teen in Central Point Ed worked as a “roadie”, helping his brother set up and tear down concert productions. (He even got to play baseball with the late Kurt Cobain when the 80’s rocker played the Jackson County Expo!) Then, Ed worked with his grandfather at the iconic Medford business Orley’s Stoves where his grandpa , a “master of all trades”, built one of the stoves that put Orley’s on the map. From there, Ed worked at a fiberglass shop building boats before starting his own fiberglass company. He then switched from building boats to building houses. And then, when the bottom fell out of the housing market and Ed found himself adrift, he fortuitously accepted a temporary job with Kid Time. Lucky for the organization, he stayed. “I liked being around the non-profit, helping people,” he says. “Plus, there’s always a different project.” He never gets bored.
The same holds true at home. Married to wife Angela, and juggling six kids and five grand-kids, there’s very little down time. Ed says “If I’m not working [at Kid Time] I’m doing side jobs or being a grandpa and trying to go camping and fishing.” We’re certain he’ll succeed at squeezing in a vacation, though, because if there’s one thing we know about “Ed the Magician” it’s that there’s nothing he can’t get done.
Erika Kingslien, Guest Services Supervisor
“Is this where I get to tell you what my favorite dinosaur is?” Erika asks as she sits down for her interview. That question tells you everything you need to know about how she’s evolved since coming to work at Kid Time. The 7th generation Southern Oregon native says she didn’t get a whole lot of uninterrupted imaginative play time when she was a child so it took a month or so of being at the children’s museum before she fully understood the magic of free-play. “I’ve adapted, become more flexible. Being here brought out the kid in me. I get to be goofy,’ she says. “It built my confidence.”
But don’t let her fool you; Her inner child’s never been that far away. We know that because the Crater High grad is a self-described “LED-clothing enthusiast” which means she likes clothes that light up! “I like to put on my LED shoes and jacket and dance as much as I can,” she giggles. “It makes me feel my best, and lets me get out my energy.” But her favorite out-of-work activity is binge watching old Disney movies, specifically Beauty and the Beast. “I like the story. I like the idea of being able to look past superficiality to the real person underneath.”
Plus, Erika has her own beasts at home. “Cat-mother of two and dog-mother of two,” she says, adding that the cats may be larger than most. After recently adopting a 25-pound feline she jokes she may be running a “cat fat camp”. She likes walking the dogs, and even encourages the cats to get physical. On weekends Erika plays slow-pitch softball with a local team, and never misses a chance to see local live music.
And as for her favorite dinosaur? Erika doesn’t hesitate. “Stegosaurus. They just go around doing their own thing, not hurting anybody. They seem happy.”
Educator/Museum Experience Producer
Michelle has known since elementary school that she wanted to work with kids. “Because of my first grade teacher,” she says. “I legitimately felt like she loved us. I wanted to be that for kids, too.” So, in middle school, she started tutoring her peers while also shadowing the teacher who inspired her. In high school, at North Medford High, she worked in childhood development. And after graduation Michelle continued her studies at Rogue Community College. What does she have to show for all that child-centered focus? “I’m a kid magnet!” she hoots, proudly. “If there are kids and adults in the room, you’ll find me with the kids.”
The same is true at home where, along with her significant other, Tony, she’s raising daughter Lily. Michelle lights up when she talks about her toddler and says spending all day long with young people at work makes going home to her own little one that much sweeter. Being a parent also benefits her at work. Now that she’s watching her own child develop she says she’s better able to bond with the families who bring their kids to The Learning Loft.
Work is also where she finds her friends. A self-described “nerd”, Michelle says she and her Kid Time coworkers socialize outside work, as well, playing video games and watching television. They frequently pick a single show and then watch all the way through... slowly. “We talk,” she says. “It can take a year to watch one season!”
Martina Walston, Educator
Martina believes in the power of play so deeply that she does whatever she can to incorporate it into her daily life. The native Oregonian has two kids with her husband of more than a decade, and likes to engage with them on their level. They explore local parks, play soccer, build with Legos, and get creative with Playdough. They also experiment in the kitchen where Martina likes to bake. “I’m on cakes right now,” she says. “Lemon. Mine always look ugly but it’s all about the taste.”
The second of three kids, Martina says she’s she grew up taking care of her cousins and fell in love with children. When she got older she worked in a day care center for 15 years and, when she couldn’t get paid, she volunteered. It’s no wonder she loves her teaching position at The Learning Loft at Kid Time. “What don’t I like?”, she muses. “What other job do you get to work in where people hug you?”
So, what advice does she have for today’s busy parents when it comes to playing with their young kids? “Just get down and take the time to do it,” she offers. “Connect.”
Sasha Cunningham, Educator
How does a woman who has literally lived all over the world find happiness returning to her native west coast? By sharing her love of exploration with children, of course!
Sasha’s route to Kid Time started in Napa Valley where she was raised along with her younger brother. College took her to San Francisco where the avid painter studied media. But the travel bug bit her when she attended a friend’s wedding in Japan. “I loved it so much I just stayed… as long as I could,” she says. Then she found a teaching job in India, and another in Korea, and eventually traveled much of Asia, painting portraits and snapping photos along the way.
Her return to the states took her to Hawaii where she went back to school and started working in early childhood services. She recently completed graduate work in infant/toddler mental health and is working towards a Master’s degree in inclusive education.
Somewhere in the past couple years Sasha also found time to get married. She says she and her husband have been friends since high school but their romance took a long time to blossom. “I had a crush on him and he had a crush on me but he was scared. He’s an introvert and I’m the ultimate extrovert!” Their brood includes two dogs Sasha calls their “furry kids” and the beginnings of a family farm. “I’m a dirt person,” she laughs. “We have chickens and ducks and I’m hoping to get goats!”
It’s that childlike appreciation of the world that makes Sasha a natural in the preschool. “Kids live in the moment. Everything is wonder to them. I love experiencing that through their eyes!”
Autumn Correa, Educator/Assistant Preschool Director
Autumn has been around a slew of kids her entire life. The native Ashlander was born to a couple teachers who loved children so much they padded their biological brood with an assortment of adopted and foster kids. As the youngest of eight kids Autumn learned early to listen and observe.
All that togetherness had an impact on her. “I wanted to be a mom,” Autumn said, “but they told me I couldn’t get paid.” So, after having 3 kids and being a stay at home mom for 5 years she went back to school to become a preschool teacher. “I want to build their foundation,” she says about her students. “I want to give them the best start possible, get them started with a passion for learning.”
That’s a passion Autumn shares. Over the years she’s explored her interests with gusto. After deciding at age 7 to take karate classes, she earned her black belt at 16. And after realizing she loves being on the back of a motorcycle, she is determined to learn to ride. For now, she loves to spend her free time reading, especially fantasy books about other worlds, and playing fantasy based board games. Autumn, her husband, Paul, and their three kids lose hours together playing cooperative games that require collaboration. Of the 150 or so board games she swears they own, Autumn prefers the ones with an element of danger. “I like to save the world,” she laughs.
Craig Schneider, Educator
Craig is technically one of Kid Time’s longest serving employees. Then again, with his mom as executive director, he didn’t have much of a choice! The college sophomore was just 4 years old when Sunny took over at the organization’s helm so he’s seen it grow from a fledgling idea to the 20,000 square foot museum it is today. “I helped set up mobile exhibits,” he says. “Then it became the place I came to play. Then it became the place I came to interact with the people I cared about, and then the place I came to work. A second home. The place where I learned a lot about what I know about the world. If I hadn’t been raised at Kid Time I would be a totally different person.”
Now, though, the college sophomore’s in his favorite role as teaching assistant in Kid time’s Learning Loft Preschool. After spending summers as a lifeguard and swim coach Craig says he loves working with kids. The preschool atmosphere casts him in the authoritative role he’s used to. “I like the classroom atmosphere,” he says. “I like being the one kids can come to all the time.”
When he’s not teaching, Craig is a student at Pacific University in Forest Grove where he’s studying general education with his eye on becoming a speech pathologist to preschool aged kids. And he’s playing music. After finding his musical talent on the euphonium in elementary school Craig went on to tackle any and all brass and string instruments. But the trombone is his favorite. “Technically, it’s more fun to play. It gets the whole body moving.”
Fun is a theme in Craig’s life. Ask him what people don’t know about him and his heavily bearded face breaks into a grin. “I’m a lot more friendly than I look,” he jokes. He then goes on to proudly admit he collects “Sing-a-ma-jigs”, stuffed toys that when squeezed emit a musical tone. “They always harmonize!” he gushes. “Play more than one and they make a chord!”
Kristal Weber, Educator
It made sense that Kristal would choose education. The North Valley grad grew up watching her mom teach and, eventually, oversee a school as principal. “Since I was little I helped Mom get classes set up,” she says. Now Kristal’s the one molding young minds. “I help them grow,” she says. “They’re so innocent, so full of heart and without judgement. I help them speak up for themselves.”
If you’ve ever visited The Learning Loft classrooms you know they are overflowing with art supplies. Perhaps that’s one reason Kristal feels so at home there. The Southern Oregon native may teach by day but when she’s home she’s an artist. “I paint,” she says, citing Van Gogh as one of her favorite masters. “I have art supplies and an easel and I sit at the coffee table and make it work!” While she’s inspired by travels to places like Europe and Fiji, Kristal leans towards abstracts. “I like the way you can move with the paintbrush.”
Moving is a theme in Kristal’s life. She’s lived all over Oregon, stopping long enough to attend school in Eugene and, later, graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Western Oregon University. Now that she’s back in the southern part of the state she keeps active outdoors – camping and jet skiing during the summer months and nurturing a garden at home. And speaking of putting down roots, she’s excited to announce she and her boyfriend, Ryan, are preparing to make it official! “He proposed this summer! We're getting married in July 2019!"
Alex Lukaris, Educator
The first thing you notice about Alex is her energy. She absolutely bubbles over with enthusiasm talking about the kids in her classroom. “Children are everything! They are just so genuine and good. They don’t know how to be any different. They’re not jaded yet,” she laughs.
Alex has a sense of ease in her position because she’s known she has wanted to be a teacher since she was a kid herself. “I knew when I was 4,” she explains. “At the time I knew it meant I was the boss but deep down it meant I had a passion for teaching and helping people discover their own potential!” Alex has a fun, light-hearted approach to her methods even as she takes her teaching role seriously. “I enjoy watching children ‘get’ something, seeing it click. It’s as exciting for me as it is for the kids when I put together a fun, new provocation table or come up with an out of the box way to learn about the basic concepts we teach in preschool. It takes some work exciting children these days. That’s one of the challenges in 2018; They all have an iPad! But if you work really hard at it, you can still bring excitement to the classroom and instill a love of learning into kids."
Alex also works hard at home to build excitement in her daughter, Charliann,who’s benefitting from Alex’s love of travel and discovering new places and things. Every weekend you can find her looking for a new adventure all over Southern Oregon and beyond. “We’re really big outdoors people,” Alex explains. “Right now Lake of the Woods is our favorite spot.”
Alex spent her childhood in California, Germany, and Alabama and then,moved to the West coast after college to be closer to loved ones. Her family has literally put down roots in the Pacific Northwest, founding Agate Ridge Vineyard, so we may be in luck and Alex just may be here to stay!
Xane Buckingham, Educator
You wouldn’t know it to look at him but Xane (pronounced “Zane”) is father to three kids including a newborn and a 16 year old! And just like their dad they all have notable names. There’s Xavier, Andre, and now tiny new Hiro (pronounced “Hero”). And if you’re thinking a name with such connotations is a big one for a little guy to grow into, you’re right. But Xane has a plan: “Who knows? Maybe he’ll be one someday."
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Xane is a longtime fan of comic books, specifically Marvel comics and movies, and that both are part of his parenting toolbox. “When I’m Daddy Xane and home with the kids we’re watching movies or playing video games.” But down time isn’t all about what’s on the tube. “I sing to my kids. I like to make up songs or change words and then they freak out and tell me I’m wrong. I love that!”
So, teaching in The Learning Loft isn’t too much of a stretch for Xane, who grew up with two brothers of his own (Cedric and Victor. We know you were wondering!) And he had some valuable guidance during his own years in school. “I had some amazing teachers growing up,” he says. “Some great male role models who taught me what it meant to be a man, to be a student. I didn’t like homework. I went to school to see my friends so I figured I could help other kids in the same boat.”
Xane wants his students’ parents to know he’s there for them, too. “I love it when people talk to me, ask me questions, tell me what’s going on with them. I get to know them that way.” Ultimately, he says, his goal is the same as theirs: to raise quality human beings. “I love meeting their little budding personalities. And I can talk to them about manners, about being kids. That’s what I love most: teaching them how to be good people.”