The Washington State University Children’s Center, which serves about 160 children, closed March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation.

To maintain a sense of normalcy and routine – as well as help parents now thrust into the role of both caregiver and teacher – the center’s staff recorded themselves reading their students’ favorite books, singing classroom songs and doing crafts.

“The appreciation for kids and families, staying connected, the continuity, and showing the kids that we haven’t forgotten about them,” Michael Chapman, the assistant director of the center, said. “It makes the awkwardness of being on camera worth it.”

Chapman even took home the center’s pet rat, who frequently travels from classroom to classroom, and she appears in his videos.

“It’s nice to show the kids we’re taking care of our pet,” Chapman said.

Teachers are also using Zoom to keep up with classroom routines, such as Show and Share, where students can show pieces of artwork or other interesting projects to their friends. Staff and parents have also had more time to connect because of the change, and the center plans to conduct routine parent-teacher conferences over Zoom.

“We’re trying to balance screen time and social connectedness,” Director Heather Havey said.

Students who work at the center to fulfill coursework requirements have been able to continue their education despite the closure, Havey said. The center will be closed until April 24.

“They’re getting training in how to connect with families during a crisis situation,” Havey said. “Hopefully they won’t have to use that much in their careers.”

The center staff are looking into how to share their resources with a wider audience, Havey said.

Updates will be released on the center’s website.

Havey recommends parents keep up their children’s routines, such as getting dressed in the morning, washing hands, having outside time and an age-appropriate bedtime.

“It really creates a sense of calmness for children during this chaotic time,” Havey said.