DENVER (CBS4) – Gov. Jared Polis is planning to use $44 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The majority of the money will be given out in grants to school districts, public schools, and public institutions of higher education serving high-needs students in order to reverse the “COVID slide.”

4-Year-Old Numi at Clayton Early Learning Center (credit CBS)

Clayton Early Learning is among the schools that is navigating reopening in the midst of coronavirus. The Center opened on Monday, June 1st at about 1/3 capacity. The school will continue adding back more students in the next few weeks.

“My mom wanted me to go back to school,” said Mirror, a 4-year-old preschooler.

“Did you want to go back to school?” CBS4 asked her.

“Yeah … there was a spider on Marie,” Mirror replied.

These children, 5-years-old and younger, have been missing their friends, and socialization is an important part of their development. But as they come back to school they are dealing with a lot of change.

“And my teacher said we can’t walk through the front door,” said 5-year-old Stephan.

The playground equipment is cordoned off, so while the kids play outside … they can’t play on the equipment. And now masks are standard gear.

5-Year-Old Stephan at Clayton Early Learning Center (credit CBS)

“Everybody struggles when things change all of a sudden,” said Karen Wolf, the Early Childhood Mental Health Liaison at Clayton Early Learning. “And that can be particularly difficult in young children because their brain really things in patterns.”

Wolf said that the more their lives can be predictable, and can be consistent, the easier it is for their internal world to handle it. But coronavirus makes change necessary, so the staff at Clayton developed social stories, incorporating pictures and simple words, to help them prepare for the changes at school.

“If something is going to be different, if they know about it ahead of time then they can be better prepared to regulate when it happens,” Wolf explained.

4-Year-Old Mirror at Clayton Early Learning Center (credit CBS)

Preschoolers are absorbing the stress of this collective trauma in ways that make sense to them.

“I went to the zoo yesterday,” Mirror told CBS4.

“You went to the zoo yesterday?” CBS4 asked, because the zoo has not re-opened yet.

“Yeah, when the world was fine… now it’s not fine,” Mirror clarified.

“Why is the world not fine?” CBS4 asked.

“Why’s the world not fine? Because of the coronavirus,” Mirror responded.

“Recognize that children can handle news and they can understand things if it’s explained at their level. So being honest with kids is really important,” Wolf said. “Sometimes we look to protect kids and in that protection, we don’t give them the information and the tools that they need.”

Even our youngest learns do understand.

“It make you sick,” Mirror said. “If you give it a treat, it will be nice and go away.”

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