CLEVELAND (WJW) — When the worst of the COVID lockdown began it was difficult to imagine what implications it would have on babies and toddlers years later.

Now, as those children prepare to begin preschool, educators are voicing concern about social, emotional and developmental delays.

“Compared to what they are now socially and emotionally, they’re very behind,” said Hayley Miller, director of the Nest Schools Hudson. “They have a hard time regulating their feelings and behaviors.”

Pandemic learning loss impacted many current preschool-aged children who spent most of the first years of life stuck at home, isolated from social and learning opportunities.

“Some children don’t talk at all,” said Miller. “We’ve had a couple that just don’t want to talk to us. They’ll talk at home, they just don’t want to talk to us or we have others that just can’t tell their friend like you’re too close to me or I need my space. They have a hard time doing that.”

At the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, home to about 1,700 preschool-aged children enrolled in the district’s free Pre-K program, the pandemic is suspected to be the cause of a spike in special education enrollment.

“So there’s a higher number of autism, higher number of children on the spectrum,” said Amy Wallack, manager of early learning assessment and accountability for the district. “Early intervention is really important, from birth to three. So if those students were not getting that early intervention, during that birth to, three because of the pandemic, that’s really when brain development is happening with language and socialization…that could lead to more delays.”

Gabrielle Lyles, a CMSD parent, said habits formed during those first years at home had a lasting impact.

“She was very, I will say, like socially delayed. Just the social cues, having those social interactions that you could kind of tell when she went to school,” said Lyles.

Educators said they suspect much of the incoming class of preschoolers are accustomed to sitting in their parent’s lap, quietly staring at screens while many parents juggled online meetings, instead of taking part in play-based learning. Boosting language and socialization skills is essential ahead of the first day of school.

“Just getting them into different types of groups to get their socialization back up and just learning how to make friends because that’s really hard for the children, like when they haven’t had to do that until now,” said Miller.

Wallack said establishing a routine is key.

“Just getting them on a routine and a schedule and having them and talk about school and read books about school,” said Wallack.

“It’s obviously really beneficial and helpful if your child can recognize and know their name, but they’ll learn the letters, the letter sounds, how to write their name. They’ll learn that all in preschool.”

If children are behind, educators said with guidance at school and home there is still time to catch up.