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Farmington author cites value of play in childhood development in new book

Dr. Aerial Liese's 'The Play Prescription' coming in April

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
"The Play Prescription: Using Play to Support Internalizing Behaviors" by Dr. Aerial Liese
  • Liese is an instructor in San Juan College's teacher education program and a third-grade teacher.
  • Her new book is being published by Redleaf Press.
  • She believes the book offers a timely message as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

FARMINGTON — When Aerial Liese writes about the best ways to keep young people from resorting to destructive behavior to compensate for their feelings of anxiety, depression or social withdrawal, she does so from the perspective of someone who has been in their shoes.

Liese — an instructor in San Juan College's teacher education program and a third-grade teacher — said she began working on her latest book, "The Play Prescription: Using Play to Support Internalizing Behaviors," in 2018, when she was defending the dissertation she had just written while in the process of completing her doctorate in special education.

Liese was in recovery from substance abuse at that point in her life and was undergoing residential treatment at a facility outside New Mexico. As she pored over the research and theories that supported her notion that play and creativity are among the more important elements in child development — and that promoting them as a tool to ward off negative behavior that can lead to lifelong problems — she realized everything she was reading applied to her situation.

"I was doing that at an adult level," she said.

That realization helped her understand she had come full circle — not just in her journey of researching and writing the book, but also in confronting and treating her own addiction, Liese said.

"I had written about it and was using it for myself, and I came out with a stronger recovery," she said.

Hot off the press

Liese finished the book earlier this year but has seen its release delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 284-page book is now scheduled to come out at the end of April from Redleaf Press, and Liese believes its release could not be more timely, given the mental health challenges the pandemic has created for so many young people.

Aerial Liese

"The timing of it is perfect in the sense that (the book) can really be used because of the rise in internalizing behaviors," she said, referring to the sense of social isolation, depression and apprehension she says has gripped millions of children trying to come to terms with the changes the virus has wrought.

Liese has written the book for parents and stakeholders who play an important role in the development of children, offering them insight on how to identify such negative emotions in children and how to intervene with effective, positive strategies that emphasize play and creativity. She noted that parents and others can help nurture those pathways by providing children with items that stoke their creative impulses — art supplies, musical instruments or journals — rather than electronic devices that often drive them into deeper isolation.

She said the idea is that young people will come to use creative or playful activities as a coping mechanism for their negative emotions, rather than lashing out at others or harming themselves.

"If I feel sad, what do I do — do I eat a cake or do I do something creative?" Liese asked rhetorically, describing how young people can be encouraged to explore healthy alternatives for regulating their behavior. "I've gone down the destructive behavior path, and it doesn't work. There are so many avenues for creativity."

There's also a lot to be said for the value of kids just having fun, she said, explaining that there is a recognized phenomenon known as "play deprivation." Liese said she devoted a significant portion of the book to the cathartic power of such activities, and she believes there is no substitute for what she calls "good, old-fashioned, rough-and-tumble play."

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Liese said studies have shown that 80% of what children learn comes from their senses and movement, but she pointed out that is opposite of what is happening now, with most learning being done virtually via electronic devices because of the virus. She suspects that change is having an enormous negative impact on childhood development that will be felt for a long time.

"I often fear we really don't understand what's coming down the pike with the effect on education in the next five to 10 years," she said. "It's going to be like the perfect storm."

Making it personal

Liese said she struggled with the idea of whether she should publicly acknowledge her own substance abuse issues. But she chose to do so after it became apparent to her that the approaches she cites in the book were the same ones that worked for her. She also decided to dedicate the book to her brother, who overcame his own substance abuse issues by devoting himself to gardening.

But that's not why the book is so important to her, she said.

"It's deeply personal in the sense that my life passion, my assignment, my mission is to help children come to their full potential," she said. " … Everyone is called for a purpose, and that's mine."

Copies of "The Play Prescription" can be ordered in advance at redleafpress.org or through Amazon. Liese said the book also will be available in the Kindle format.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.