Learning through play - the Dibs way

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

It’s a while since I’ve written here, and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you will know my creativity has been on furlough along with some 8.4 million UK citizens! But fewer hours hunched over my watercolours has meant more time for reading, and there’s one book I just had share with you.

Dibs: in Search of Self, by Virginia M. Axline

Yes, it’s a bit of a dry title, but let me tell you why you’ll fall head over heels for this non-fiction transformation story.

Dibs was a little boy who was really struggling at school, unable to join in with other children or carry out basic tasks for himself. He also had communication difficulties.


This book is written through the eyes of his therapist (whom he charmingly calls “Miss A”), and documents the weekly therapy sessions he attends. Dibs and his journey made my heart swell and engaged me in a way I never expected. I guarantee you will fall in love with him. It’s only a thin slither of a book (FYI time-poor adults!) so well worth it to learn from this inspiring little boy.


There’s also a lot to learn from the outstanding success of using play-centric child therapy, for which Virginia M. Axline was a pioneer. The book is a masterclass in adult-supervised play without leading or directing, and will appeal to parents, teachers and childcare practitioners alike.

Play is now a common tool used in child therapy, but our UK education system is slower to adapt its curriculum. At the moment, play-centric learning runs until Year 1 , where there's often a swift change of teaching style to formal table-based learning. You need only look to teaching styles such as the Montessori method or the staggering success of the education system in countries like Finland, to see the benefits of learning through play for all children, regardless of age.


Even the dictionary definition of play undermines its value: “To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. On the contrary, we know that play acts as a ‘testing lab’ for children to act out, step into new roles, try real-world experiences and build key relationships - all while in a safe space. With no repercussions, no right or wrong answer, only exploration at its heart, play has a pretty serious and practical purpose, by anyone’s standards!

Dibs: in Search of Self is available on Amazon (don’t be put off by the dated covers!).

Sophie Hitchcock is the author and illustrator of children’s picture book Such a Noisy Bird!, available to buy now. For games fostering learning through play, visit the “tools for adults” page.

#childcare #kidsliterature #childrensliterature #picturebooks #learningthroughplay #suchanoisybird #hitchcockbooks #adviceforparents #mumlife #dadlife #montessori

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