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Global creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Flags of the world

Every creature on Earth has a weakness. Rabbits are dazzled by headlights to the point of self-destruction. Certain species of snake are able to hypnotise their feeble-minded prey. A similar effect can be seen when a child comes across a book on the flags of the world.

I really don't know why this happens, perhaps because I was an early victim myself. I remember getting a set of encyclopedias as a kid, full of words I didn't understand. Then I found the section on flags. Page after page of coloured patterns, stripes, stars, crosses - all in unique arrangements, representing the people of the world.

I was completely hooked. I would spend hours looking at the flags and then get my Dad to cover up the countries' names and test me. I began to spot links between different ones. I was fascinated to see the presence of the Union Jack on flags from all corners of the globe, as well as the different orientation and design of crosses and crescents.

Young people are still fascinated by flags. The first book Chris brought in last year was about them. He would take any opportunity he could to sketch the flags in his drawing book. When his friends asked him which country they were from, he took great pleasure in telling them, often dazzling them with other information about the country and where in the world it could be found. The book was passed around the class, and so was "flag fever".

Now, whenever we discuss another country, we look at its flag. As we began our history topic, we looked at the Egyptian flag. The flag of Israel was an obvious focus as we studied Judaism. During the Ashes cricket series, it was natural to look at the Australian flag and compare it to New Zealand's.

One of the first tasks of each pupil's personal project was to identify and copy the flag of their country. They eagerly compared and contrasted their flags with each other and many have pursued an interest ever since.

When I found a couple of kids huddled in the corner of the library the other day with a "flags of the world" book, taking it in turns to test each other, I was reminded again of my own childhood interest. It's never left me and I bet there are plenty of people reading this who have their own way of remembering the difference between the Belgian and the German flags, or know what words are on the flag of Brazil.

As I watched the Olympic Games last year, I looked for the colours of the athletes' kit and matched them to a mental image of their flag, just as I will next year when I'm watching the FIFAWorld Cup. Mind you, I still haven't got a clue why the Italians, with their green, white and red flag, play in blue!

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email:

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