Father's day

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Imparting your wisdom can be a dicey business, says Michael Cook

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. That's not to suggest that teachers are wasting their every working day. Only that there is information that is too troubling for the infant mind to encounter.

Like when Alfie wakes from a nightmare. We bound upstairs to comfort him, but how? Alfie has woken up terrified about death. We're not sure why, having two healthy parents, four hearty grandparents, and not even a pet on its last legs.

He's not worried that I might die, or Mummy might die. He has realised that he will die. Not immediately (we take his temperature, just in case), but some time. We can only settle him down with thoughts of filling life with joy and laughter. And how, being born in 1997, he has a chance of living through three centuries.

Death is a concept best avoided with the under-eights. But it's not the only one. Around that age I was taught that a numbered cube used to randomly determine scores in game-playing was called a die (plural: dice).

But what I learned only through bitter personal experience was that an individual referring to any one of a pair of dice as "a die" would be deemed by his peers to be an insufferable smart-arse, and have scorn poured upon him when he insisted on correcting those who said otherwise.

So as a parent helper in an infant classroom, I feel I should shield these innocent kids from this highly volatile information. When we play a maths game, I can't encourage them to start a lifetime of fussiness by calling the item before us "a die". But the heart of the pedant beats strong within me, and neither can I refer, incorrectly, to "a dice" in front of impressionable infants.

Which leads me to a number of taxing strategies. Hesitation. Deviation.

Repetition. Believe me, going a whole half hour playing dice games without referring once to the item in question is quite a challenge, requiring verbal dexterity, mental agility, and not a little pointing. "Where do you keep the dice? Can you bring me just one so we can play this game? Yes, you need to give it a shake. Yes, that thing. That thing there." If I wake from a nightmare in the next few days, I won't be worried about dying. Just dice.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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