Father's day

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Michael Cook caught with the kiddie coins, shouting 'Loadsa money!'

Shock! Horror! The newspapers scream that teachers have been barking up the wrong pedagogical tree for decades, and no one in England has learned to read since 1959. (That must be why so many apparently sprightly young people park in the "Disabled only" spaces at my local Asda - they know not what they do.) It seems these so-called teachers have been wantonly showing interesting picture books to five-year-olds, and that this foolishness must stop. I'm paraphrasing of course: but then I had to get an elderly relative to read the story to me, what with entering school in 1973 and being functionally illiterate and everything.

The danger of exacerbating this reading crisis is no doubt why this morning I am working with numbers. Mrs Henderson gives me a box of fake pennies and a worksheet and a maths group.

I still get a little excited at the sight of a big tub of plastic coins.

It's the same thrill as taking the Monopoly from the toy cupboard. Not to play with it (even a seven-year-old realises life's too short for Monopoly), but just to handle a big wad of pound;100 notes and imagine what life would be like as a grown-up. Of course, now I know that adults rarely get to handle pound;100 notes because they have all been spent on Monopoly sets that no one plays with.

The children are also excited by our plastic fortune. So excited that, for some, the prospect of waiting for their turn to sort coins into "a pile that makes up 10p" and "a pile that makes up 20p" is marginally less tempting than scooping up great handfuls of cash and letting them waterfall from their fingers all across the classroom. Again and again. I am finding this hard work. The group, normally so attentive and bright, should be waiting patiently. Voices are raised. One of them is mine.

Then I take another look at the worksheet. It actually suggests that we all sort through coins together and make different combinations at the same time. And yes, of course, when I think about it, that makes much better sense, and, yes, it immediately holds the children's interest, but I wasn't to know. It's not my fault I'm a parent-helper who can't read a worksheet properly. I blame the teachers.

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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