Father's day

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Once Michael Cook had experienced the thrill of a round window, no other shape would do

Poppy's new classroom has two large round windows. There are three more in the wide corridor outside, where I am reading with some of the children.

Everyone loves these windows. You can see them from the road and they help identify the school. The headteacher pointed them out to us proudly on our parents' tour. Poppy has written about them in a letter to her old class.

It's easy to see why a round window evokes such interest. They are quirky.

Elegant. Unusual. The reason such a beautiful piece of design is so unusual is equally obvious - the near impossibility of getting hold of a pair of round curtains. (Come on Ikea, pull your finger out.) I guess for those of us of a certain age (I believe it is referred to as the prime of life), a glimpse through a round window was our first invitation to a fascinating voyage of discovery to the wide world outside our own four walls. I think I can speak for us all when I say that the round window was always our favourite of all the Play School windows. Nobody was rooting for a square window back then. Squares were for squares. Who needs corners? And arched windows were, frankly, peculiar. Victorian architectural whimsy? No thanks, Grandad!

No, the round window, then and now, just feels right. Special. Although today it does seem odd to be peering out through a round window and seeing just the plain old corner of the playground, and not a needlessly extended four or five-minute slow crawl round the factory floor of a pickle bottlers in Nuneaton, with narration by Brian Cant.

Reading is a voyage of discovery all of its own, of course. In the reading record I am given to fill in, there are notes about how best to help the child's understanding: talk about the story, ask what might happen next, discuss any unusual words or concepts you might come across. Luckily, this is exactly how I always read with my children at home. I would be a terrible and negligent father, after all, if I used bedtime stories as a cheap way to shut the kids up, and rattled through them at high speed so I could get downstairs, put the telly on and open a bottle of beer.

So, as we are reading a story set in a garden, I ask one boy about slugs.

He thinks a little, makes his finger wiggle slowly in a slug-like way, and then decides it is "a snail without a shell". I can see that this makes some kind of sense to him, and I smile benignly. But if it wasn't coming up to lunchtime, I think I'd be having a long talk with him about empathy.

Because what if he was a slug? Would he like to be told he was, in effect, an inadequate snail? A snail lacking the very essence of snail? Poppy's class might be good at reading, but I fear they have dangerous leanings towards sluggism.

Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend

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