Father's day

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Michael Cook is forced to admit that he doesn't know everything

There is a lot I still don't know about school. I don't know where Mrs Stringer's room is. Or, indeed, who Mrs Stringer is. I couldn't tell you if Class 3 is playing in the big or the little playground today; the complicated rota makes as much sense to me as a Chinese horoscope.

Then there are things I don't know that perhaps I should. Year 1 has a far more sophisticated grasp of grammar than me (than I?). The phoneme and trigraph are not, it appears, the latest mini MPVs from Hyundai, but something to do with "literacy". So when the class looks together at The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I am happy to be on familiar ground. Until we look at a book showing Eric Carle creating The Very Hungry Caterpillar and all decide to make pictures just like him. At least, we all appear to decide. I suspect Mrs Lewis has some kind of mind-control going on, but I can't be certain.

The children relish the challenge. But I am filled with the knowledge of what I don't know. Yes, I can see Eric standing purposefully over a sheet of paper holding a paintbrush. And, yes, I can see the finished illustration of a beautiful butterfly. But is it only me that sees some kind of tricky artistic distance between the two?

Blow painting? Splatter collage? For six-year-olds and their teacher these may well be everyday skills. But the everyday wiring in my brain is busy coping with other things: how many points Forest need to avoid relegation; which PIN number goes with which bank card. It's 30 years since I painted with a drinking straw. I don't have much of a clue beyond remembering not to suck.

So we learn together. We discover that paper that gets too wet will not hold up to having a plastic comb scraped against it. We find out that splatter painting is probably best attempted outside. We learn exactly why school uniform comes in machine-washable, quick-dry fabric, and why parent helpers should keep their Nubuck trainers at home on a school day.

And in the end I learn something from the children. Not about blow painting (although our efforts would make a hungry caterpillar proud), but about trying new things, being unafraid of our ignorance, about always asking questions. Lesson learned: Mrs Stringer is the secretary. Can I show you to her office?

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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