I'm not into football. In fact I would go as far as to say watching it bores me. But ever since the World Cup last year I have been very grateful for the place it has in my six-year-old son's life. And I'm sure his teacher is too.
First of all I must thank Brazil. So enthralled was my son by the team that he was keen to find out where they were on the giant map of the world he has on his bedroom wall. Next came Spain, Italy, and of course South Africa, and before long he could find all the great footballing nations on his map.
This quickly turned into a game where he would ask for a new country each night. We've now done the continents, and the oceans, and we occasionally do capital cities (even better if they have a good football team).
At parents' evening recently the teacher told me that she is regularly called over by my son to help with spelling – Lionel Messi, Xavi and Sami Nasri. The poor teacher doesn't have a clue but she patiently sits with him and tries to work it out.
Hayden's spelling has come on tremendously over the last six months as he has found a reason to learn to read. While it makes sense to find something they are interested in, finding something based on the child's obsession is an added bonus. Instead of us nagging him to read, it's the other way round and I have at times been interrupted while making the dinner by this little voice asking me how spell some word.
The weekly Match comic, as well as the sports pages from the daily paper have pushed him to decode words he can't quite manage and have given him the inspiration for all his little bits of writing we see him busy doing in his room at night. Not only is football giving him a reason to read, it is being used as a method to explore football further. I am forever finding handwritten lists and football reports, and at nights we have to go in to tell him to put his pencil and books away.
Glynis Kozma taught for more than 25 years and now has her own consultancy privately assessing and teaching children with literacy problems. She says that when it comes to learning to read anything goes. She says' "Anything that helps them learn is good – an interest is great. It gives them the motivation to read. Boys often find that reading encyclopaedias or even comics helps. It doesn't have to be a story book as such."
I was actually surprised at the variety of football story books out there. If anything is likely to engross my son it is a story of a boy his age overcoming the odds to play in the school football team. With these books he wants to read the next word himself because he is desperate to find out what happens next. If it's got football in the title he's hooked.
But it has also allowed me to show him not to take himself too seriously. Reading Horrid Henry one night we came upon the words Manchester United. I feigned utter shock that he didn't know what it said. When I told him, he burst into laughter, and so did I. The thought that this football addict had missed this one was just too funny for words.
At this point in time he wants to be a professional football player when he's older and today he told me he even does sit ups in his room to get himself fit. I meanwhile have been explaining how he needs to be good at maths (to count his money when he becomes as rich as David Beckham), and to be good at languages (for when he's playing in Europe).
Now all I need to do is link football to keeping his room tidier.