Jayne Dowle: Goals in life for a game of two halves that can bring the whole world together

JACK'S teacher came up with a brilliant idea. She made a word-search puzzle, and the challenge is to find all the teams in the World Cup. It is certainly giving Jack renewed enthusiasm for spelling. And now he knows the difference between Paraguay and Uruguay.

But the World Cup is about more than being able to recognise the teams. It is a way for children to learn about other countries, and to pick

up some lessons about life along the way. The North Korean player who sobbed through his national anthem got us talking. I explained to Jack that North Korea is a very different country from the one we live in.

Even leaving his country, let alone playing in the World Cup, would be a massive achievement for that lad. At seven, Jack has a fairly limited understanding of what "totalitarian" means. But after our chat on Tuesday night, I think he understands a little more about the freedom he takes for granted. He also understands rather more about championing the underdog. Especially when the underdog managed to score a cracking goal against Brazil.

Football, so often condemned for promoting aggression of the most nationalistic kind, can be a positive force in parenting. It brings out the fiercest patriotic fervour, but it also unites so many different nationalities.

Unlike the Olympics, which can be a bit complicated for children to grasp, the World Cup proves that where-ever you go in the world, yes, even America, some kid will be kicking a ball against a wall. If you have seen Katherine Bigelow's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, you will know that one of the most moving moments of the film is when the young Iraqi boy plays football with the battle-hardened American soldier.

The very fact that the World Cup is in South Africa provides plenty of opportunities to talk about how tough it is for children who live in challenging countries. Beyond the smiling babies who accompany the match coverage, there have been plenty of factual programmes which explore the poverty many youngsters in South Africa endure. How old are you when you leave school? What time is it there? Is it really hot? Does everyone have a television in South Africa? These are just some of the questions Jack has fired at me this past week.

Bang on to children as much as you like about how lucky they are. It won't go in. But show them, give them something to compare themselves against, and it makes a difference. Football, by its very nature, does this. Jack is worried about the two Albanian boys who have recently joined his own team. "They wear the same kits to train in every week," he said to me. "Do you think they haven't got any others?" To which the simple answer was: "Yes, probably, now eat your tea." But hold on a minute, I thought, this is a perfect opportunity to illustrate what I mean. I explained that these boys' parents probably can't find work in their own country, so have moved over here in the hope of a better life. They might not have much money to spend on football gear because they are just settling in and looking for jobs.

"Shall I give them my old boots then?" he suggested. Sometimes your children overwhelm you with their simple generosity of spirit. I agreed that this would be a really nice idea. In a moment of weakness in the sports-shop the other week, I had given in and parted with almost 50 for a pair of purple Nikes – as worn by Cristiano Ronaldo – even

though there is nothing wrong with his old boots. No doubt, my children are spoilt. But I don't want them to be selfish. I also want them to be tolerant, and to develop an understanding of the ancient rivalries and allegiances that make the world such a complicated place.

This being the first World Cup that he has been old enough to register, Jack is also incredibly curious about our interesting relationship with

the Germans. In the end, when you have skipped over the Second World War as quickly as possible, tried not to fill up with tears at the 1966 bit and mentioned as many nice Germans as you can think of,

it is probably enough to say that they are very good at football, and if we draw them in the next round, it will be a match to remember for the rest of his life.

Being a goalkeeper himself, he won't forget Robert Green's catastrophic mistake in a hurry either. Or what his mother said when it happened, which is not suitable for publication in a family newspaper. But the fact that Green had to stick it out for the rest of the match against the US, and has had to put up with such a barrage of abuse ever since, proves to Jack that life is not always easy.

And neither is the World Cup. It is about pride and achievement, sure, but more importantly, it is learning about who the winners and losers are – both on the pitch, and off.