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Free Writing Friday: A Creative Classroom Revolution

Private tutor and author of The Poet’s Wife, The Girl and the Sunbird, and The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, Rebecca Stonehill encourages us to join the quiet revolution known as ‘Free Writing Friday’. Dance like nobody’s watching and write like nobody’s reading. Why not make this a part of your child’s summer holiday routine?

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A special kind of Creative Writing 

We all know the adage ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ and the freedom such an uninhibited activity can bring. But what if we could write like nobody’s reading? This seems to go against the grain, because when children are set writing tasks at school, they do so in order for their writing to be marked, assessed and commented upon by their teachers who, understandably, need to see how their pupils are getting on and how their writing can be strengthened. Whilst this is important, with the growing focus on measurable results in schools and the crowding out of creative freedom, a quiet revolution is taking place in classrooms across the United Kingdom in the form of Free Writing Friday. Cressida Cowell, author and illustrator of the best selling children’s book series How To Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once is a passionate advocate for creating the space to let primary school children write what they want to write without the fear of the red pen slashing through their work.

Creating a space for creative flow

When children write and doodle in these notebooks, they are completely off limits to teachers and that, Cowell argues, can help the writing flow in an utterly unique and empowering way. Given that her books have been a phenomenal success, selling millions of copies worldwide and made into popular movies and Netflix series and that she is a champion for children’s literacy, her gems of wisdom on creativity should make us all sit up and take note. 

When asked what she believes is the single thing to help children develop creativity, Cowell doesn’t miss a beat: ‘Have a notebook to draw and write just for the fun of it,’ she urges. The most important element of all this is that not one single person should be allowed to make corrections to this notebook, not in spelling, grammar, neatness, punctuation, nothing.

Writing can begin with drawing

Cowell talks about her own teacher from primary school who supported the concept of free writing and says that many of her ideas as a child for dragons and vikings that went on to become her best-selling books started out as a series of doodles and notes in her own private notebook. The fact that she talks about drawings as well as words should not be dismissed. Cowell talks about how many of her books have started with drawing a map of her imaginary place. Give your settings names, she encourages, and you’ll be amazed how characters start to form and how they navigate their terrain.

As well as stories and drawings, if a child is stuck then their notebook can be used to simply jot down ideas, draw cartoon strips, a design for a super-hero or a re-write of their own favourite story. The possibilities are endless, and this should never be a prescriptive endeavour. If a child should want help and input from an adult, that is also fine, but make sure you step away as soon as they get going.

Finding the time is easy

Recognising how squeezed teachers are for time, Cowell advocates a minimum of fifteen minutes a week, an idea that has evolved into Free Writing Friday and has now spread the length and breath of the country. Simply typing the hashtag #FreeWritingFriday into Twitter brings up a plethora of ideas and inspiration from teachers reaping the benefits of it.

If you are unsure whether Free Writing Friday happens in your child’s primary or prep school, speak to the teachers or the head of the English department. It is unlikely that they would be unsupportive of such an initiative as it has so many glowing endorsements to back it up and every teacher can find a fifteen minute weekly slot. Despite it’s name, it doesn’t have to be on a Friday!

Write like nobody’s reading

The fear of judgment can be stifling and if children are given the opportunity to write simply for the sake of it, you will be amazed what they can produce. Cowell’s message is powerful, that ‘everyone has magic, every single one of us, because the REAL magic is imagination. Imagination is the most powerful engine in the universe, and the stories that come from YOUR imagination are the best of all.’ At worst, if children are encouraged to write like nobody’s reading, they will have had fifteen minutes of fun on the page. But at best – and this will very often be the case – Free Writing Friday will foster of love of writing that will last an entire lifetime.

For more information visit the Free Writing Friday website which is a treasure chest of tips, advice and inspiration.