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Free Writing Friday – Boost kids’ creativity

We must celebrate curiosity and creativity and make them the beating heart of our classrooms, says Cressida Cowell…

Cressida Cowell
by Cressida Cowell
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I’ve been an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust for over a decade, and I know that the quest to get kids reading and creating is a complicated, wonderful, frustrating, heartbreaking, fascinating and worthwhile task.

I love a quest though, and this one is especially imperative. A study from Read On Get On estimated that if every child left primary school with the reading skills they need, our economy could be £30 billion bigger by 2025 – an incredible statistic.

If we want our country, our children, to thrive, the joy of reading and creative thinking must be at the heart of education, home life and the decisions we make at every level, from the national and political to the everyday and personal.

What is Free Writing Friday?

This is why, with the National Literacy Trust, I have launched Free Writing Friday, an initiative which is purposely design not to be time-consuming or complicated.

The idea is this: children should have a notebook to draw and write in just for the fun of it and be given time to use it. I’m suggesting 15 minutes every Friday.

Teachers aren’t allowed to correct this notebook – both for the kid’s sake and the teacher’s. I’m not suggesting more marking. Spelling, grammar or neatness do not matter; it’s a place for ideas and fun.

Stories, comic strips, ideas for video games, even copying down stories from other authors – whatever the kid wants.

Writing notebook

I started writing and drawing when I was very young, and I’ve kept notebooks ever since. I make a point of telling kids that some of the story ideas I had about Vikings and dragons aged nine eventually became the How to Train Your Dragon book and film series.

I still keep notebooks now – for The Wizards of Once I kept a big A3 scrapbook for five years.

Developing empathy

Another gift that creativity and books give is empathy. I love films, but things that happen on a screen happen ‘over there’, whereas in a book they happen inside your head.

You can be given endless history lessons on WW1 but when you read a book you are poor Private Peaceful walking out to the front.

There has been an enormous amount of research conducted to show how reading can help the development of empathy. One of my favourite quotes is from the book To Kill a Mockingbird: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

The How to Train Your Dragon books are filled with scenarios in which characters are forced to see the other person’s point of view.

I wanted to explore this theme further in The Wizards of Once, which is why Wish and Xar are from opposing tribes: they are forced into exploring why their respective families don’t get along.

Characters’ feelings

So, as a writer you are forced into your characters’ heads. How are they feeling? Why? Why do some characters clash, and how can they overcome it? How and why does a character defy an accepted truth of their world?

This is another reason why it’s so important for kids to be encouraged to free write and draw – the results can be much more than what appears on the page.

In The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic, I wanted to emphasise that creativity also gives us power because we can apply it to our decisions and actions.

The magic that the main characters Xar and Wish have, that we all have, is the imagination to think beyond our parents, even our whole world, to write our own story. We can choose what we want that to be.

Cressida Cowell (@cressidacowell) is the author-illustrator of How to Train your Dragon and The Wizards of Once series, as well as the Emily Brown picture book series, illustrated by Neal Layton. Find out more about Free Writing Friday. Browse more ideas for National Writing Day.

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