LitWits helps bring favorite books to life in hands-on, creative ways. They were created for use with groups of students ages eight to twelve. For each book, there are free ideas and instructions for fun, immersive activities, all connected to the story itself. Straight-from-the-story experiences give children opportunities to do what the characters did and learn what the characters learned.
LitWits experiences are available in three ways. 1) Online classes are offered each semester. Enrollment gives students access to a three-hour class, and they will receive their hands-on LitWits Kit of supplies in the mail. 2) You can use their free teaching ideas (with the option of purchasing printables) to do a study on your own. 3) Or you can buy the video version of their live workshop, which comes with all the necessary printables. You need to gather your own supplies.
There are also many internet links with information and audiovisuals that you will use. You also have the option to buy printable templates, activity pages, academic handouts, and answer keys.
Each study hones in on a few key values and themes from the selected book which the authors call “Takeaways.” For example, for the book Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, the takeaways are perseverance, attitude, and directions. Each of these is explored from a number of angles. As the authors explain regarding the takeaway “directions:” “There are multiple ‘directional’ messages in Nat’s story: the importance of establishing clear directions, going in the right direction, of following directions, and of finding one’s own direction.” You can use projects and prompts from their ideas, as well as props that you gather to stimulate discussion on these topics. Some of these discussions could be directed into spiritual applications, especially those addressing virtues and decision-making, but it’s up to parents to lead discussions as they choose. The secular nature of these studies is especially evident in studies such as that for Pinocchio. Pinocchio is loaded with religious allegory, but this isn’t brought out in the kit.
Students in the primary grades can participate by listening to an audiobook presentation of a novel if they are not yet able to read the novel itself. Older students can read independently, or you can use books as family read-alouds.
If you are gathering resources on your own, in addition to the novel to be read, you might want to gather from three to five props to use for each study. Props might relate to the setting or theme of the story. The creators of LitWits greatly enjoyed their search for props, but you don't need to invest a lot of time and effort. In each book's page of teaching ideas, there is a collection of images of props that should give you some great ideas. If you don't have time, you might use images, or just don't worry about props at all.
Hands-on and multi-sensory activities make these studies even more fun. For example, In Carry On, Mr. Bowditch students learn about a compass rose then paint one with watercolors. They listen to maritime music from the era. They create their own compass with sewing needles, magnetite (or a magnet), and a cork. Using a template, they create a logbook in which they can track their own journeys. Students can also role-play using prompts that make it easy to present short skits in an impromptu fashion. Of course, you want to add the types of food mentioned in the story. In this case, it might be hardtack, beef jerky, or citrus fruits.
Among the academic activities in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch are:
- Analyze John 1:1 as Nathaniel Bowditch analyzed Scripture to teach himself Latin, French, and Spanish. (This is meant to be a linguistics exercise rather than a Bible study.)
- Rewrite a paragraph to make it accurate and easy to understand.
- Complete a narrative arc worksheet.
- Complete a vocabulary worksheet, identifying English words that derive from Latin.
- Complete a worksheet identifying the setting (on a map) and time period (on a timeline) of the story.
Study enhancements within each book's page take you to useful websites for more information and activity ideas. In the study for Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, you might check out images of Nathaniel Bowditch, an article about real ships of Bowditch’s era, a diagram of a warship from 1728, a “kid-friendly” explanation of yellow fever, the latest edition of Bowditch’s famous book, American Practical Navigator, and other weblinks that enrich the study.
A “Beyond the Book” section adds additional activity suggestions. For Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, these include ideas such as visiting Bowditch’s home in Salem, Massachusetts (if that’s possible); making your own spyglass; or making your own sextant.
While the reading and academic activities might be done independently, many of the other activities are best suited to a group of two or more students. Younger students might skip some of the academic work. It seems to me that the ideal grade levels for these studies are grades four through eight.
There are numerous study guides for novels that are available to homeschoolers, but most concentrate on academic skills. LitWits put far less stress on the academics with, for example, less work on vocabulary than you find in most novel study guides. On the other hand, LitWits' experiential, hands-on approach might well be more successful in getting students excited about reading good literature than a more academic approach. That, in fact, is their primary goal.