LitWits are web-based kits that you use to bring favorite literature to life. Each LitWit kit was created for use with a group of students with ages ranging from six to thirteen. Each kit consists of a primary web page for the study. From that page, you can link to many other files and sites.
Downloadable files for the book you have selected include templates, activity pages, and academic handouts that you can print out. Academic handouts include answer keys whenever they are needed. There are also many Internet links with information and audiovisuals that you will use online. For each book, there are activities from art, music, language arts, history, and other subject areas, all tied to the story itself in some way.
Each study hones in on a few key values and themes for each book which they 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 LitWits explains 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 will use projects and prompts from the kit 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 essentially 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 audio book 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.
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 need not invest a lot of time and effort. In each kit, there is a collection of images of props used by others who studied that particular book 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 log book 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 foods mentioned in a story. In this case, it might be hard tack, beef jerky, or citrus fruits (to prevent scurvy).
Among the academic activities 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 of the story (on a timeline).
Younger students might skip some of the academic work if need be. It seems to me that the ideal grade levels for these studies are grades four through eight.
Study supplements within each kit 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 itself and academic activities might be done independently, many of the other activities are best suited to a group of two or more students.
LitWits kits are available individually or through monthly or yearly memberships. Memberships make the most sense. Members receive one free kit each month. They can also save 30% off the purchase of additional kits if they should need them. You can select whichever kits you want with the coupon you receive each month, and coupons do not expire.
There are numerous study guides for novels that are available to homeschoolers, but most concentrate on academic skills. LitWits puts far less stress on the academics with, for example, far less work on vocabulary that you find in most novel study guides. On the other hand, their experiential, hands-on approach might well be more successful in getting students excited about reading good literature.