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LitWits Review by Brittney Rutherford

Becky Clendenen Kimball and Jenny Clendenen Walicek
P.O. Box 20272
San Jose, CA 95160

LitWits are literature studies, intended to take children on adventures through children’s novels. Created by sisters, LitWit Workshops was their way of bringing their childhood of experiencing books through sensory play and imagination to other children. LitWits are an extension of these workshops, allowing teachers and parents everywhere to bring unique literature immersion experiences to their children.

LitWits are written for the average 8-12 year old, to help encourage a love of reading and books. The creators choose well-written, quality, classic books. Every book title I saw was a living book, but to facilitate this review, I received access to five LitWit units: A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Phantom Tollbooth, Swallows and Amazons, and The Big Wave. I chose to focus on books that my kids had not read before, and that would offer a variety of topics and diversity, and hopefully spark interest in new ideas. 

To use LitWits, you create an account through their website. When logged in, you will see all of your available LitWit kits, and can choose which one to access. The authors are upfront with suggesting that you can pick and choose, and use the program however best fits your needs, but they encourage you to make it engaging, exciting, experiential and hands-on fun for the kids!

Each unit is set up the same way. They are all accessible online, so you can quickly click links to look at pictures, play videos, or listen to music. You can download as a PDF as well, if you’ll be working offline, but they’re picture heavy if you’re planning to print. The units all follow the same layout and include Prop Ideas, Hands-On Fun, Bookbites, Takeaways, Handouts, Learning Links, and Great Quotes. 

Prop Ideas: The authors suggest setting up a book table or area for props. They give many suggestions for items that are relevant to the setting or themes of the book. These items might be jewelry, plants, maps, framed photographs, food items, or anything that represents the story. You can view their props in a slideshow with a description for each picture, to get a better idea of how they fit into the story, and they also suggest where to find more exotic or unique items. I appreciate these ideas, because even if I can’t find the exact suggestions, it gives me ideas for other things I might have in the house.

Hands-On Fun: These ideas include art, crafts, games, and other activities. In Island of the Blue Dolphins, one might create cave art like the real person for which the book is inspired, or in Swallows and Amazons we create a boat, while in A Wrinkle in Time, we’ll measure out a solar system.

Bookbites: These food and snack suggestions are straight from the book, and serve as central to the theme, the plot, or are likely unfamiliar to the students due to culture or time period. Food is always a fun way to explore a book, especially for my growing boys, but this is probably the only area where I felt more suggestions would have been useful.

Takeaways: These are important themes from the book. The authors acknowledge that these books have so many themes and topics we can explore, but they’ve chosen a few key topics if you’re short on time or want the work done for you. For instance, one of the topics is the real woman for which the story of Island of the Blue Dolphins is based. Background facts are given, so you can compare the fictional novel to what is known about the real woman. Discussion points are suggested too, to help you have meaningful conversations about the book.

Handouts: This section provides academic handouts with vocabulary, mapping exercises, characterizations, creative writing exercises, and discussions on the narrative arc of the stories. Answer keys are included when necessary. Activities specific to a book might be labeling a boat for Swallows and Amazons, or learning mnemonics to label the planets for A Wrinkle in Time. The handouts are the only “academic” activities in the kits, but they allow for portfolio fodder for those that need it. They suggest you might alternate the handouts with the hands-on activities for variety.

Learning Links: These are a collection of links the creators came across during their research that can contribute to the unit. They may relate to the author or elements of the book. There is also a link to a relevant Pinterest board. This is helpful for further exploring points of interest with kids, or going deeper than the base LitWits Kit, particularly if you want to use it as a full unit study. 

Great Quotes: You’re encouraged to use great quotes as talking points. I think using them for copywork and dictation works well too.

The LitWits are full of fun ideas for homeschoolers, classrooms, and co-ops. Some of the activities require teams or groups of children, which isn’t always easy for families, unless you get others involved. That being said, those activities are what make it ideal for classrooms and co-ops, where team-building and group activities are almost always a hit!

Certainly you can cobble your own unit studies together, especially if you wanted to include more comprehensive history or science, but the focus of LitWits is enjoying good literature, and the activities chosen reflect that well. If you wanted to turn these into full unit studies or expand them for older students, you could just flesh out the extra suggestions they include. For the book A Wrinkle in Time, younger students can study the solar system while older students explore astrophysics or philosophy. By middle school, students should be learning how to study topics at a deeper level, so this could be a way to encourage more independent studies while still keeping your children connected through good books.

I do think the book choices for this are excellent. The creators have chosen high-quality living books that appeal to all ages. I have prepared these units for a younger nine year old and an older eleven year old, and the books are perfectly chosen for this age range. LitWits generously offers a thorough sample for the book Little House in the Big Woods, so you can see what an experience might be like, but it is important to remember that the unique literary elements and plot of each book means that each LitWit experience is different. The objective is to create a love of books, and I think LitWits sets up a successful model for this!

-Product review by Brittney Rutherford, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2018