What do you remember learning in third grade? Fourth grade? Fifth?
We’re betting your response is connected to a sensory project: the molecule model you built, or the field trip you took to a museum, or the artwork you did for a poem, the ice cream you earned for learning your multiplication tables. And your favorite teacher? We bet that’s the one who came up with cool projects and hands-on ideas for teaching lessons.
That’s because experience embeds lessons in our memory in deep, resonant ways. As in all of life, things that are tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and seen are more meaningful and memorable. When we physically do, we mentally get what we’re doing. Especially if what we’re doing is FUN!
At LitWits, this is how we teach literature to kids. When they experience a great book in fun, hands-on, sensory ways, they get it–and want to read more. A story that’s experienced in three-D, tangible, multi-sensory ways gets up off the page for them. It becomes far more real and relevant! It’s easier for them to relate to the characters, to understand the impact of time and place, to feel with the protagonist as s/he grows, and learn all kinds of academic and character lessons in first-hand ways.
This was our personal experience of reading as kids, and we passed it along when reading to our own. Since 2010, it’s been a joy to pass it along to other people’s kids.
The most important lessons learned are about personal growth: developing positive traits and coping skills. By “getting in the characters’ shoes,” kids identify, empathize, and grow with those characters. They see elements of themselves in the other, and learn “I can make that change, too.” We love seeing the wide-eyed, light-bulb moments on their faces as this message kicks in. And we love knowing more kids now want to read more great books!
But our LitWitty approach has deep academic value, too. Our immersive activities, projects, discussions, and worksheets are designed to naturally convey layers of key ideas and information at once. As we work, talk, and play our way through the narrative arc, kids learn about themes, the author’s process and choices, writing skills, historical and geographical contexts, themes, and so much more!
There’s no pressure to perform or participate–we want to inspire children to love great books. Those who already love reading are thrilled at the chance to soak up more of a book , and those who don’t like to read (or write) are inspired by the pleasure we take in “experiencing” the story. Who wouldn’t want to write, when a master writer has just showed us the power of words in a story, and we’ve just LIVED that story in so many sensory ways? (Here are some examples, at a glance.)
We join in a character’s sensory experiences by handling interesting items, listening to traditional music, recreating important objects, and dining on food from the book. These are all ways of traveling through time and bringing that other world up close
We play games and do puzzles or skits that lead us to deeper meanings within a story. There’s so much more to a great book than meets the eye, and discovering its symbols is like finding clues to a treasure — that is, the theme and its universal truths.
Figuring out what an author was really trying to say develops critical thinking skills. There’s lifelong value in the ability to notice patterns, connect meanings, read between the lines, and decipher underlying messages. This helps kids learn discernment and develops their intuition.
We bring cultural allusions into three dimensions through art, music, props, and other tactile experiences. This helps children understand that literature lets them in on the references made by adults — and they’ll want to read more because they enjoy the feeling of being well-read. No one likes to feel left out! Making these allusions understandable and memorable through sensory involvement is a great way to help kids feel included in society. It builds confidence to “get it” – to be in on the joke, the allusion, the quotation.
And as they comprehend that literature is a prime source of these references, they’re more motivated to read enduring, enriching books.
We help kids visualize and “touch” the author’s world. This helps them understand why he or she felt certain ways about certain things that show up in the book. Getting under the author’s skin and grasping the idea of influence is key to developing critical thinking skills – and, someday, to writing thesis papers.
When we use sensory “clues” to help kids spot connections between the author’s life and book, they see that a book represents a real person. It’s a level of awareness they’ll draw on as they develop their own power to impart their beliefs on a page.
We engage kids in activities and projects that help them see the way a story is plotted, so they understand what’s happening and why—which helps them intuitively plan their own story writing, too. When kids artistically enhance a scene or recreate an important item, it helps them really see and feel it in three dimensions.
Experiencing literature allows kids to absorb its subtle lessons naturally. Because books, after all, are not about words but experiences of action and being. By joining the characters in their experiences, kids connect with great books — and want to read more.
And we know that when kids read for fun, they learn for life. What they learn depends on what they’re reading.
Watch our video, below, for an overview of how we make great books lovable and learnable!
Note: our Explorer’s Guides used to be called LitWits Kits.
Decoding runes, from the LitWits experience of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Building our own monkey traps, from the LitWits experience of Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Writing Lampwick’s last words; thematic “pears of ingratitude” and an “undeveloped puppet,” from the LitWits experience of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi