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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Swedish Drill: A History

    April 27, 2016 by Dawn Duran

    Swedish Drill is something frequently referenced throughout Charlotte Mason’s works. Soundness of body was a primary goal of incorporating this form of physical education in her schools in keeping with her philosophy dedicated to the development of the whole child. Yet today we know very little about Swedish Drill and what it looked like when implemented. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers often wonder if it is something that should be incorporated into their own home schools or if it is an outdated method of physical activity. With my next several posts I hope to help you see what Swedish drill looks like in implementation and convince you that it is still highly beneficial as an activity to adapt for the education of our children.

    A brief history of Swedish drill and physical education, as well as a look at how Charlotte Mason made this type of drill a priority in her school day.

    Swedish Drill was a system of Swedish gymnastics invented at the turn of the 19th century by Pehr Henrik Ling, a fencing instructor in southern Sweden. His goal was to promote exercise as a means of restoring public health. Ling’s main work — The Essential Principles of Gymnastics — reads as a testimony of the benefits his exercise theories played out in his own life. In this regard his work reminds me very much of that of Joseph Pilates, but that is a topic for another time. Ling’s work had medical application as well: in the mid 1800s his theories were adapted to reflect the medical value of exercise as a form of rehabilitation from illness. His philosophies and practices were gathered into the Handbook of Medical Gymnastics. Ling is also considered to be the father of Swedish massage.

    Prior to 1870 there was no national system of elementary education in Britain. However, the earliest effort to introduce drill into “public” schools was recorded at a meeting in 1860 at the Thatched House Tavern, which is often referenced as the point at which formal Physical Education truly began. The Forster Act (or The Elementary Education Act of 1870), which impacted England and Wales, was passed and this made education compulsory for children ages 5-13. This was an effort to make education and its benefits available to the working classes. It also allowed schools to receive government grants for providing physical training. The act contained a clause mandating participation in “drill” 2 hours a week under a competent instructor. At that point drill was military — not Swedish.

    In 1902 “The Model Course” was implemented as a compulsory element in schools as a means of instilling a military spirit in the people of Great Britain as well as creating a farming ground for potential officers in the British Army. Why was this important? The Model Course was being actively developed during the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), under whom Britain engaged in 28 military campaigns — which obviously created a great need for soldiers. This military drill training emphasized physical fitness for military recruits and was implemented specifically to generate a habit of immediate obedience to a given command and to instill discipline.

    By 1904 measures had been made to minimize this military influence and in 1909 the transition was made to the implementation of therapeutic gymnastics in the form of Swedish Drill, which maintained the latter purposes of military drill but removed the emphasis on preparation for life in the army. The incorporation of Swedish Drill in British schools was largely under the supervision of Martina Bergman-Osterberg, who trained at the Royal Central Gymnastics Institute in Stockholm and who served as Lady Superintendent of Physical Exercises in Girls’ and Infants’ schools through the London School Board.

    Now that we know a bit more of the history behind Swedish Drill let’s look at what Charlotte Mason has to say about it.

    I will only add, that to give the child pleasure in light and easy motion — the sort of delight in the management of his own body that a good rider finds in managing his horse — dancing, drill, calisthenics, some sort of judicious physical exercise, should make part of every day’s routine. Swedish Drill is especially valuable, and many of the exercises are quite suitable for the nursery. Certain moral qualities come into play in alert movements, eye-to-eye attention, prompt and intelligent replies; but it often happens that good children fail in these points for want of physical training. (Volume 1, p 132)

    For physical training nothing is so good as Ling’s Swedish Drill, and a few of the early exercises are the reach of children under nine. (Volume 1, p 315)

    …the teacher makes it his business to see that the body gets its share, and an abundant share, of gymnastics whether by way of games or drill. (Volume 6, p 72)

    These quotes illustrate that Charlotte Mason found value in the physical benefits of Swedish Drill. Now I’d like to take a look at what she has to say about Drill’s place in the school day in the PNEU schools.

    No book-work or writing, no preparation for report, is done in the Parent’s Review School, except between the hours of 9 and 1130 for the lowest class, to 9 and 1 for the highest, with half an hour’s interval for drill, etc. (Volume 3, p. 240)

    I’d like to consider this for a moment. Did you notice that in a school day that was 2.5-4 hours long a full 30 minutes was devoted to drill – ie to physical education?

    Just let that sink in for a moment, and let’s break this down further by age and class with the help of Volume 3 and the PNEU timetables.

    Class Ia. — The child of six goes into Class Ia; he works for 2.5 hours a day, but half an hour of this time is spent in drill and games. Including drill, he has thirteen ‘subjects’ of study for which about sixteen books are used.  (Volume 3, p. 272)

    This represents 20% of the school day for the youngest students, which consisted of children ages 6-9.

    Class II — …they work from 9 to 12 each day, with half an hour’s interval for games and drill. (Volume 3, p. 240)

    This represents 16.7% of the school day for students ages 9-12.

    Class III — …The ‘subjects’: ….Drill…Time, 3.5 hours a day; half an hour out of this time, as before, for drill and games. (Volume 3, p. 286)

    This represents 14.3% of the school day for students ages 12-15.

    Charlotte Mason felt so strongly about the importance of physical education that she devoted a large portion of the school day to it. Are you prioritizing the physical education of your children in like fashion?

    In this post we’ve learned the history of Swedish Drill, and emphasized its importance and place in Charlotte Mason’s schools. We’ll take a closer look at what Drill looks like in implementation in my next post. Or would you prefer a lot of the information from the Swedish Drill posts in one easy to read place? My eBook Swedish Drill Revisited is 50+ pages of Swedish Drill information, a complete open-and-go curriculum that will assist you in instructing your children two complete Swedish Drill routines. It’s entirely self-contained and has everything you need to make Swedish Drill happen consistently in your homeschool or co-op. Click here to read more or click here to purchase.

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  • Reply Phys Ed And It's Virtuous Purpose | Restfully Learning August 10, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    […] discussion on the history of The Swedish Drill in her informative blog After Thoughts. Learn more about Swedish drills here. I also found a free ebook from Simply Charlotte on Swedish drills, entitled The Swedish […]

  • Reply The Gymnastic Underpinning of a Classical Education: Mindfulness in Movement – T.O.R.L. July 19, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    […] Swedish Drill is easily the least known of the three gymnastic concepts under current inspection. It was created by Pehr Henrik Ling, a fencing instructor in southern Sweden. Ling’s interests in restoring public health through exercise were adopted later by another prominent figure in education: Charlotte Mason. Today, where Swedish Drill is still practiced in its orthodoxy, it is practiced by those who carry on the Charlotte Mason method of education. […]

  • Reply Jennifer May 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    i read this post yesterday, and then today I am reading Anne of Green Gables along with my daughter. I found it interesting that in the middle of the story, Avonlea gets a new teacher – A young woman who switches things up a bit a the school. She institutes an every other Friday nature walk/study, and insists the children do daily “physical culture exercises” Anne explains to Marilla that they “make you graceful and promote digestion.” I probably wouldn’t have take note of it except that I had Swedish drills on the brain =)

    • Reply Dawn May 2, 2016 at 2:03 am

      What a neat connection, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Brian April 30, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for this article. I didn’t know Charlotte Mason had any interest in Swedish drill. I love her all the more for it.

    You mentioned as a side note Swedish drill and Pilates. There is a definite correlation with asana-based yoga as well:

    • Reply Dawn April 30, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      I’m glad to increase Charlotte Mason’s worth in your book, Brian. Thanks for the links! I look forward to reading them.

    • Reply Dawn May 1, 2016 at 2:54 am

      Those articles are fascinating, Brian! And they both mention Ling – whose system spawned Swedish Drill! After reading the first article I was thinking that this discovery was an argument against the strong disapproval many Christians have against yoga due to its spiritual “roots” – only to open the second one to read that the article talked about just that. Thanks again for bringing them to my attention.

  • Reply Toni April 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    How timely! I was just looking up Swedish Drill yesterday. Thank you for your insights. I’m looking forward to your next post! 🙂

    • Reply Dawn April 27, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      I love when that happens, Toni. Next post will contain more of the “how to”s – or at least the best exercises to begin with. It’s a work in progress at this point:).

  • Reply Jenny April 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Dawn, this is so helpful. I’m really looking forward to hearing the nitty gritty how-to in the future posts!

    • Reply Dawn April 27, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks, Jenny. I’m having fun preparing this information to share. My biggest concern is highlighting the most effective and beneficial exercises in routines whose commands are easiest to understand and relay to our students. It’s slow going because there is much to wade through, but it’s a fun project and my kids enjoy being guinea pigs.

      • Reply Erika April 30, 2016 at 7:33 pm

        That is a lot of work. I really appreciate the effort you are putting into this whole series and I am really looking forward to the next post!

        • Reply Dawn May 1, 2016 at 2:49 am

          Thanks, Erika. It’s encouraging to hear that there is interest in Swedish Drill. It makes me all the more excited to sift through it and adapt it for modern implementation.

  • Reply Catie April 27, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Have you ever thought about organizing your blog into a book?? I’m sure you have lots of extra time to do that.. 😉

    I would totally buy it. 😉 SO MUCH GREAT INFO HERE!

    • Reply Dawn April 27, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      If Brandy converted her blog posts into a book I would be first in line to purchase it. Hint hint.

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