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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    What Physical Education Looked Like in a Charlotte Mason School

    August 28, 2017 by Dawn Duran

    [dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost of us know that a Charlotte Mason education consists of a wide and varied curriculum and that Miss Mason calls us to spread a veritable feast of subjects and ideas before our children. Did you know that this idea of “many and varied” can be applied within subjects as well? A look at the PNEU programmes reveals just that with respect to physical education, as there was a range of books listed in this category, and they varied from year to year.


    So you saw "Drill" on Charlotte Mason's time tables? Here's the low-down on what that means and what that looked like.

    Wellington Girls College students performing Swedish drill.. Taylor, Lucy, 1890-1988: Collection of photographs relating to Wellington Girls’ College, the 1927 Royal Tour, English portraits, and travel postcards. Ref: PAColl-1296-2-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23050035


    For example, in Programmes 90, 91, 93, 94, and 95, which were utilized for the school years ending 1918-1923, we find the following book recommendations for the category of Drill for Forms Ia and Ib: The Joyous Book of Singing Games, by John Hornby; Rhythmic Games and Dances, by Florence Hewitt; Syllabus of Physical Training, by Eyre & Spottiswoode; and British Marches for Schools, which contains sheet music, by Martin Shaw.

    For the same Programmes applying to Form IIa, IIb, III, and IV, the Syllabus of Physical Exercises is still named as a recommendation, as is Skipping. Additional titles listed include Ball Games and Breathing Exercises, by Alice R. James; as well as Peasant Dances and Songs of Many Lands, by Mrs. Kimmins. We also see listed How to Teach School Dances as useful for the teacher, and another musical score – Music for use in Mrs. Wordsworth’s Classes “may be used” – presumably to accompany appropriate forms of drill and games.

    Interestingly, in earlier programmes there were no book recommendations listed. The Programme for the school year ending July, 1892 lists the following goals with respect to physical education:
    “To do six Calisthenic or Swedish exercises” (Form I).
    “Swedish Drill or Calisthenics – 12 exercises” for the first term (Form II).
    “Swedish Drill or Calisthenics – 18 exercises” for the second term (Form II).

    In a timetable for Form Ib from 1892 we find listed “Swedish, or Flag Drill” from 10:20-10:35 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday followed by 15 minutes of Dancing. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays Sol-fa or French Song occupies the first half of this slot, while “Play” occupies the latter part of the half-hour. For Form III the only differences in this slot for physical activity are that the first activity occupies 20 minutes while the slot for “Play” becomes only 10 minutes, and Flag Drill is no longer listed as an alternative: the Drill listed is Swedish Drill alone.

    I have not explored this theory in great depth, but it appears to me that physical education in the PNEU schools started with an emphasis on Swedish Drill, but later grew to include other forms of drill as they became established in England; however, Swedish Drill was always among the drill choices emphasized during Charlotte Mason’s lifetime.

    We see in later time-tables and programmes a reference to “drill” in general, which does not necessarily mean Swedish Drill. There were many types of drill implemented in Victorian-era schools, including musical drills, ball drills, skipping, and marching. In one book recommended by Charlotte Mason in a Parents’ Review article, we find instructions for Desk Drill, Military Gun Drill, Swimming Drill, Scarf Drill, and Maypole exercises. (It also includes an overview of Swedish Drill that is an inadequate representation of the method, but I’ll refrain from commenting on that at this time).

    Swedish Drill was one element in a category that included many other types of drill, as mentioned above. Other physical activities in this time slot included folk dancing and games as well as calisthenics. So, the time slot for Drill on later PNEU timetables was not solely devoted to Drill — and Drill referred to more than just Swedish Drill. Clear as mud? Let me (try to) explain.

    Collectively, the PNEU timetables refer to “Drill,” but this was likely not solely dedicated to Swedish Drill. Rather, Swedish Drill was one element in a category that also contained musical drills, ball drills, skipping, marching, calisthenics, folk dancing, and “games.” We also know that sol-fa instruction found a home in this time slot on the PNEU schedule. Presumably in support of this, many of the activities that were found in this slot were likely set to music. Musical scores have been found on the programmes that lend credence to this idea. We have discussed previously that Swedish Drill, when performed as designed, should not be set to music. There may have been exceptions to this rule, which we will talk about in a future post, but I want to limit this discussion to an overview of physical education in a CM paradigm.

    If drill means more than Swedish Drill, then why have I been focusing solely on Swedish Drill for so long? Swedish Drill happens to be the one form of drill that Charlotte Mason specifically names in her volumes — which makes me suspect she saw great value in this particular form, wouldn’t you agree? In the earliest time-tables I have seen — the 1892 one referenced above — there is no generic listing of drill: it specifically lists Swedish Drill. Charlotte Mason even goes so far as to say “nothing is so good as Swedish Drill.” She names it. She doesn’t just call it “drill.” This implies that she saw an especial benefit from performing this particular form of drill. And so do I.

    I will continue to focus my efforts on understanding and developing this particular aspect of physical education in a Charlotte Mason education. However, I also hope to explore the categories of marching, skipping, and games in future posts and demonstrate the value of adding these elements into your own home “Drill” time.

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  • Reply Heidi Buschbach October 7, 2017 at 11:55 am

    I went to look at Programme 42 today and it’s also interesting to note that for form 1 this is what is listed for Drill that term:
    Swedish Drills, from Musical Drills for the Standards (Philip & Son, 1/11). Ball Drills. Ex-Students take House of Education Drills.

    Here is what was listed for Form II:
    Swedish Drills from Musical Drills for Standards (Phillip & Sons, 1/11). Ball Drills. Teachers should use A Manual of Free-standing Movements, by J. O. Haasum (Hachette, 1/6).. Ex-Students take House of Education Drills.

    Then in Programme 44 this is what is listed for Form 1a:
    Marching and Calesthenic Ring Drills, from Musical Drills for the Standards (Philip & Son, I/II). Ball Drills. Ex-Students take House of Education Drills.

    It seems across the terms the students back then were doing Swedish Drill 1 term and then the marching drills another term, as well as Ring Drills or other things. The Swedish Drill in that book did list some music, but not a lot. But the marching drills and ring Drills were to be done to music. So there certainly is a lot of variety, even from term to term in the early years between musical and non-musical exercises. The programmes seem more consistent in later years in that they included both Swedish Drill tables and a musical drill book, which makes me think that Mason wanted them to do both each term!

    Here is a link to the (Musical) Drills for the Standards book:;view=2up;seq=58

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 9, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks, Heidi. If you click on the link (“one book recommended by CM in a PR article”) within the post it takes you to the Drill for the Standards book by Alexander, which you had previously brought my attention to. As also mentioned in this article, I thought the author did a poor job of representing Swedish Drill in this book. I can’t speak to the other drills he describes, though, and they do look interesting.

      I did a quick search on my computer to find the 1892 timetable to share with you, but I couldn’t find it. When I do locate it I will be sure to email it to you so you can see it for yourself:).

      Thanks for dropping by!

      • Reply Heidi Buschbach October 10, 2017 at 12:54 am

        Do you think that Mason just used the Drill for the Standards book anyway, even though Swedish Drill wasn’t very accurate because it also included the musical drill which she seemed to also value? Or do you think she changed later to
        the Syllabus book to improve the instruction of Swedish Drill? Any thoughts?

        I think I may have read somewhere that the Board of Education Syllabus for Physical Training was required of the public schools to use. So I wonder if she had to switch to that at some point? That would be interesting to find out.

  • Reply Heidi Buschbach October 7, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Dawn, Thanks for doing this post to help broaden the view for the full feast of “Drill!” I thought I would share the link to my newest article in case people wanted to read more details on the Musical Drill aspects.

    Also, can you point me to where you found the timetable from 1892? I would love to see that one as well!

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