This idea of Swedish drill that Charlotte Mason used in her schools intrigued me, so I went on a hunt for more information. Well, the wonderful inter-library loan lady at my local library found me a gem: The Swedish Drill Teacher by M. H. Spalding, copyright 1910. This little 72-page book (which sold for six shillings in London) details the principles behind and methods of Swedish drill.
Swedish drill was a series of movements the students performed in response to the teacher’s vocal instructions. The movements were performed slowly and gently (for the most part), with an emphasis on balance and complete muscle control. As students grew more proficient, the instructions progressed to more complicated postures or movements.
Fundamentals of Swedish Drill
Movements centered around the arms bending and stretching, the arm and shoulder muscles, abdominal muscles, and legs muscles. Some jumping, marching, and running were also included, along with breathing exercises when needed to regulate after a strenuous exercise. Each drill session began with “introductory movements,” similar to what we call “warming up.”
The teachers would start with various fundamental positions in different combinations. For example, some fundamental arm positions might be hands on hips, hands on shoulders, hands behind head with fingers lightly interlocked, or arms extended (either up, down, out, or forward).
Fundamental foot positions could include feet astride (legs parallel with shoulders but wider than shoulders), walk (a comfortable step in the direction indicated), and lunge (a long step in the direction indicated).
Plus, you could vary things by throwing in fundamental body positions: standing, sitting, lying, kneeling.
Swedish Drill Examples
The teacher would speak the instruction once, pause for students to get a mental image of the position and how to move, then give the “execution command” (like “firm!” or “place!”), at which time the students would move. So the instruction “With feet astride, hands on hips (—pause—) firm!” would tell the students to place their hands on their hips while standing (with good posture, of course).
Simple arm instructions might be “Arms forward, sideways, and downward—stretch: 1, 2, 3″ (with a change of position on each number).
After the students found those fundamental positions no longer a challenge, the teacher would start to mix things up a bit with variations. For example, our first instruction used above could be expanded from “with feet astride, hands on hips—firm!” to “Hips—firm! Feet astride—place: 1, 2! (Student would move one foot on each number spoken.) Feet together—place: 1, 2! Left foot forward—place! Feet change: 1, 2!” (On “1” the left foot is brought back; on “2” the right foot is moved forward.)
Or they could increase the complexity of arm movement instructions by having each arm do a different position. “Left arm upward, right arm forward—stretch!”
Next, they could combine arm and leg positions, such as “With left foot forward, right hand neck rest, left hand hips—firm! Feet and arms—change: 1, 2! (On “1” students come back to neutral position, and on “2” the positions of feet and arms are reversed.)
The possibilities for combinations are endless when you throw in heel raising, facing different sides of the room, toe standing, knee bending, “half” positions (doing the movement with one side of the body only, such as half kneel), knee raising, leg raising, bending or twisting at the waist, controlled jumping, and marching in patterns. If you’ll pardon the comparison, the whole thing almost reminds me of a very advanced game of Simon Says.
Fun Swedish Drill for Younger Children
The teacher was also encouraged to come up with some fun games and names for certain movements for the younger children (ages 6 to 8). For example, the “Do as I say, not as I do” game expected the children to listen carefully to the instructions and follow them even if the teacher took a different position. She might tell the children “Hips—firm!” but put her own hands behind her head. Or a fun balance movement would be “Taking off the shoe,” for which each student would bend the knee up and stand on one foot while taking off his or her shoe and putting it on again. Small children would also get to do “giant marching” or “dwarf marching” and “bunny jumps.”
There you have it: a quick overview of Swedish drill. Jot down some positions — moving from easy to more difficult — gather the children, and give it a try!