I have been part of a CM co-op for the past year. Last summer, I sent email invitations to about a dozen moms. Most of these moms were regular attendees at our local Charlotte Mason monthly support group. I also chose to invite those who had children within a certain age range.
My initial idea was to provide friends for my 11 year old grandson who had had some tough family issues during the past year and had only been homeschooled a couple of years previously. He had not had opportunity to make any good friends. (This goal was met far beyond my expectations, but more on that later.) Not everyone could accept the invitation, of course. I really believe that God had a hand in putting our group together because it has worked unbelievably well.
Our group consists of 9 families and 18 students. Ages range from 9 years to 16 years, with the predominant group being around 11 & 12 years old. We all feel the Lord had a hand in blending us into such a cohesive group because the kids got together well, and the moms just LOVED being together AND watching the kids have such wonderful learning experiences.
Before the school year last year, we met twice to put the fall semester together, then again in December to plan the 2nd semester. Every time we meet to plan another semester, the main request we all have is for more time, more classes, more ‘free’ time for the kids to interact and play outdoors.
Each family who participates covers expenses for classes. We all paid a small amount to cover the color copy expense of the art prints. We try to keep costs to a minimum, but this year we purchased art supplies for pencil drawing and pen and ink. Everyone got the list well in advance of the semester’s start, and we made use of 40% coupons at Hobby Lobby as much as possible! Families could easily share some of the supplies, and some families already had some of the things needed, such as nature notebooks, copies of Shakespeare plays, and even the Latin program we used. For those who didn’t, we tried to make group orders to save on shipping costs. Some families have as many as three children participating in co-op, so we don’t want to make it cost-prohibitive for anyone.
What they Did
For our “Big Events” of the year, the Shakespeare play and the trip to Houston museums, our event co-coordinator mom got us some fantastic group prices. It truly pays to call and talk to someone at the event location because we paid much less for tickets to both museum exhibits than shown on their websites. For the play, we just decided to look at it as a cultural and educational experience for our kids that would be worth the expense.
Although we understand the concept of short lessons, we’ve really had longer time slots for our subjects. We do this because we only meet once a week, and because most of the children are old enough to work longer without becoming restless.
We started out with a 30 minute Latin class (for beginners) but it was just impossible to do everything in such a short time, so we now run 45 min. to an hour, which seems contrary to CM’s method. However, within the hour we have 4 to 5 very varied activities, so it constantly changes the pace and the type of brain activity needed. We sing, chant, recite while standing. Then we sit down and look at the previous lesson’s homework, introduce the new lesson, and see if anyone has questions. Homework answers give everyone a chance to participate IF they have done the work at home. We go around the room for “popcorn” answers–pop up with the correct answer very quickly. The students really enjoy this opportunity to show their ability. Then we have a tale of Roman history, which holds them spellbound. Sometimes the story lends itself to a re-enactment style narration, and the students really enjoy wielding swords and shields.
Art & art appreciation also work better if the teacher and students have longer to work. We’re blessed to have a mom who is not only an art major, but also very talented in art. They worked mostly in pencil and pen & ink. The kids learned so much last year. My 15 year old son absolutely LOVES this class, but the really great thing is that we had some kids who had never realized they were artistic that discovered they had some talent and really got into learning art skills. One mom reported that while the family was on vacation, they stopped at a visitor information center that had a long bridge to the center. One of her sons remarked that it would be a great scene to sketch, so the family made the effort to plan time for that when they came back through there on the return trip. Her remark was that that son would never have noticed or thought of sketching if it had not been for the art class that gave him the interest.
The teacher made 12 x 18 prints of our artist appreciation paintings, and they were beautiful. The highlight of the year was a field trip to Houston to see a wonderful exhibit of French artists from the 1800s that was on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The kids were able to see the ‘real thing’ of some of the paintings they had studied. This same field trip also took in a traveling exhibit of the Roman Empire and artifacts in another nearby museum. Our Latin class hadn’t exactly reached the era of the Empire yet, but it was still extremely interesting.
Shakespeare is the only class we divided into 2 groups by age. The high school group only had 7 students, but they really meshed well together. We read 2 plays, one per semester. We chose the first play based on the opportunity to see it performed by a professional acting troupe during the semester. That was a very positive experience (Romeo & Juliet), and the high school students also had a Shakespeare project to complete during the semester that would be on display or be presented at the closing program. Everyone chose a different type of project: costuming dolls as Romeo & Juliet, writing a ballad of R & J with music & performing it, making a web page, creating a board game based on the play, writing and illustrating a children’s version of the story, and making a comic book version of one act of the play. The kids really stepped up to the plate on this assignment, and the results were awesome. Meanwhile, the younger group also tackled Romeo and Juliet. The mom who was teaching this group had some trepidation about doing a ‘love story’ with kids from age nine to twelve, and mostly boys at that! However, the swordplay was more than enough to keep them happy. She would have them bring their wooden swords to class, lead them all outside, and they would act out a street fight from the previous week’s reading. Needless to say, it was a big hit; actually, we chose a comedy to do the second semester–As You Like It–and it wasn’t nearly as popular with this group because there was absolutely NO sword fighting!
For the second semester of Shakespeare, the high school kids re-wrote the play, As You Like It, to abridge it so they could put on a play for our closing program at the end of the school year. The re-writing itself was a huge task, and they learned a lot about Shakespeare by trying to condense the play and retain the sense of the plot while keeping Shakespeare’s original words, or course. The play was a huge hit at the program. Parents (especially dads) were amazed to see their children act so well. We definitely saw some budding thespians!
Nature study was our other class. This one required the most tweaking of all. The church where we met didn’t have any ‘nature’ nearby. The nature mom brought in interesting things each week for the kids to observe, sketch, and learn about. Still, it didn’t seem to spark a lot of interest (we had several kids who’d never done nature study, so were kind of resistant to the concept of nature notebooks). We moms knew the problem was that nature study isn’t really meant to be done inside all the time. Finally, we hit upon a working plan. We met every other week at some nature outing–a nearby college’s nature trail, a pond that belonged to one of the families, the Forestry Museum’s nature trail, etc. Several of these walks were led by a wonderful Christian state Forestry employee who has an enthusiastic attitude. She had wonderful activities planned for the kids each time. The in-between weeks, we call show and tell and ask the kids to bring something interesting from home to share with the other kids. If it isn’t something they can bring it, they can bring their nature journal entry about it and share that. We also had several field trips with the Forestry lady as our guide that were wonderful outings. We saw a red-cockaded woodpecker colony, pitcher plants in a bog, and long leaf pine tree in all its growing stages. [Using experts is highly recommended by Charlotte Mason--CL]
Involving Moms in true Co-op Style
Four moms actually taught classes, one mom was our events co-coordinator, getting tickets, planning the closing program meal and arranging trips, etc., and the other moms handled snacks each week, and helped out in classes with hand-outs, stapling, etc. We will have 2 more moms teaching new classes this next year. We also bring lunches from home and share fellowship while we eat.
Showcasing the Accomplishments
Just a bit more about the program at the end of each semester: This was an important event for the children. They really enjoyed getting the opportunity to ‘perform’ for parents, grandparents, and friends. Again, we tried to vary the style of each program; for the program in November we had a dinner theater style. Everyone brought finger foods from home, and two of the moms set up an elegant buffet style table. We met in the fellowship hall of the church where we met each week, so we had nice round tables, tablecloths, centerpieces on each table, and classical music in the background. At the close of the spring semester, we planned an outdoor picnic and planned to put on our play outdoors because the setting of “As You Like It” is pastoral, the enchanted Forest of Arden. However, we rained out and had to fall back on Plan B, moving inside again. For this meal, we all pooled money to purchase pizzas to make it simpler.
For the program at both of these events we had Latin recitations, chants, and prayers, lines memorized from Shakespeare, and skits from the plays. And of course, at the spring program, the older class put on their play to wrap things up. There were also displays of the students’ art, their nature journals, and the Shakespeare projects of the first semester. Even the students who did web pages were able to bring a laptop computer to give a presentation of their work. Latin students received Certificates of Completion of year one of Christian Latin.
The programs were to showcase the accomplishments made during the co-op’s year of study, but many of the results could not be ‘shown’ so easily. I mentioned that I hoped to provide friends for my grandson. That goal was realized when the group of boys that were the ages of eleven and twelve became a ‘club.’ They played together at each other’s homes, and had enormous fun on the playground during breaks at co-op. They had a special ‘currency’ for purchases of homemade swords, hats, packs, and spy gear.
A benefit that I hadn’t expected was when a similar bond formed between the older teen boys. There were only four in this age group, and my fifteen year old son was one. They were half of the high school Shakespeare class. (All the boys sat at one table, and all the girls sat together at another one.
So many times as a homeschool parent I find it easy to ignore or at least minimize the importance of PE (Physical Education, or “gym class,” as we called it when I went to school). Somehow I can’t envision Charlotte Mason teaching the children how to play kick ball or dodge ball. (Not to mention that those games are a little difficult to do at home when you have only three or four children involved!) And I couldn’t reconcile her beautiful educational philosophy with the notion of compelling children to do mindless repetitions, like twenty-five jumping jacks and fifty sit-ups.
Therefore, this whole idea of “drilling” (i.e., Swedish drill) that was used in her schools intrigued me, and 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; and as I read about it, I was struck with how neatly it falls into step with Charlotte’s philosophy of education.
For example, the exercises and movements were used with a view to improving “the general health of the body rather than towards muscular development.” The drills were done outside whenever possible to allow for fresh air and deep breathing. The movements were done to command so the “pupils learn the power of quick and correct response to the command, and this involves concentration and quickness of thought, alertness of action, and effort of will. Since fresh commands for new and more complicated movements are continually being learnt, these qualities are always being more and more highly and acutely developed.”
Those comments dovetail wonderfully with Charlotte’s emphasis of a “serviceable body” as the goal of physical training (School Education, pp. 102, 103), her encouragement to spend lots of time outdoors (Home Education, p. 42), and the prominence she gave to the habits of full attention and mental alertness (Home Education, pp. 156, 185).
So what exactly is 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.
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, here are some Fundamental Arm positions: hands on hips, hands on shoulders, hands behind head with fingers lightly interlocked, arms extended (either up, down, out, or forward).
Fundamental Foot positions: astride (legs parallel with shoulders but wider than shoulders), walk (a comfortable step in the direction indicated), lunge (a long step in the direction indicated);
Fundamental Body positions: standing, sitting, lying, kneeling.
The instruction would be spoken once, with a pause for students to get a mental image of the position and how to move; then the “execution command” would be given (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! (One “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.
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. I hope the explanation wasn’t too confusing. It’s hard to condense a 72-page book of instructions and physical movements.
Judging from the sample schedules, Charlotte’s schools did drill for about 30 minutes at a time. You can be sure the drill teacher had thought through the combinations and sequence before attempting to lead the children for that length of time. Some of us would be challenged just to think up enough variations to occupy ten minutes if we were operating off the top of our heads! But as a quick diversion in the midst of lessons, it might prove to be an enjoyable spontaneous exercise.
Sonya, author of Spelling Wisdom
By, Stephanie Walmsley
What kind of a question is this? you might wonder. Well oftentimes moms can get burned out trying to “get it ALL done.” As a mom, we wear so many different hats each and every day: wife, mom, teacher, housekeeper, grocery shopper, cook, chauffeur, booboo kisser…the list can go on, and on, and on.
How are we supposed to cope with everything? In wearing the “teaching hat” alone, there are lessons to prepare, books to read or assess, schedules to figure out… And then, when we don’t live up to our own impossible expectations we blame ourselves and feel like we’re failing.
This blaming and judging of ourselves is so destructive to us and to our families. And it usually causes us to react badly: we may start yelling at our kids because it seems that they are always fighting or arguing about something. Or we may start complaining – about our kids, our constantly busy lives, our constant “to do lists.” Will we ever get everything checked off? Will we ever get through the mound of laundry that seems to be piling up faster than the landfill down the road? Will we ever again feel like we have had a successful, peaceful, pleasant day?
The answer is, “YES!” Yes, you can catch up with your laundry, you don’t need to be yelling at your children, you can have an awesome day with your children again! How you might ask? Well there is a very special person who can help teach you how. Her name is Charlotte Mason.
Charlotte Mason didn’t just provide a “theory,” or a “way of schooling.” She had a philosophy which gives a whole new way to handle things…a whole new way of life while enjoying your children, and your time of teaching at home! Over the years, she developed a philosophy of, not only education, but of a way to learn and to live life.
She had a way of seeing things as God would have us see them…as the Bible says, “Think on things that are true, pure, lovely, right… (Phil. 4:8 NLT Study Bible).
Miss Mason brings to light some of these “things” in the form of the Liberal Arts…the beauty of nature, the uniqueness of the arts, beautifully written poetry, exquisite portraits, classical music by great composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.
And something that I particularly like about her philosophy is that Miss Mason realized that children were real human beings to be loved and cherished. As the Jesus says, “I tell you the truth that unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 18:3 NLT Study Bible) She liked to see children enjoying time out-of-doors in the afternoons, enjoying nature, building things, using their imaginations, accepting and appreciating one another’s unique talents and abilities in their play, breathing in the fresh, clean air that God renews for us daily.
What better way to view the world – as God’s beautiful creation? And for the mother, by having “short lessons” as Miss Mason encourages, this frees us up to plan our meals, catch up on our laundry, make plans for the next day, and get some of our ‘to do list” crossed off.
If this way of thinking and philosophy sounds like something that you are drawn to, then please, join me on this wonderful homeschooling journey. Start by reading more about Charlotte Mason in this free, illustrated biography of Charlotte Mason.