Plutarch, Citizenship, and Charlotte Mason

Plutarch is a commonly referenced subject among Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. We know that Charlotte Mason primarily incorporated Plutarch for lessons in citizenship. This was not, however, the whole of citizenship education in the P.N.E.U., and Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on citizenship are many and deep. In fact, if we realize the extent to which Charlotte Mason was herself a patriot it might make some of her writings about the State, which often leave us confused, more palatable to us.

Perhaps we will explore that idea in a future article. For now, though, let us develop a working definition of citizenship and see where Plutarch fits in the picture, shall we?

Bust of Plutarch

What is citizenship?

cit·​i·​zen·​ship | \ ˈsi-tə-zən-,ship; also -sən-\
Definition of citizenship
1: the status of being a citizen
He was granted U.S. citizenship.
2a: membership in a community (such as a college)
b: the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community
The students are learning the value of good citizenship.

In the United States this second meaning of citizenship is particularly relevant to us due to the covenantal nature of our republic. I was nearly 40-years-old before I realized there is a difference between a democracy and a republic, in large part due to the absence of formal civics education during my public school years. I now understand that the nature of a republic involves great personal responsibility and is a partnership between the government and the people. This illuminates Benjamin Franklin’s reply to a woman who posed a question as Franklin was leaving Independence Hall during the Constitutional Convention. When asked whether we had “a monarchy or republic,” his response was “A republic, madam — if you can keep it.”

In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason writes,

Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country. (p. 184)

In other words, to Charlotte Mason citizenship meant that latter definition: “the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community” — one’s national community.

For Charlotte Mason a study of citizenship involved reading of Plutarch’s Lives because it exposes students to a description of man’s actions, both right and wrong, and requires that critical judgments be made about those actions. Additionally, Plutarch is full of inspiring ideas that make a person a valuable citizen. And we know how Charlotte Mason feels about inspiring ideas, don’t we?

…an early education from the great books with the large ideas and
the large virtues is the only true foundation of knowledge — the
knowledge worth having. (Vol. 6, p. 308)

In a paper entitled ‘Plutarch’s Lives’ as Affording Some Education as a Citizen read at a P.N.E.U. conference Miss M. Ambler writes,

Our work, then, is to present to the child such vivifying ideas as shall colour all his thoughts, his judgments, and his actions, and enable him to fulfill the duties and responsibilities he inherits with his privileges as an English citizen.

In an article for the House of Education alumni magazine L’Umile Pianta Miss Hilda Smeeton writes,

The thoughtful study of History should give abundant ideas for the development of life in all its aspects; it should especially help in the formation of character, and it is character alone which determines a man’s degree of usefulness in society and his ability to further the vital interests of the great nation in which he has been born a citizen. The aim of history is reached by the teaching of Plutarch, for in all his lives the character of men is well drawn out, showing cause and effect in their life and work. (pp. 29-33)

So, who was Plutarch?

Born in 50 AD in Greece (specifically, Chaeronea of Booetia) at a time of great decadence in Greece and military despotism in Rome, he was a philosopher most famous for his Parallel Lives. Written in pairs of one Greek and one Roman life, these works include details “of the greatest men of two great nations.” (Smeeton, p. 30)

Most of us know him as the “prince of biographers,” but few realize that he was also an educationalist with many thoughts on the responsibilities of parents and the training of children — in particular, character formation and citizenship. He wrote to warn his contemporaries what would result if the culture continued to decline morally and that this “loss of moral sanity must sooner or later cause national decay.” This objective remains relevant in today’s cultural moment, does it not?

I’ll be writing more thoughts on citizenship here at Afterthoughts in 2019, and will also be contributing a Plutarch column for Common Place Quarterly with the specific intention of removing the intimidation factor when it comes to this rich area of study. I hope you’ll join me for the conversation!

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Tapping Into Local Wisdom

I often write about learning in community but have limited my scope to the Charlotte Mason homeschool framework. The greater community is much larger than this yet is often neglected by homeschooling moms as they seek opportunities for learning for their students. Wendell Berry describes community as,

… the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.

Acknowledging that our community consists of more than our fellow Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, our immediate family and neighbors, or our church family opens an entire world of possibilities for fostering a generational connection that seems to be disappearing from our modern world.

Cindy Rollins frequently reminds us that if we want to keep our kids safe in this modern age they must be tethered to the past: via the books they read, the works they recite, and the relationships they have with family and others. In Mere Motherhood she writes,

Every single time I do something that anchors our family to the past and our heritage, I am helping preserve the hearts of my children. I am giving them a lifeline to the good life.

G.K. Chesterton captured the same sentiment when he wrote,

What is education? Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. What we need is to have a culture before we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to other people what we do not know ourselves.

Opportunities abound in your local community for tapping into the wisdom of others. Consider the docents at your local museum, or the naturalists at your favorite parks: they invest their time in that position due to their passion about a topic. They are thrilled when a young person demonstrates interest in that subject and love sharing their knowledge and experience with the younger
generation. What a blessing this could be if only we recognize their gift! This became very evident to me in a recent opportunity in which our local community, Charlotte Mason Maryland, participated and I’d like to tell you about it.

Charlotte Mason homeschool field trip to Folger Shakespeare Library

Thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. we experienced Shakespeare cross-culturally and cross-generationally in a manner that none of us will soon forget. Every year the Folger hosts a Children’s Shakespeare Festival, which is open to schools in MD, VA, and D.C. The Festival was advertised as a workshop in which our students would create a “play in a day.” We were told to select from one of the available dates to participate if our group was selected. Little did I know that this would pair us up with only one other school group so that the experience created was very intimate. This fostered maximal engagement for each child — and chaperone!

Our group was the first to arrive, and while we were waiting the docents eagerly approached our students to engage them and ask questions about their knowledge of, and previous experience with, Shakespeare. They were pleasantly surprised to learn how familiar our children were with the Bard and their enthusiasm and engagement with the children mounted as they discussed their
favorite plays and characters.

The group we were paired with was from an inner city D.C. charter school. The physical differences between the students were immediately apparent in that our group consisted of children and parents primarily with light skin while the students and chaperones from the school were all African-American. This was truly a difference in skin color only: at the end of the day we were intermingled as one group rather than two separate entities. It was clear that the focus of the day was not on the differences between us but on the shared experience of enjoying Shakespeare. And it was wonderful.

The program officially began with a brief introduction to Shakespeare and Elizabethan England by “Lady Kate,” the Education Coordinator for the Folger. Next the entire group was split into four Acting Companies. Each company was composed of an equal number of students from Charlotte Mason Maryland and the charter school. We remained with our Acting Company for the rest of the day as we rotated between spaces and activities within the Folger. Each Company was led by 4 docents and at least 2 chaperones who were quickly recruited to be active participants as well.

The first thing we experienced was a tour of the Reading Room, a space usually open only to scholars. You can imagine how the parents swooned as our guides told us that the Room was home to books hundreds of years old as we passed by stunning paintings of Shakespearean scenes as well as gorgeous stained glass reflecting the Seven Ages of Man as described by Jacques in the play As You Like It.

After this incredible tour we returned to the Theater, modeled after the Globe, and were introduced to the play that we would be performing at the end of the workshop: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The docents then helped the students become familiar with the stage and feel comfortable giving lines to an audience until it was time for the next company to have their turn onstage. We moved to another location within the Folger where we continued to read aloud from the script, and the docents cast the children in roles they thought were appropriate for them based on their reading skill, level of enthusiasm, personality, etc. Next we began to block the scenes that our company would perform and, together with the other companies, an abridged version of the play would be performed from start to finish at the end of the workshop.

We took a quick lunch break in the open air, and it was really fun to see the children — and moms! — from both groups intermingle and laugh together during this time. It was brief, however, as we still had to try on costumes and hold a dress rehearsal with our individual companies before we joined together for the final performance.

Once all four companies were seated in the Theater, a Jester took the stage and introduced … Queen Elizabeth! She walked down the center aisle and joined the Jester, then sat onstage to watch the performance and give commentary with the Jester between each scene.

A docent read a brief introduction of the scene that was going to be performed, and the acting companies took turns taking the stage. Our parents really hammed up their roles and the kids enjoyed seeing the adults in on the fun. As a surprise to the children a group of parents and chaperones took the stage to recite Puck’s soliloquy to end the play.

Queen Elizabeth applauded our performance and as the workshop came to a close “Lady Kate” presented each group with a large box. Inside we found thirty T-shirts and thirty copies of the Folger edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What an incredible surprise! Frankly, the experience up to that point had already been so amazing that we parents kept looking at each other and mouthing, “This is fantastic!” To be so generously given these items above and beyond the gift of time and energy the docents had already blessed us with was remarkable.

The Festival was a means of tethering our children to the past while entering into a shared culture via the common ground of exploring Shakespeare together. I am grateful that the inner city D.C. school that shared the experience with us did not buy into the notion that a dead white guy doesn’t have anything to offer its students.

Why am I telling you all of this? Is it because I want to make you jealous of the experience we were able to have and you didn’t? On the contrary, I want to encourage you to seek out a similar experience in your own community!

While the Folger Shakespeare Library and its incredible programs are unique to the area in which I live I can guarantee that the spirit of the employees and volunteer docents at the Folger are representative of like-minded Bard lovers in your area. But this isn’t limited to Shakespearean enthusiasts: I encourage you to seek out local naturalists, museum docents, amateur birders, etc. to serve as mentors for your children. They will be thrilled to share their passion with a younger generation of eager learners and your children will gain the gift of a worthy mentor.

It may take longer for you to locate such individuals in your own community, but I am confident that they are there. I urge you to seek them out and connect your children to these enthusiasts as often as you can so that you can forge the kind of community Wendell Berry describes in In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World when he writes:

A viable neighborhood is a community: and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common.

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Swedish Drill for Co-ops: Your Questions – Answered!

It’s an exciting time of year, isn’t it? Summer will soon fade into the cooler temperatures of autumn, and a new “year in books” will begin for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. For many families, back to school involves a return to regular community activities. I have received a number of questions over the past several weeks regarding Swedish Drill in a group setting. I’ve written about this previously, but in this post I’ll address these more recent questions.

Charlotte Mason Swedish Drill Revisited in a Co-op

How do I order the Swedish Drill Revisited curriculum for use in a co-op?

Let me explain. One person from your group must place the order, selecting a license for the size of their co-op (i.e., 3-5 families, 6-10 families, etc.). That person will receive a download link for the file. They then have permission to share the file via email with any member of the group who has contributed to the purchasing cost.

We briefly considered having the purchaser input the email addresses of everyone who had contributed to the purchase price so that we could distribute the product to them individually, but that ended up too complicated, and I have confidence that users are conscientiously respecting our honor system.


What ages is Swedish Drill for?

Remember: Swedish Drill in its original form was designed for use with children ages 9 and older. While the majority of the exercises I have adapted for inclusion in Swedish Drill Revisited are well within the reach of children ages 6 and up, the youngest students should not be held to the same standards to which we hold our older students. If students ages 6-8 do not seem capable of performing certain exercises well, I discourage you from attempting to instruct them. Remember: we want to keep the goal of perfect execution before the child when performing Drill. However, perfect execution for a 5-year-old looks different from perfect execution in a 10-year-old due to differences in physical development, and this is important to be aware of — and respect.

What about older children? It is a misconception that Swedish Drill is only appropriate for younger children. On the contrary, it could be even more valuable for older children, who tend to be more sedentary than younger ones because they have more schoolwork and therefore less free time for physical activity. Remember: one of my goals with Swedish Drill Revisited is to act as a corrective for the positions we habitually participate in, and these postures are more pronounced — and more frequently adopted — as children become older and spend less time running and playing out of doors.

While students aged 13 and older may not approach Drill with a high level of enthusiasm if they are performing it alongside students who are 6 years old, there is still value in Swedish Drill for them. One idea for inspiring them to master the moves included in Swedish Drill, and thereby gain its many benefits, is for them to assist the main instructor during your co-op’s Drill time. An appropriate student-to-teacher ratio is important to maintain in order for Drill to be truly effective in a co-op setting, and having older students who are proficient in the moves assist with leading Drill time can provide the older students with valuable leadership and teaching experience while simultaneously gaining better postural strength and becoming more disciplined in the process.


How long should a Swedish Drill lesson be?

There is a great deal of flexibility in this, and it is entirely adaptable to fit the needs of the family or community. A Drill lesson can successfully be completed in as little as 5 minutes, and 10 minutes is more than enough to accomplish a day’s goals in a homeschool setting. However, it would be appropriate to allot more time for implementing Swedish Drill in a group setting. In a co-op in which there is an appropriate student-to-teacher ratio, and as more movements are learned that can be added into a Drill routine, the session can last 15-20 minutes and still hold the attention of the participants.


What is this “appropriate student-to-teacher ratio” for Swedish Drill?

I’m glad you asked. The movements included in Swedish Drill Revisited are most effective when they are performed precisely. In my experience as a physical therapist, as well as from teaching a wide variety of audiences Swedish Drill since 2015, there is a wide range of body awareness, in both children and adults, and this becomes all the more obvious when engaging in a physical activity in a group setting. Some students execute movements well after only a try or two, while others are less aware of how their bodies move in space and need more feedback and hands-on instruction. In order to provide this type of teaching the person responsible for leading Drill in your co-op needs assistants who commit to mastering the movements themselves in order to assist the students during group Drill time.

Charlotte Mason Swedish Drill Revisited in a Co-op

The ratio of 10-12 students to 1 instructor (i.e., me) in my co-op was too high: I was unable to provide the kind of feedback I wanted with each student to facilitate their perfect execution of each movement. I was able to provide sufficient supervision to make sure students would not become injured, but I prefer to be able to help them maximize the gains that Swedish Drill has to offer. As a result of this experience, I recommend a ratio of no more than 7 students to 1 facilitator. While only one person is needed to lead Drill in a group setting, it will be far more effective if there are more people available to work with individual students while the main teacher continues to lead the group as a whole. This is one area in which having older students work alongside younger ones in the co-op setting can be valuable, and I encourage you to take advantage of this when possible.


Let’s look at an example co-op strategy for Swedish Drill.

This was shared with me by Niko Lewis of Aspen Grove Educational Community.

Niko has encouraged all parents to read the background information in Swedish Drill Revisited in order to help them understand the goals of the program and to keep everyone on the same page. She plans to teach the students 2-3 exercises each time they meet, with the ultimate goal being to perform an entire drill routine (which typically consists of 8-12 exercises) together. During the time between meetings the exercises introduced will be reviewed as “home work,” directing the parent to the appropriate instructions and videos as found in the manual Swedish Drill Revisited.

While the group is working towards the goal of completing an entire routine from start to finish, Niko plans to incorporate “mini-drill practices” once the students have mastered previously learned exercises. For example, after they have mastered 4 exercises, then she would incorporate these 4 movements into a mini-drill. This is excellent scaffolding for ultimately performing a full routine, and I think it will reinforce the goals of Drill very well.


Best of luck as you incorporate Swedish Drill in your community, too. Please be sure to share any ideas you have for doing so in the comments below!

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Introducing: Swedish Drill Revisited II

I have exciting news for those of you who have been using Swedish Drill Revisited in your homeschool this past year: Swedish Drill Revisited II is now available!
If you have already mastered the content of the original Swedish Drill Revisited and are eager to take your practice to the next level, then Swedish Drill Revisited II is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. It contains new written content, including clarification regarding the layout of the Drill lesson and the teaching of new movements, emphasizes the performance of Swedish Drill as the formation of good physical habits, and provides ideas for how to further advance Drill routines beyond the two options scripted in the manual.

Swedish Drill Revisited II features eighteen new exercises with embedded links to forty-one new videos not available elsewhere. The clicks to access these new videos provide quicker and cleaner access than the links in the original volume. As was the case with the original volume, Swedish Drill Revisited II includes a linked table of contents as well as images of what the movements should (and should not!) look like paired with the instructions to give your child for each particular exercise. It also includes many helpful teaching tips. This will be particularly useful for those who desire to use the manual directly on your tablet (as a PDF) rather than printing it out. If you have never implemented Swedish Drill in your homes, though, it is advised that you begin with my original Swedish Drill Revisited manual. This new product is a definite progression – a Level II, if you will – and you should only move on to it once the movements and routines in the original Swedish Drill Revisited have been mastered.

Finally, if you have found Swedish Drill Revisited helpful would you please consider leaving a review? I have received inquiries from interested parents who are reluctant to purchase a product when there are no available reviews.

In the meantime, take a moment to read what some reviewers on Instagram are saying about it…


When your children clamor for something, there’s a chance it’s worth clamoring for. And this is one of those things: Swedish Drill! . Drill was practiced in Charlotte Mason’s schools, and we really enjoy incorporating it into our day, not just because Mason recommended it, but because it is good–no, wonderful! . Drill offers a break from big brain work, and it provides opportunities to focus on core strength, proper posture, and the habit of prompt obedience. . I executed drill pretty poorly last year, but thanks to the expert research and thorough instruction of @dawnduran8708 (homeschool mama and physical therapist extraordinaire!), we can easily do it now. . Dawn’s newly-released e-book, “Swedish Drill Revisited: A Modern Approach to Charlotte Mason’s Recommendation for Physical Education,” which includes video demonstrations, makes it practically open-and-go, and I am so thankful. Check out the link in her profile for more information!

A post shared by Maria Bell (@writingontheposts) on

@charlottemasonirl is focusing on “movement” this week and I wanted to share the best resource on learning and leading Swedish Drill exercises. This book by @dawnduran8708 provides the background and history of Drill, along with research into Mason’s discussion and use of drill in her programs. The best part for me was the last part of the book where actual drill routines are given with real pictures and videos. Finally, Dawn’s training as a physical therapist is invaluable as she incorporates modern research into healthy and safe movements, along with pictures of the incorrect positions. We’ve now been using Drill in our home and co-op and I’ve been able to see how it fits into the Mason paradigm so well. In order to do drill properly, students must practice the habits of attention and proper execution. The other movement breaks we take don’t do this and often seem to leave the children too exhausted or too wound up to sit and focus again. The last picture shows an immersion with @dawnduran8708 at our retreat last summer which was so fun. If you have a chance to learn in person with her, you must! She is as delightful as she is knowledgeable! And, yes, our neighbors probably think we are crazy for doing this with 20 children on our front lawn! Check it out at #charlottemasonirl #swedishdrill #swedishdrillrevisited

A post shared by Camille and Amy (@learninghowtolivecm) on

I look forward to hearing what you think about the latest addition to the Swedish Drill Revisited series!

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Swedish Drill as Habit Training

The summer solstice is behind us and a peek on Instagram tells me that many of you are enjoying your summer break. While this will certainly involve plenty of time relaxing by the pool reading good books, I have noticed that several families utilize the summer months to emphasize habit training that often falls to the wayside during the school year. Have you considered the possibility that Swedish Drill can be a habit training tool?

As you know, Swedish Drill fosters the habits of observation, attention, and perfect execution that are frequently referenced in Charlotte Mason’s volumes. We can all benefit from additional opportunities to practice these habits, can’t we? What about our physical habits? Have you ever considered that posture (a.k.a., alignment) is a habit, too? Good “posture” is a good habit; likewise, bad “posture” is a bad habit.

Are you aware of your own posture? What about the posture of your children? As a physical therapist, I, for better or worse, pay attention to this all. the. time. In myself and in others. I literally cringe with discomfort when I notice particularly poor examples of posture, because in my head I am seeing all the strain and stress it imposes on the structures that lie beneath the skin and the resulting pain that lies ahead for the individual as a result.

And now none of you ever want to meet me in person lest I judge your posture. Sigh.

Please do not imagine that my own is posture perfect, though, or that my children are poster-children for good posture. Like the rest of you, we are works in progress. But it is definitely something we constantly work on in our home, and we intentionally emphasize good postural habits over poor ones. I seem to remember someone wise once saying that if we choose not to instill a good habit then a bad one will form in it’s place… Oh, yes! It was Charlotte Mason! In Towards a Philosophy of Education she writes:

Habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord. (p. 101)

It’s not a stretch to see how this applies to our physical posture, is it?

In School Education, Charlotte Mason acknowledges the disciplinary value of physical education when she writes:

Use of Habit in Physical Training. — It is well that a child should be taught to keep under his body and bring it into subjection, first, to the authority of his parents and, later, to the authority of his own will; and always, because no less than this is due, to the divine Authority in whom he has his being.” (p. 104)

After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, are they not? We are called to glorify our physical bodies, which are on loan to us from our Heavenly Father. Developing good physical habits is one way that we can bring honor to our Lord.

In a Parents’ Review article from 1904 entitled Physical Education for Girls, Miss C. Thomas addresses the need for improved discipline of body and mind. With respect to the value of Swedish Drill as a discipline, she writes:

Precision is to be aimed at… Simple unquestioning obedience is rarely to be met with now. Everywhere the lack of it is felt. Disobedience and carelessness in attending to all directions is the great trouble encountered by all who have to train others. Movements performed to words of command should, and certainly do help to form habits of obedience and promptness. Accuracy of detail inculcates a sense of truth and this will finally lead on to courage.” (p. 696)

Later in this article Thomas returns to the theme of discipline:

A drill lesson is almost entirely made up of controlled movements; games allow a good deal of spontaneous movement on the part of the player. Spontaneity forms the charm and much of the value of games — discipline, strange as it may seem, forms the charm and value of a good drilling lesson. (p. 701)

One more aspect of Swedish Drill that I wish to highlight is that it promotes physical activity without a subsequent rise in adrenaline levels that frequently leads to a decreased ability to focus on lessons. Where calisthenics and boisterous games often result in a child becoming too stimulated to return to his lessons, Swedish Drill seems to enhance a child’s ability to focus on mental work after a session is complete.

And … this is where I will be self-promoting for a bit, if you’ll forgive me. Swedish Drill Revisited is an excellent means by which to address physical habits as well as mental ones. It is designed to be a tonic for the postural faults that so often plague us, to promote increased body awareness, and to develop strength and endurance in musculature that is critical to optimal alignment (a.k.a, “good posture”). If you’re not already incorporating Swedish Drill into your homeschool, may I suggest that this summer may be an excellent time to start?

And for those of you who have already been implementing Swedish Drill in your homeschools … Level II of Swedish Drill Revisited will be available in mid-July. Stay tuned!

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