A Guide to Desk Drill

What is Desk Drill?

Desk Drill is a beautiful form of physical education that has been buried in archived books for way too long! Promoted by Charlotte Mason, it was originally created to be performed as a break between academic subjects.  This would allow children to move their bodies and get active throughout the day. The original Brain Break! Desk Drill is a set of exercises that were historically designed to be performed at the side of one’s desk. These exercises are performed alongside piano music and designed to work the entire body quickly and efficiently.



How to Perform?

Desk Drill is performed at the word of command similar to Swedish Drill.  The movements of the exercises are taught individually and then performed when the teacher gives the command or verbal cue.

The following example shows the commands for exercise 1 in bold. The teacher would say the words in bold and the students would perform the appropriate movement.

  • Position: Bring straight arms up and over head, palms together and head bent back.
  • One: Bring straight arms down to horizontal, level with shoulders, palms facing up and head returned to starting position.
  • Two: Return straight arms up and over head, palms together and head bent back.

Once the exercises “have been well learnt, by the pupils, the teacher’s work, is practically over.” (Lishman p.9) The students are then able to perform the entire set of exercises to the music unassisted with only the word of attention.

“The set brings into play all the chief muscles of the body, and it should be practiced in the middle of every morning and afternoon. At a set time, the windows and doors are all thrown open, and at the word of command the pupils take up their position and perform the exercises to the playing of a piano.”(Lishman p.12)



Benefits of Desk Drill

There are numerous benefits to including Desk Drill in your next term and rhythm!

Quick brain breaks like Desk Drill are proven to boost brain function and also:

  • Reduce Stress
  • Reset Attention
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve Concentration
  • Support Good Posture
  • Break Boredom



Who Created Desk Drill? 

We are not sure who specifically created Desk Drill, but we do know this “series of physical exercises is based entirely on the Swedish System.” (Lishman p.3) Pier Heinrich Ling is the creator of the Swedish System or Swedish Drill. Check out our Guide to Swedish Drill HERE! Desk Drill exercises mimic many Swedish Drill positions making it a great place to start your Drill journey. The Exact positions include attention, heel raise, head turns, head bends, arms bending upward, and trunk bending forward and backward. Desk Drill will feel like a quicker, memorized version of Swedish Drill, performed to music. We found two specific books which included Desk Drill routines.  The first from A Drill Book for Elementary Schools by John Lishman written in 1901 which is the book we used for our adaptation of Desk Drill. The second is Drill for the Standards written by A. Alexander in 1895.




Whole Person Education

One of the many reasons we love Charlotte Mason's methods is because she believes in training the WHOLE child: mind, body, and soul. It is also why we have completely fallen in love with everything Drill. Drill might sound solely physical in nature, but that could not be further from the truth. It exercises the mind just as much as it exercises the body. Desk Drill demands that the student sync their bodily movements to the beat of the classical piano tunes. Additionally, it trains the mind to memorize the movements and the music for each exercise.


How We Use Desk Drill in Our Daily Rhythm

Charlotte Mason believed “dancing, drill, calisthenics, some sort of judicious physical exercise, should make part of every day’s routine.”  It is suggested that Desk Drill be used in the morning between subjects and in the afternoons as a "pick me up." Personally, I have found that using it right before math has helped our family tremendously with having a more joyful attitude going into our lesson. Additionally, we use Desk Drill when the kids need a brain break and I need a few minutes to set up for the next subject. They are able to play the video and perform the exercises independently. It has been a wonderful addition to our daily rhythm!


The Schoolyard's Adaptation

Our adaptation of Desk Drill preserves the historical integrity of the original Desk Drill while making it more accessible and Open and Go for homeschool families. Charlotte Mason specifically mentions Desk Drill so we knew this curriculum would be AMAZING because everything she did was two-fold in its benefits! We kept it as close to the original as possible, down to the exact music! Desk Drill 1 originates from the 1901, A Drill Book for Elementary Schools by John Lishman. Our adaptation includes:

  • 10 exercises with Commands, set to the original 1901 music.
  • QR codes for music and demonstrations of the exercise.
  • Animated QR code video with the exercises being performed to the beat of the music.
  • Menu Inserts of exercises
  • Victorian paper Dolls
  • Original 1901 Sheet music

Have fun performing this fun and lively form of physical education with your family!  


JOIN US on our journey to create a wonderful physical culture in our homes! Click here to go to our website. 


Nikki and Emily from The Schoolyard



        1. Lishman, J. (1901). A drill book for elementary schools, containing a carefully graduated series of physical exercises, based entirely on the Swedish system. Longmans, Green, and Co.
        2. Alexander, A. (1895). Drill for the standards: Containing a varied selection of physical exercises adapted for use in elementary schools, as required by the new code. George Philip & Son
        3. What is the Charlotte Mason Method? Simply Charlotte Mason. (2020, July 16). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://simplycharlottemason.com/what-is-the-charlotte-mason-method/