Recently I made a trip to the rolling hills of Virginia to meet up with some friends of mine. You might know them as the ladies from A Delectable Education, a popular Charlotte Mason method podcast: Nicole Williams and Liz Cottrill and Emily Kiser. We sat down at the Living Books Library to chat, because I thought you might like to get to know them a little bit better behind the scenes. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast version.
Sonya: Let me ask you ladies to tell a little bit about your family and how you started using Charlotte Mason methods in their homeschooling.
Liz: Well, I have six children, and I began home schooling in 1986, when homeschooling was actually still illegal in Michigan where we lived at the time. And it was Emily. I set up a little schoolroom with a flag and everything, just so she would feel like she was in school. It wasn’t until about seven years later that I was introduced to Charlotte Mason through the book For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and it was very eye-opening. I did not understand all of the ins and outs of a Charlotte Mason education from that, but I did latch onto living books, narration, and nature study as very important in a child’s education. At the time, Emily was in public school, in junior high school, and I had a second and fourth grader at home, so I began implementing those things. A few years later I ran across Charlotte Mason Companion and started to implement more ideas from that book with my fourth child. I would say she’s the only one that was fully Charlotte Mason educated. And then it wasn’t until about 11 years ago that I tackled the Charlotte Mason series and started reading them. I had always been told they were too difficult and not helpful, and I couldn’t disagree more. That’s why we always urge people to be reading those books. My two youngest children are both adopted. They’re about five years apart, and I’m still homeschooling the youngest of those two boys, who is 14 this year and in ninth grade. And so I’m a grandma with almost 12 grandchildren in the world.
Sonya: Okay, side note here then: for all of us who are grandmothers, what’s a good Charlotte Mason grandmother tip? How do you be a good grandmother in a Charlotte Mason education environment?
Emily: Buy books for gifts!
Liz: Buy books for gifts. Appreciate who they are as persons. I think grandmothers actually almost automatically do that, but I really appreciate seeing their personalities emerge and their interests. And just encouraging them to think for themselves and not always giving them the answer to all those Why questions they ask.
Sonya: That’s great. Nicole, do you want to tell us about your family and how you got started with CM?
Nicole: Sure. I started homeschooling when my oldest son, who’s now 19, was just five years old, and we began with a more traditional type of education. It was fine at first, but then I just felt that something was missing; I needed more. A friend introduced me to, basically, nature study, and Charlotte Mason through that medium. So I began studying what she was saying through the volumes. But about the same time (he was about third grade at that time), my mom asked if I would homeschool four of her children, her adopted children.
Sonya: Oh, my!
Nicole: So I had two little girls at home, my son who I was homeschooling, and then all of a sudden these extra teenagers. It was like trial by fire. I do remember also telling my mom, “Now you need to understand, I’m going to try this different thing.” She was a school teacher, and so I didn’t know what she would think. But she was completely supportive, always has been. It’s been really, really a blessing to have her support. So I graduated all of those big kids. I call them the big kids; and I’ve call my little girls “the little girls” for years, but now they’re 13 and 14 years old. Oh, I have that wrong; actually they’re 13 and 15 right now!
Sonya: Birthdays rolled around.
Nicole: So I’m down to just those two homeschooling at home, and just every day continuing to learn. I think I may have this down-pat just about the time they all graduate.
Sonya: Exactly! How about you, Emily? Tell us about your family.
Emily: Well, my oldest child is only four and a half, and I am about to have my fourth baby in just a few months. So we have quite a few little ones at home. I would say I started my Charlotte Mason education 11 years ago when my mom wanted to read Charlotte Mason’s Original Home Schooling Series. It wasn’t available online to read with a voice reader at the time, and it wasn’t available in braille or audio. I had just purchased the series and was interested in reading it for myself, and said, “Okay, so we’ll start reading it together.” And I think that really helped us to embrace and solidify our understanding of what we were reading because we would pause and discuss: “What’s going on?” and “Do you think this is what she means?” It was a delightful experience to read that together.
Sonya: How did you three meet? I know how Liz and Emily met! But how did you two meet Nicole?
Emily: Well, shortly after I started reading the series to my mom, we heard about a local Charlotte Mason group that met sometimes at restaurants. We didn’t really have a lot of details, and it wasn’t until maybe a year after that that we got connected with somebody in that group. So we went to our first meeting at a restaurant and didn’t know anybody, we thought. (There was a person we did know who ended up showing up there.) But Nicole was at that first meeting, and I remember being struck by several things that she said that just made sense: “Ah, I could implement that.” We talked to her a little bit afterwards, because we were very intrigued about her educating her adopted siblings. That sounded very similar to our family with multiple ages and all of that. So we just got to know each other.
Sonya: And those were monthly meetings?
Emily: Every six weeks, I think, at the time.
Liz: And it was hard finding the group, because it was almost like an underground secret society.
Emily: It was before Facebook and social media.
Sonya: So, it was just word of mouth that you found out about those things. Then who had the idea for the podcast?
Liz: Well, we always, the three of us, called ourselves the Charlotte Mason Geeks, because it didn’t matter what circle we were in, if we were at a conference or at our Charlotte Mason group, we always seemed to be much keener on figuring out exactly what she said and did than anyone else around.
Nicole: We might have annoyed a lot of people.
Emily: Didn’t share our enthusiasm.
Liz: We most likely did, and, I don’t remember, I believe Emily knew about podcasts—
Emily: I think Nicole was the initial podcast listener.
Nicole: I was listening to a lot of podcasts at the time, but I don’t think it was necessarily my idea.
Emily: I think it was maybe my idea, because we used to hold monthly seminars in our library, really trying to get people interested in using living books period. And that evolved more into specifically Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Nicole came and helped teach some of those. I think once I got married, and I quickly found out we were expecting our first child, I realized, “Life is going to look a lot different and we can’t continue these meetings.” But people kept clamoring in our local area: “When are you going to have another series of seminars?” So we thought maybe we could record a podcast and have that information available without us having to redo it every single time.
Nicole: So by then I was helping at the library, mostly as an excuse to be able to talk about Charlotte Mason more. It was kind of our monthly or biweekly (depending on how often library was open) chance to discuss, “Now this is what I’ve been reading and I’m thinking this. . . . ” I can remember Emily saying, “Okay. Well then we need to start our podcast.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, that would be nice.” And she said, “Okay. Well, how about next week?”
Liz: That’s Emily.
Nicole: I was thinking, like, next year or . . . . So, we got started.
Sonya: And who came up with the name, A Delectable Education?
Nicole: She did.
Emily: I think that was me.
Liz: Was it you?
Emily: Yeah, we were talking about it, brainstorming about what the podcast would look like. Of course, we had no idea it would look like what it does now: that it would be in its fourth season, and we have more ideas than we could possible fit into a fifth season. But we said, “Okay, let’s look at the volumes and find our favorite Charlotte Mason quotes and maybe that will give us inspiration for the name.” Two different quotes used the word delectable. One of my favorite, that I’ve always applied to the library, says something like, “It is not what we know but what we are waiting to know that is the delectable part of knowledge.” I just think that sums up so much of our desire to keep learning and feeding ourselves.
Liz: It was certainly true for ourselves.
Sonya: Yes! So what is your goal, your heart’s desire, for your podcast?
Liz: To make more clear Charlotte Mason’s practices and principles, which rely on one another. And to encourage moms that this is an educational method that is possible for them. And to equip them, to provide information, so that they can get resources and know how they can actually put it into practice in their home.
Nicole: We find over and over again that when we are trying to do Charlotte Mason and we’re having a hard time—if this subject is just hard—that we’re not doing it right. It’s when we figure out “Oh, this is how she was doing it” that it becomes more natural; it falls into place. It’s natural to the children; it’s natural to us as the teacher. And everything gets so much simpler. So we really want to help expound on what Charlotte Mason said so that we can understand How did she do these lessons? We have so much more information available to us these days than we had originally. There’s things that she will mention in the volumes briefly. She might mention a book or a “This is how we do it.” But when we can look at the programmes (and we have so many programmes to see), we can discover, okay, here’s what she was actually assigning, this is what they were doing day to day. Putting those things together, having access to so many of the Parents’ Reviews now as well, and what was being said about these lessons and the importance of them, we have a lot clearer picture today.
Sonya: Yes, and you’re referring to the online digital collection.
Nicole: Collection, right.
Sonya: That’s wonderful. Do you have anything to add to that, Emily?
Emily: I think what I would add is just the unexpected and amazing overflow that we have seen in the Charlotte Mason community—expanding all of the time—that moms, dads even, educators of all different kinds, not even homeschoolers, are actually reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes. We started to notice that people would come up to us at conferences and retreats and say, “It’s because of you I’m reading Charlotte Mason.” And we were, like, “Why is that?” And the people we would talk to would say, “It’s because you read so much of her on the podcast.” We do. We try and always not only say what she said but to read quotes and excerpts, and it just seemed more natural. I think there is a stigma about her language; it is uncomfortable, maybe at first, because it’s different than what we’re accustomed to reading. But it’s not inaccessible. And once we get into her style it makes a lot of sense. Not that it’s easy to understand. There’s lots of ideas packed in there, and it helps to read with other people where you can sit and discuss. But that has just been amazing, because for years we had moms who were practicing Charlotte Mason who’d never read a single volume, and now we have people who hear about her on our podcast and they buy the book and they start reading it. And that is, I think, just the most exciting part of our whole work.
Sonya: Do you have any habits that help you in your work?
Nicole: I think we all do.
Liz: I keep teaching my own children every day.
Sonya: Exactly, that is a strong habit, yes.
Nicole: And I think that’s probably where I would begin. We all have very distinct schedules in our home for our lives. I mean, we’re working. And to do that but keep the schooling of our children a priority, taking care of our families a priority, we do have to have a lot of habits in place—a good solid schedule for us to be able to do what we’re trying to do without losing sight of what is most important in our lives.
Sonya: And especially this year you’ve been traveling a lot to conferences. And you, Nicole, just moved.
Sonya: Across the country.
Sonya: So now you have to fly back in in order to make the podcasts. So yes, organization would be huge.
Nicole: It is.
Liz: But we have Emily. And she’s an organizational genius. I’ve been saying that since she was about six months old.
Emily: Well, I often have to reevaluate my own organizational structure and change things up, because with small children things are changing all of the time as naps schedules get adjusted and they go through different phases and different changes in their lives. That always is what I’m using to model How does my day look around my children? and not How do they fit around my work? So one of the hard habits I’ve had to learn is getting up early. I started with an hour before they get up, and then the Lord blessed me with an oldest child who is a very early riser. I drew the line. He could not actually wake up before 5 a.m. That was just not acceptable for me.
Liz: He tried though.
Emily: Yeah, so now he wakes up and knows he has to play quietly in his room or just read books until 7:00, and I get up about two and a half hours before that to spend time with the Lord and do a lot of my focus work. And then I do take advantage of nap time, for sure.
Sonya: One more question. What inspires you in your work? You all have other work besides the podcast. You’re homeschooling your kids; you’re taking care of your families. Nicole, you have your own website at Sabbath Mood Homeschool; and you have this Living Books Library, Liz and Emily. What inspires you? What encourages you in all that work that you do?
Emily: I think it really comes down to Charlotte Mason’s first principle: that children are born persons. And to see that switch turn on in a parent’s mind in how they view their child and to hear the stories of how lives are changed—families are changed, marriages even—because of the Scriptural principles that Charlotte Mason had at the core of her philosophy and how that then plays out in all of life; and that education is not this thing we do in the set amount of time but is really a part of all of our life. That’s what keeps us going, I think.
Nicole: I agree. There’s times where it’s hard. We’re not doing an easy thing. And I might get discouraged, and we meet somebody at a conference or we get an email from somebody, and these, both principles and practices, are being played out in their lives, and they’re responding to us in such an energetic way, a thankful way, and we know it’s not us. This is, this is Charlotte Mason who is pointing them to the Lord, and they are finding a new rhythm to their home. That for me is just the biggest motivator. Any time I start thinking, “I just don’t know if I can do it,” it’s those kinds of emails that come in and I think, “This is why.” Not only is every child born a person, but every mom, every dad—the family is full of them. And to see that awakening is so exciting.
Liz: And related to that, I really feel that knowing this is the Lord’s plan, that we are obeying him because we are serving others. That is His will for us: to love our neighbors ourselves. I have homeschooled for 33 years and made probably more mistakes than are even in any book, and it is a joy to me to be able to help other moms do a much better job than I did. I also think what keeps me going on the discouraging and fatiguing days is knowing that ultimately many lives—we have no idea—are being changed. The children that are being raised with this kind of an education are going to think and act differently, and this world, which can sometimes discourage us as a sad place to live, is going to be transformed by the children. I think that’s what kept Charlotte Mason going as well, that she did it for the children’s sake, and for the children of the children. She knew that this was going to bring life and joy into the world. [to Emily] Should I tell that little story about the little boy?
Sonya: I would love to hear a story.
Liz: We have moms who all over the country, all over the world, tell us they’re getting more laundry folded because of listening to the podcast. More dishes done. One of those moms told us that one day she was listening to the podcast and cleaning her kitchen and her little boy came running through and stopped and listened for a minute, and he said, “I love it when she talks about us.” He meant Charlotte Mason, because we were probably talking about what Charlotte Mason said about children, and he recognized that.
Sonya: Oh, that’s so sweet! He knew that value of him as a person was coming through those words, from over 150 years ago, those words still carry such weight. Well, on behalf of everyone, I want to thank you for all the work that you do, all of the time and energy and effort and restructuring of your schedules. No one knows all of the effort that goes into making these podcasts available to people. They are changing lives, and we are very grateful for the work that you do. And I’m grateful for your restructuring your schedule to meet with us today so we could have this little chat behind the scenes. Thanks so much for being with us.
[All]: Thank you.