Mayim Bialik is famously not only a star of The Big Bang Theory and a mom — she's a neuroscientist.
On Tuesday, she released a middle-grade graphic novel anthology, Flash Facts, featuring her two favorite things — science and superheroes — in order to get kids interested in STEM. And her two sons, Miles, 15, and Frederick, 12, think it's "pretty cool."
"They think it's very amazing and cool that their mom's little tiny picture is on it," says the 45-year-old actress, who is featured in the book as a caricature. ("I've always wanted to be a comic book superhero," she says with a laugh.)
"Normally, they think I'm really lame," she continues. "So, this was one of the times when I actually got a load of, 'Hey, that's pretty cool, Mom.' "
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Bialik discusses her own struggles in school before she gained the confidence to pursue science as a career, her hopes for the book and her advice for parents who are homeschooling their kids for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bialik's kids, whom she shares with ex-husband Michael Stone, have always been homeschooled.)
"It always and forever will be important for children to understand science as a concept, especially as the fastest growing fields are those requiring a science, technology, engineering and math background," says Bialik, who edited the short stories in Flash Facts, which was published by DC Comics.
The book helps kids apply STEM principles to real life situations with the help of DC Super Heroes like Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. It features short stories created by bestselling authors and artists like Michael Northrop (TombQuest, Dear Justice League) and Cecil Castellucci (Batgirl). Flash Facts also aligns with Next Generation Science Standards.
"We're learning more and more that the way that we present information sometimes is the difference between a child being interested or not," explains Bialik. "This format, this way that we present the color of stories and characters, I think is a really important way to present this information. It's that appeal that makes it really a standout book."
The actress explains that a book like Flash Facts would have helped her as a young student — and not only because she loves comic books ("As a classic DC person, Batman was my first love," she says). Bialik explains that "math and science did not come naturally" to her when she was in school.
"I had a wonderful public school education, but I learned very early that if things didn't come easily to me, it must be that I'm not good at them," she recalls. "Thankfully, education has evolved a lot since the late '70s and early '80s. We now know that people learn differently."
Bialik didn't discover her love of science until a female tutor helped her when she was starring in the '90s sitcom Blossom as a teenager, she explains.
"She introduced science to me in a way that I could understand. I felt more comfortable asking questions. I think having a female mentor was especially important for me and made me feel more comfortable," says Bialik, who wants to help introduce girls to the sciences. "It was this woman who gave me not only the skillset to picture myself as a scientist, but also the confidence to believe that even if I wasn't a natural, I could still do it."
Bialik went on to earn her PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007, all the while pursuing her acting career. She published two other kids' books, Girling Up, in 2017, and Boying Up, a year later. Now, she's the lead for a new sitcom on Fox, Call Me Kat, which premiered this fall. (The star says the heartwarming situational comedy is "like a warm chocolate chip cookie of television" that we all need right now.)
The key to balancing it all, especially during the pandemic? "Lowered expectations," she says.
"Honestly, I was home and got to do a lot of things during the past year, before I went back to work," she says, joking, "I also organized all the electrical cords in my laundry room. So, it's been productive here."
Bialik says she's grateful to her assistant and team, who help her decide how to allocate her time.
"I've given up on trying to do anything perfectly. I famously don't have a housekeeper. I don't have a nanny. I've never had one," the actress says. "And that means my house is not always very clean or perfect. And that's okay. So, a lot of what I do, I get done because I choose not to do things terribly perfectly. I told my kids that the motto of this family is lowered expectations."
While Bialik navigates her own projects, she's also parenting her two sons. Bialik says her older son, Miles, is very social and is "over" the pandemic. "He's a combination of bored and frustrated," his mom explains. But they've been able to bond over discussions about what's been happening in the news, specifically about politics, the recent election and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer.
Frederick, on the other hand, "is more of an introvert, so he's kind of living his best introvert life," says Bialik.
Bialik has a lot of sympathy for parents who are working full-time, while teaching their children at home.
"I want to commend parents who are having to manage full-time working and schooling your children," she says. "I like to say, that's not called homeschooling, that's called 'really impossible to do without losing your mind.' "
Her advice for parents at home with their kids is similar to her own family motto. She advises parents to "be gentle" on themselves.
"We have a family therapist who I spoke to early in quarantine," says Bialik. "One of the things she said is that it's extremely important to not try and use this time to also perfect the discipline system in your home. Because we're anxious, children are anxious."
She continues: "So, lowering the need to put our anxiety on them, especially with things like, 'I will break you of the habit of rolling your eyes.' Trying to be gentle on ourselves is important."
Flash Facts is on sale now.
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