Growing up, one of my favorite TV shows to watch was Blossom, which I am sure many of you 30 something moms have very fond memories of watching. Blossom was played by an adorable Jewish girl named Mayim Bialik.
Fast forward a decade and then some later, and Mayim is still a very talented and well known actor, but she has also received her B.S. in Neuroscience and Hebrew and Jewish Studies from UCLA and earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA. She is the celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network, a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting holistic and green parenting and living. You can click here for Mayim’s full bio.
She has just written a book called Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way which will be out in March and she writes weekly for Kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site.
Mayim is a fellow Jewish Homeschooling mom and has generously taken the time to answer some questions about her life as a Jewish Homeschooling family. I am sure many of you will relate to many of the things she says. Enjoy!
1. Can you tell us about yourself and your family.
We are a happily holistic homeschooling family. My husband and I met in college in calculus class and he stays home when I work. We have 2 boys, ages 6 and 3 and we are both 36. My husband has a masters in Political Science and I have a PhD in Neuroscience. I am an employed actress on The Big Bang Theory, but I also teach Neuroscience and piano in our homeschool community.
2. What type of Jewish education did you receive as a child?
I was raised in a traditional house that affiliated with the reform movement. My parents are both first generation Americans and taught in public schools for a combined 60 years. My mother also was the nursery school director at our shul when I was a kid. I attended Hebrew school once a week from age 4-10 and twice a week as well as 5 shabbatons a year from 10-19. I was Bat Mitzvah'd and confirmed and we observed holidays such as Pesach and Chanukah in the home, but we didn't have a halachic home for the most part.
We were kosher when I was a child but my parents stopped being kosher and I then took it on again in my early adolescence. My mother's parents were orthodox and so I learned a bit about orthodoxy from them, but it was a very specific kind of eastern European orthodoxy and was not the whole picture as I know now!
3. Why did you decide to homeschool your own children?
Many reasons. My husband and I enjoy the flexibility: travelling, scheduling outings and such on our time. We like our children not being held to some standard of what other kids are doing as their defining label. Both of our boys are very sensitive and gentle and developed "late" in terms of walking, talking and interacting. A public setting would not have allowed them to progress under our care and we like to keep our finger on the pulse of their development as organic and natural and normal.
Private education is very expensive and we really like the Waldorf philosophy (no media, natural toys, emphasis on non-academics for the first 7 years and after that, very child-led), but we also love being a part of our boys' learning and life. We like to know we can teach them all aspects of every subject and we love being part of a progressive community of people who are open to a lot of types of learning styles. there is also a lot of socialization that goes on in schools that I don't think would work for our boys or for us, nor do I think it's always best for communities. We love school and we want our boys to be able to go to college if they want to; we are not at all anti-school; we really believe all children deserve a better shot at developing to their unique potential than what school in many places looks like.
4. What method of homeschooling are you using with your kids?
We are unschoolers. Not radical unschoolers, but unschoolers. We never taught our boys shapes or colors or numbers of the alphabet until they started showing interest in them. We limit media (they don't watch TV or see movies) also because we like to see what they are ready for independent of the "peer" pressure of the media.
We are Waldorf-inspired but I don't think that fits us as a label.
5. Do you follow a specific curriculum? If yes, which one? (both Jewish and secular)
Our boys are still young but we have not used any curriculum and we don't even do workbooks yet. Our older son does a lot of learning with us: we did a basic animal science module (that's my word for how we learn) last year and we started geography. I teach him piano (but also allow him to take breaks when his world seems more about play which has been the past 8 months or so!) as well and my husband does math.
We also started learning the Aleph-Beis and we do Parsha together. We also study middos with the Baruch Chait books about the middos pirates, and this year I intend to start teaching davening more formally. A wonderful woman in our community does a Hebrew school-style playgroup that our boys love, and they are the only non-kippah wearing kids in the group, but it's working out great! We also have used www.room613.net and I think our older son may be ready for some more classes through that great site.
6. What are some benefits you find in homeschooling?
Time with our kids, getting to see every shift and change in their ability, interest and wonder. Allowing their neshama to come through every day because the world is so open to them in terms of what they love, what they want and how they love to just be joyful and play and explore.
7. What are some personal challenges you find in homeschooling and how do you overcome them?
Time with our kids (lol). We don't really get a break. I don't work full days at all so I experience it too, but since we don't use nannies or anything, we sometimes get overwhelmed! Our boys are wonderful and we love them infinitely, but they are often needing more of us than we think we can give! Outings are important, outside play is very important, and having toys that keep them engaged for longer periods of time is great. We don't use a TV for breaks but I for sure can see why people do!!!
8. How do you incorporate Judaism into your homeschool curriculum?
As I mentioned we do Parsha and we study holidays on all levels. Every moment is an opportunity to teach about the wonders of the universe and to instill a sense of gratitude and I think that is a very Jewish thing to do! we host homeschool families for all of the Jewish holidays so that our boys get to see what welcoming people in for holidays looks like, and I keep them very involved in preparing and learning about halachos as well as much as I can. And everything stops on Shabbos, and that's a great reminder to them of the rhythm of the Jewish week!
9. Do you have any Jewish resources you would like to share with the Jewish homeschooling community?
Room613.net I mentioned; I also love the natural Jewish parenting group run by Yael Resnick. We have a Jewish homeschoolers community here in la that is fantastic and I hope other communities have it too...middos series books I mentioned are fantastic for all ages (we modify for the little one since the concepts and words are sometimes geared for older kids) http://www.feldheim.com/authors/chait-rabbi-baruch/the-middos-series.html
We make sure to have a lot of Jewish books always around and we take them out several weeks before each holiday to get the concepts solidified. I also love the Artscroll books and siddurs for young people; I can't wait until we are ready for those!
10. Do you have any words of advice/encouragement for Jewish moms who are new to homeschooling and want to make sure their kids get a well-rounded Jewish education?
I am not as religious as many Jewish homeschoolers I know and I have seen incredible diversity in approach and great outcomes. Some people hire Ravs, some people don't; some use a curriculum, some don't, but the beauty of being home with your kids (especially as a mom) is that the heart of the Jewish home is constantly available to them. They get to see a lot of the intricacies of how the Jewish house runs and prays and breathes, and that is not to be taken lightly. Also, the internet resources and discussion groups available make help and support and education a click away and I think the benefits are tremendously rewarding if you have faith, find like-minded people, and trust yourself!
Thank you Mayim for your great insights and for your time!
Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos,