McKel­lar

The Arizona Republic - - LIFE -

in­ves­ti­gate math­e­mat­ics didn’t fade. In 2007, her first book, “Math Doesn’t Suck,” was pub­lished. It walks mid­dle school-age girls through con­cepts such as frac­tions, per­cent­ages and pre-al­ge­bra. “I use sto­ries and re­lat­able strate­gies for young peo­ple to re­al­ize math is fun and is all around us in ev­ery­day, real ways.

“Math can be cool,” she says.

“I also in­cluded sto­ries of my own per­sonal strug­gles with math and or­di­nary, ev­ery­day life, to let girls re­al­ize we’re all the same. We all have the same wor­ries, strug­gles, inse­cu­ri­ties, etc.”

Her other ti­tles in­clude “Girls Get Curves: Geom­e­try Takes Shape” in 2013; best-seller “Good­night, Num­bers” in 2017; and her two new­est books, “Ten Magic But­ter­flies” and “Bath­time Math­time,” both tar­geted at preschool­ers. “My goal with the new books is to in­still the think­ing that math is re­lat­able and fun at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble age. And what’s more fun and nur­tur­ing than cud­dling with Mom or Dad and read­ing to­gether?” she says.

“I want to make math less scary and for kids to see math is rel­e­vant in their life. It’s not a sep­a­rate, ran­dom tan­gent. But if we, as adults, don’t help kids make con­nec­tions in their ev­ery­day world, it re­mains a for­eign, scary lan­guage they’ll avoid and dread,” she says.

McKel­lar spoke at a con­gres­sional sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing in 2000 about how to draw more women and mi­nori­ties in STEM. “I want girls to re­al­ize they’re not an af­ter­thought when it comes to math. Math is for them ... for ev­ery­one,” she ex­plains. “To­day’s young women need to re­al­ize they don’t have to choose be­tween be­ing smart or the one who takes great self­ies. They can ab­so­lutely be both!”

McKel­lar says she has read to her son, Draco, every day since he was a baby. “I knew I wanted him to find beauty in num­bers, but the first step to that is be­ing able to read,” she says.

McKel­lar rec­om­mends mak­ing read­ing time with young chil­dren in­ter­ac­tive. “While read­ing, I’d point to let­ters and say their names or point to all the words I was read­ing on a page. I know it’s tempt­ing to rush through a bed­time story be­cause as a par­ent, there are a mil­lion things you still have to do be­fore go­ing to bed,” she says. “But slow­ing down for a few min­utes to read with your child is such a beau­ti­ful gift you can give them and your­self.”

Although her son has been read­ing in­de­pen­dently for a few years, McKel­lar con­tin­ues to re­serve time every night for the duo to read to each other. “Now that he’s 7, we read to­gether and talk about long and short vow­els, homonyms or syn­onyms. To build his com­pre­hen­sion, I’ll ask him about things on the pre­vi­ous page or what hap­pened in the story.”

Creativ­ity counts

McKel­lar and her ex-hus­band, Mike Verta, share du­ties home­school­ing their son. “Home­school­ing wasn’t some­thing we set out to do. It just sort of hap­pened af­ter not be­ing able to find a preschool that was the right fit,” says McKel­lar. “I do math and science sub­jects, and his dad does his­tory and mu­sic.” Ac­tiv­i­ties such as mar­tial arts, trips to mu­se­ums and play dates with friends round out his ed­u­ca­tional and so­cial ex­pe­ri­ences. And while her son’s les­son plans in­clude tra­di­tional sub­jects, McKel­lar likes to in­cor­po­rate as much creativ­ity as pos­si­ble, too.

She re­pur­posed egg car­tons to help re­in­force prin­ci­ples of Com­mon Core math taught to el­e­men­tary stu­dents. “I cut off the ends to cre­ate 10 frames we can put things like Le­gos or other small toys in to do math prob­lems. We use them to cal­cu­late 9 + 6 by mov­ing one piece from the frame with 6 and to fill up the frame with 9 to turn it into a 10 frame. It’s a dif­fer­ent way to do math than when I was a kid, so do­ing this can help par­ents un­der­stand how their kids are be­ing taught, too.”

She talks to her son a lot. “I try to ex­plain the think­ing be­hind my de­ci­sions, even those that seem mean­ing­less or sim­ple like what’s for lunch,” she says. “If we’re out, I’ll say, ‘I was think­ing of buy­ing this, but now I’m think­ing about that in­stead and here’s why.’ ... I like to try to nar­rate my life in­stead of us co­ex­ist­ing silently in a room or car.” She’ll ex­plain why it’s im­por­tant that she use a turn sig­nal when driv­ing or the ben­e­fit of brush­ing her teeth.

McKel­lar says that as a par­ent, there’s no way to know what events, whether ex­trav­a­gant like a fam­ily va­ca­tion or more mun­dane like a par­tic­u­lar din­ner, will per­ma­nently be­come real es­tate in a child’s mem­ory.

“I’ll never know which mo­ments will oc­cur to him again and again decades from now, so along with hop­ing to in­still a love of learn­ing, I’m try­ing to share as much as I can about life, in­clud­ing my mis­takes and lessons of hu­man­ity to give him a lot to choose from.”

CATHRYN FARNSWORTH

Dan­ica McKel­lar has writ­ten sev­eral math-fo­cused books for kids and teens.

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