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