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Q & A with Actress and Author Danica McKellar

Danica McKellar

Danica McKellar, best known for her role as Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years" as well as her recent turn on "Dancing with the Stars," has partnered with Colgate to launch the Smile for Picture Day campaign. She shared a few secrets with us about her life as a mom and her tips for getting a great school photo (see a couple of her own at left). The author of several math books, McKellar also gives her top advice for young female students looking to explore STEM subjects.

What's your favorite thing to do with your son, Draco?

We do all sorts of fun, unusual things, actually, because he loves garbage trucks so much. I take him—believe it or not—to the landfill. We've been to the recycling center, where they actually recycle the trash. It's the stinkiest place on the planet. But my favorite thing to do with my son is to read to him before bed. We read together, we snuggle up. It's so sweet, it's adorable, and I point to the words as I say them, and he's fascinated! He's learning to read, and we're getting to snuggle.

How does Draco feel about having a famous mom?

Draco has no perspective whatsoever. So, on that point, I don't have an answer.

Can you describe your parenting style in one word?

Loving.

What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?

That when you first have your child, there's a whole bunch of hoopla, and there's tons of people who worry about everything, but really all you need is love and diapers.

What's the first word that pops into your head when we say "mom"?

Nurturer.

Which mom duties are you best and worst at?

I'm the best at teaching Draco in fun ways, both with reading and with math. I'm the worst at cleaning up after him. I have to constantly remind myself, "Wait, before we play with the next toy, we have to put away the other one," and I forget all the time. And I'm struggling because I want him to learn good habits, but I didn't have good habits growing up, and I'm really trying to make him better than me.

How do you balance your time between work and home? Do you have any tips for working moms?

I have an unusual schedule; it's always different. I try to spend as much time with him as possible. I don't have any predetermined time where I can be like, "Right now is the time that I work, and right now is the time I spend time with him." I don't do that. I find opportunities wherever I can to hang out with him. So I work from home a lot, and my tips for working moms is that it's the quality of time that matters the most. Looking into your child's eyes and listening to them and really interacting is what's most important. An hour of that is worth much more than five hours of being there while you're doing stuff on your phone. It's challenging, but worth it.

How did you get involved with Colgate's "Smile for Picture Day" campaign?

It's a wonderful campaign. This is all about helping families prepare for picture day at school by educating kids about how to take care of their teeth. I got involved because I'm a mom, and I care about kids having healthy teeth. I've become much more aware of a lot of things school-related now that Draco's become 4 years old and we're doing preschool. I think it's just really important for families to recognize the importance of tooth health. It's one thing to go, "OK, let's brush your teeth," brush, brush, brush, and you're done. Now, did they really get clean? Because otherwise, what's the point? In fact, I've got four tips for taking care of your teeth for Picture Day—and every day.

  1. Visit the dentist: The American Dental Association recommends visiting the dentist regularly, so make sure to schedule a dental checkup for your child every six months, especially in preparation for school picture day! Bring a favorite toy or schedule something fun right after the appointment to help the experience go smoothly. (It worked for my 4-year-old!)
  2. Brush together: Regular brushing and flossing, twice a day, is the best defense against cavities and for overall mouth health. Brushing together is a great way to make sure your child is brushing his or her teeth for a nice, long time, and you also become a role model for good oral care habits.
  3. Motivate them: A fun way to help young kids understand about the dangers of plaque buildup is to have them play the "Colgate Tooth Defenders" app, available for free download on iTunes and Google Play. This educational app makes fighting cavities fun through a series of games. My son loves the Toothbrush Patch game.
  4. Practice makes perfect: How do you get your child to sit still for a photo and give a genuine smile? Practice ahead of time and have fun with it! Take a few minutes to practice the process so your child knows what to expect during school picture day. And here's a tip from my acting background: Try giving them something funny to think about when the camera starts snapping—an inside joke or funny visual image in their head that inspires a real smile—like maybe tell them to imagine the photographer is wearing underwear with bunnies and rainbows on them!

There's been a lot of talk around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education recently. As the author of several math books, including "Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape," what is your top advice for young female students looking to explore STEM subjects?

The best thing you can do for your daughter is to provide her with good role models, hopefully yourself. Meaning: Point out math in everyday life, show her that you use math in life. At the grocery store, I mean, there's numbers everywhere: money, right, it's all about numbers. Show her how you use math, show her that math is in your life, and she'll learn to see math in her life as well. Then, I recommend my books, the first one is for ages 9–11. It's called "Math Doesn't Suck," and the books are filled with not just math, but encouragement and support for girls who want to feel smart but are maybe afraid that that's going to make them nerdy. Its like, "No, being smart is an amazing ingredient for whatever girl you want to be." In fact, it's going to make you more fabulous. I have tons of examples of women in all four of my books where there are little profiles on them. They look happy, put-together, attractive, and they use math in their jobs. They're successful because of math.

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