I was one of those kids who talked all the time in class. I loved telling stories. One day in the 4th Grade, my teacher said, “You tell such good stories, maybe you should try writing some of them down.” “Wow,” I thought. “She thinks my stories are good.” That’s when I started to really enjoy writing.
I was also the class artist. When I wasn’t talking, I was drawing. When I was older, I studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design. That’s where I became interested in visual learning—how we decode and acquire information from graphs, charts, diagrams, models, illustrations and other images.
I became especially interested in educational publishing and have worked on the development of over a dozen major textbook programs, championing visual learning strategies from Pre-K through high school in every major curriculum area.
The inspiration to write math stories for children was sparked by my work on a high school mathematics program. Visual learning strategies helped teens, who had been characterized as “reluctant learners,” understand difficult math concepts. Putting math in the context of stories based on their experiences made them feel more comfortable with abstract concepts. They actually became eager to apply math to real-life problems.
If this approach worked for older students, I began to wonder what might happen if younger children were introduced to math this way!
Even before children can read - or speak many words - they can interpret visual information with ease. The MathStart books (HarperCollins) use simple stories coupled with diagrams, graphs and other visual models to teach everything from probability and pattern recognition to area, capacity and negative numbers.
The Best Bug Parade, (comparing sizes) was my very first published book. It was absolutely thrilling to see my name in print! I never expected that one day there would 63 MathStart books, split over three levels for ages Pre-K to Grade 4.
Each book includes two pages of review and activities designed to help teachers and parents extend learning beyond the story, along with suggestions of related books by other authors. After all, if a child enjoys learning math through stories, then let’s have more stories! (See also: Twenty Years of MathStart! essay).
Now get out your dancing shoes–there is a musical based on six of the MathStart books! The Main Street Kids’ Club, was workshopped at Northwestern University and adapted by Scott Ferguson, who also created the perennially popular production of School House Rock Live!
The songs are terrific. The math is spot on. And the club motto makes my heart sing: “Math Skills are Life Skills!”
My latest series of books is focused on young children—Preschool and Kindergarten age.
I See I Learn books (Charlesbridge) teach social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills, such as how to make friends, build confidence, play safely, work together, manage emotions, and make plans. These skills are important for school readiness and for living happy, healthy, productive lives.
The stories “star” a wonderful bunch of friends who live in See-and-Learn City and attend Ready Set Pre-K. The cast includes Freda, Percy, Emma, Ajay, Camille, and Carlos. And, of course, Pickle, the green bull dog—who happens to have a soft-spot for butterflies—and Miss Cathy, their teacher.
I See I Learn stories are modeled on real-life situations and, just as in real-life, often involve more than one skill. For example, Freda Plans a Picnic is about sequencing, a cognitive skill, but the picnic itself is a social event. Percy Plays It Safe focuses on playground safety skills, but playing successfully in a group also requires self-regulation, an emotional skill.
Each book is reviewed by a team of experts, whose backgrounds include early childhood education, cognitive psychology and children’s museums. The stories are also developed to align with and support Core Curriculum State Standards.
Each I See I Learn book includes a special two-page section called A Closer Look, designed to help parents, teachers and caregivers review key points with their children.
Pearson Education has created I See I Learn at School, a comprehensive early childhood educational program which includes all the books, along with teacher guides, videos and games.
People always ask me how I come up with my stories. The answer is simple: I talk to a lot of children! I have particularly close relationships with three of the characters in my books: Jack from MathStart's Jack the Builder, Maddie of Mighty Maddie and I See I Learn's Camille, are named after my grandchildren. No matter how big the real Jack, Maddie, and Camille grow to be, I can always pick up a book and see them flying a spaceship, wearing a pretty super-hero cape and building a sand castle at the beach with friends.
Pictures and words. Stories and books. Learning and life!