Mommy Mathlete: Answering Parenting Mysteries Mathematically

A reader* recently sent in** this question:
Dear Mommy Mathlete,***
I was hoping you could put your genuis skills to great use by solving my current dilemna. My youngest child is two years old; when we sit to read a book together, he only lets me read two pages before he shuts the book and declares "done." He will often then pick up another book, just to read the first two pages. How can I get him to read more than two pages?
Want to Know How It Ends
Dear Want to Know,
You are facing an age-old problem. Two year olds are especially notorious for having an attention span shorter than a fruit fly's love life****. It may seem an impossible task to read a whole book, even though the child enjoys reading.

However, as a former child literacy worker, I can tell you:
Ic = ((Np/Nb) * Im)*Ac

Or, in English:
A Child's Interest (Ic) is equal to the number of pages with pictures on them divided by the number of pages total in the book; multiply that fraction by the mother's interest level and then multiply the whole by the age of the child.

As you can see, there is a direct and positive correlation betweeen the child's interest and the mother's interest. The mother's interest level is scaled on a 1-20 graph with 1 being the lowest interest (i.e. reading to the child while simultaneously cooking, tweeting, facebooking, and supervising other children) and 20 being the highest (full on engagement with both child and book complete with eye contact, finger pointing and funny voices).

The majority of variables in this equation are unchangeable: such as the child's age or the number of pictures in the book. The most easily changed is Mommy's (or Daddy's) interest level.

However, some options for creating a greater sum total are:
  • Picking books rich with visuals (Yes, I realise the latest interior decorating magazine has plenty of lovely pictures, but we're looking for a book and especially one that interests your child)
  • Picking shorter books (an example: multiply the child's age by ten and your pages should not exceed that; for reluctant readers, multiply by five.)
  • Using your voice to inflect the story and create characters (come on, Dragons do not talk with posh accents, they've definitely got a Transylvanion, slithery and sibilant voice)
  • Maintain close physical contact with the child while reading as well as occasional eye contact
  • Sitting in a quiet room free of distractions for both Mommy and child (i.e. Mommy put down your iPhone)
  • Using your texting finger as a pointing finger instead (you'd be surprised the versatility built into that finger!)
  • Engaging with the book by pointing out pictures and/or asking your child questions ("Okay, who spilt milk on this page?" not being one of the more valuable questions)
  • Maintaining a positive attitude about reading (i.e. When child asks you to read the same two pages of the same book for the 2000th time, do NOT roll your eyes, sigh, and yell to your spouse "Dear Lord, can you please save me from this monotony!")
This equation is all about the correlative variables. With a little work you can change the result.

And if you want to try some new books or find books in various languages, check out the International Children's Digital Library. We love browsing through their books and they're all free. (No, that was not sponsored - they don't even know who I am)

* I read my own blog occasionally, therefore I can be called a reader
** "Sent in" is assumed to be interchangeable with "thought to herself"
*** That's my super-hero name

**** While it is a myth that fruit flies only live for a day (it's more like two weeks), it is not a myth that an adult female only needs  a couple second to be "fertilised" and will then continue to lay eggs for a week.

If you've a question for Mommy Mathlete send it in (yeah, you'll have to email me, not just think it to yourself : darasquires AT gmail.com - calling me a genuis insures you'll get a response) or leave it in the comments. I'm not advocating formula for babies, but I love creating formulas for parents!


  1. I find any book that has push button activated sound effects and pull open flaps to be most efficacious in holding a child's interest. Or indeed any book that me, the daddy is reading at a time when the child feels I should be entertaining him. Suddenly my book becomes his book and dead interesting... Dear Mommy Mathlete, how can I finish reading my book?

  2. Dear Steve,
    I may or may not answer that question as you did not call me a genuis.
    I personally find the push button and flap books hold a child's interest like opening and closing a regular book - still doesn't help in getting it read.
    I may get back to you with a formula for your book, but I'm surprised they let you read at all - that's an after bed activity around here.

  3. Dear Mommy Mathelete

    I do find you solution to have one major drawback, I text with my thumb and find the act of twisting one's hand so as to enable my thumb to point to the text of the Gruffalo quite uncomfortable. I may need to sue you for RSI, which has in no way, shape or form come about from too much facebooking.

  4. You're right. I didn't call you a genius. That's because it is so obvious it shouldn't have to be said. As for after bed activities; I reserve that time for other pursuits...

  5. Oh, okay Steve, I guess I'll let you off on that than.
    I'm trying to imagine what you might be doing once the kids are in bed and just can't fathom it. Can you supply more details?

  6. @VeryBored:
    There are two solutions:
    1. Download the EBook
    2. Piss off - I'm not a doctor, I'm a mathematician!

  7. Dear Mommy Mathlete (Genius)

    How can I get my 14 year old son to return to reading books when he would rather chat up totty from the local girls' school on MSN?



  8. Dear My-Child-was-Brilliant-once,

    Oh I'm no genius, but it's lovely of you to say so.
    I haven't whiteboarded this equation yet, but to give you the quick and "dirty" answer:
    Atrb=(Agr + Ib)/Io

    So, the Attraction of teenage boys to reading is equal to the Attractiveness of girl reading in their vicinty (on the standard 1-10, hot or not, scale) plus the Interest level in the book (1 for school books, 10 for obscure graphic novels) all divided by the number of outside interests (sports, texting, dating -unless dating a reader, etc).

    To create a more positive result, show him pictures like this http://www.hometeamsonline.com/photos/htosports/UTGRADRUGBY/library.jpg
    and buy him some Scott Pilgrim graphic novels.

    Mommy Mathlete

  9. Oh Mommy Mathlete - you have excelled yourself. Have shown photo to my son and his eyes widened. Have no idea if it will encourage him back to the library but it put a smile on his face and his father looked impressed with the heavily-loaded shelf too.

    Will have a look at the Scott Pilgrim novels- my lad has vaguely heard of them. Anything which helps him actually hold something other than a laptop or mobile in his hands is worth a try.

  10. dear Genius,

    how do i stop my kids from ripping all the pages out of their books and/or using them to mop up puddles of pee?



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