August 14, 2012 04:00 PM

Jennifer Carrillo/Pacific Coast News

Danica McKellar really loves math.

While she’s best known for playing Winnie on The Wonder Years, off-screen, McKellar’s reputation as a New York Times best-selling author has earned the actress just as many fans.

“Math is a challenge!” she tells PEOPLE. “[But] you want to embrace challenges. That’s how you get strong and smart. That is how you prove, that is how you feel good about yourself. That is how you build confidence.”

McKellar, 37, who most recently penned Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape, credits the subject with boosting her self-esteem.

“Math for me [gave me the most confidence]. After The Wonder Years ended, here I was, this ex-child actress. You have to find your identity somewhere. For me, I found it in feeling smart and good about myself,” she says.

Even McKellar’s 23-month-old son, Draco, with estranged husband Mike Verta, is working on developing his math skills.

“We’re working on some things. He knows his colors and his shapes. He still gets seven when he counts the toes on one foot — he really likes seven right now!” she says. “He likes it when I recite Pi. And I’m trying to teach him the quadratic formula, he hasn’t quite gotten it yet. It’s sung to the tune of ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’.”

— Maggie Coughlan

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