Originally from Sydney, Cara Zelas, is now a New York-based author and educator. In this edition of Faces of AWNY, Cara shares how training and volunteering with her dog as a therapy dog team created an awareness of curriculum gaps around social and emotional skills within early childhood education. This led to Cara founding the educational platform, Big World of Little Dude, which enables Cara to teach kindness to children all over the world.
Join Big World of Little Dude on Saturday, February 2nd at Williamsburg meditation studio for children, The Happinest, for a relaxing morning of meditation for children and caregivers. The event is free and RSVP is essential.
What do you say when people ask, “What do you do”?
I am the founder of Big World of Little Dude, which is an educational platform teaching children social and emotional skills. The five core themes are: Kindness, Friendship, Meditation, Empathy, and Courage. The learning happens through a book series, which can be read at home or in the classroom, and via a unique curriculum which includes dynamic lessons focused on literacy, music, puppetry and hands-on activities to reinforce the themes. The educational curriculum is taught in schools, at public libraries and throughout child-care facilities in the Tri-State area. Come and join us once a month at the New York Public Library, 53rd St. location in Manhattan.
What inspired you to begin?
Little Dude, our dog, and I joined The Good Dog Foundation where we trained to become a dog therapy team. We volunteer at schools and hospitals throughout Manhattan. Through the experience of being kind to people in my community, I realized this was a valuable teaching moment for the students in my classroom.
I began to bring Little Dude into school to teach children about being kind to others. I decided to write a children’s book about Little Dude’s experience volunteering, however, I also saw there was a gap in the curriculum to teach children social and emotional skills in an explicit way. We teach children to read, write about art, math – so why not teach children how to be kind to others, to have empathy, how to build relationships, how to have the courage to face fears, how to build resilience when failing and to emotionally self-regulate through meditation and mindfulness?
Big World of Little Dude was inspired by Little Dude and was created to meet the unmet needs of early childhood education in today’s classroom environment.
Any advice for people working in NYC?
The wonderfully amazing thing about New York City is that you never know what opportunity is around the corner. Push past your comfort zone, keep “hustling” and don’t give up! Also, find your tribe. There are so many groups to join who will be a source of encouragement and inspiration. Fellow Australian expatriates and other female entrepreneurs have been instrumental to my growth.
What’s the biggest challenge or roadblock you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it?
Learning how to deal and roll with the punches that this city throws at you. Taking the time to step back, gain perspective and reassess how to move forward can help through those tough moments. Finding a support network is also very helpful.
Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar? Sara Lux-Lee at Mindr is doing amazing things for mothers and women in the workplace. Jordana Maisie is a fabulous architect creating amazing spaces and homes. Charlotte Gibson just opened a rad Meditation studio for children in Williamsburg called The Happinest.
What’s your favorite New York spot?
Park Avenue Armory
What is a hidden gem of the city?
Ink48 rooftop and Ophelia Lounge in Beekman Tower
Where is your favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice?
Jazz on Sunday nights at Bemelmans Bar, at the Carlyle Hotel.
What do you like about being part of AWNY?
Meeting fabulous Aussie women who are rocking NYC, it helps to maintain connections with home. It is also a wonderfully supportive and open community.
Is there anything you miss about Australia?
Family, friends, the walk from Bondi to Bronte, Aussie Brekky’s and Golden Circle crumpets.
Attend Big World of Little Dude book launch
Join Big World of Little Dude and The Happinest on Saturday, February 2nd, for a relaxing morning of meditation for children and caregivers. This free event is aimed at children from ages 3 – 7 and their caregivers. Children will engage in a reading of Cara’s new book, Brain Vacation: A Guide to Meditation, learn breathing techniques and enjoy a puppet show, singing included! The Happinest is a brand new meditation studio for children, recently opened by Charlotte Gibson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. RSVP is essential. Email Cara to reserve your place – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Cara