Meet Cara Zelas: Founder of the Big World of Little Dude
The power of kindness can have a huge impact on our children. Cara Zelas is a huge proponent of teaching kindness that was ignited when she volunteered at The Good Dog Foundation with her therapy dog, Little Dude. She then brought Little Dude into schools to teach kids about kindness that led her to write social and emotional-themed books that you can find in the series “Big World of Little Dude.” This includes nine books that follow Little Dude and his friends as they navigate kindness, feelings, manners, respect, courage, and friendship, and much more. Read on to learn more about this incredible series and why this work is so important to Cara.
Westchester Family: How did the idea for the World of the Big World of Little Dude come about?
Cara Zelas: I am a volunteer with The Good Dog Foundation, and along with our dog, Little Dude, we are a therapy dog team. It has been the countless experiences and interactions with people in our community that gave us awareness of the impact of being kind.
I wanted to translate this idea to the children that I was teaching at the time, so I brought Little Dude into the early childhood classroom to share our story and the idea of being kind. I observed that we teach ABCs and 123s in an explicit way, however, we don’t teach kindness, manners, empathy, and mindfulness in an explicit way, and this realization lead me down the path of researching social and emotional learning (SEL) topics and practices.
Utilizing my background in elementary education and my professional Montessori training, I wrote my first series of six books and lessons on social and emotional themes. “Big World of Little Dude,” at its essence, is built on the idea of kindness and it is inspired by my experience volunteering, a passion for education, and helping children grow into emotionally healthy grown-ups.
Westchester Family:. Tell us more about the stories and what age they are designed for?
Cara Zelas: There are now nine books in the series, with the following themes: kindness, feelings, manners, respect, empathy, growth mindset, courage, mindfulness meditation, and friendship. The stories are based on Little Dude and his friends and how they navigate each theme. There are also guides in each book, with activities to go deeper into the topic and extend learning. Three of the books are super special, as they are set to music, so the story can be read or sung with catchy tunes. The music is free on the website. The books are for children aged between 3-7.
Westchester Family: Tell us more about how you work with schools and how you can support learning at home?
Cara Zelas: I teach lessons from the HumanKIND Curriculum and do readings in schools. Little Dude sometimes comes with me on classroom visits and he is always a welcomed and a much-loved guest.
Social and emotional learning can begin in the home. Parents are their child’s very first teachers, at this stage of development little children are absorbing everything they observe and hear in their big world. How you behave and interact with others is how your child will most likely behave and interact with others. How do you speak to people? How do you help others? How do you show love? These are the very first lessons your child will receive as they grow.
Westchester Family: Why is this work important to you?
Cara Zelas: I am passionate about early childhood education and see the positive outcomes of social and emotional learning. The purpose of Big World of Little Dude is to help families and teachers understand and implement social and emotional skills at home and in the classroom.
Westchester Family: What are some of your favorite things to do in CT/Westchester?
Cara Zelas: I love walking, playing, and having picnics at Compo Beach in Westport with my family and Little Dude.
Westchester Family: How can people work with you and get the books?
Cara Zelas: I am available as an expert speaker in social and emotional learning for professional development and parenting workshops. I also deliver readings and lessons from the HumanKIND Curriculum in schools. The books as well as the Little Dude and Bird crocheted plushies are available for purchase from the website: www.worldoflittledude.com.
Westchester Family: Anything else to add?
Cara Zelas: I am very excited about the launch of the HumanKIND Curriculum, which is a 10-week literacy-based social and emotional learning curriculum for children, aged 4-7. It is a turn-key program for educators to implement in the classroom, afterschool programs and homeschools.