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Cara Zelas is an author, educator, kindness advocate, and the founder of Big World of Little Dude is an educational platform teaching children, aged 3-7, social and emotional skills through a book series and curriculum.
She is a mom of 2 and fur mom to Little Dude, a real life Therapy Dog with the Good Dog Foundation.
How the concept of Big World of Little Dude was created out of seeing the lack of social and emotional skills taught in schools
Tips on teaching young children empathy
How she pivoted her business during the Pandemic
Moving her family from NYC to her hometown, a small 2,500 person town in Australia, during the Pandemic
Survival tips for jet lag with toddlers
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[00:00:00] Stephanie: Welcome to Mommy’s on a Call. your sacred space to laugh, learn, and feel like a real grownup human for a hot minute. I’m Stephanie Uchima-Carney, a mom of three under six serial entrepreneur business, strategist, and donut connoisseur. Just trying to get through the day one cold cup of coffee at a time. I believe that with more intention, a positive mindset and self care, it is possible to thrive in motherhood business.
My mission is to uncover the daily rituals, life lessons, real life tactics, and favorite tools to inspire and empower you mommy, to get the most out of life every single unpredictable day. So grab your headphones, tell your kids you’re on the potty and tune in weekly for some laughs knowledge bombs, and plenty of real talk with real moms and maybe a dad or two.
Welcome to the mommy pod.
Hello, and welcome back to Mommy’s on a Call. This week, I’m bringing to you Cara Zelas.
She’s an author educator, kindness advocate, and the founder of big world, little dude and educational platform. Teaching children ages three through seven social and emotional skills through a book series and curriculum.
She’s also the mom of two little ones. And for mom to little dude, a real life therapy dog with the good dog foundation. Welcome.
[00:01:21] Cara: Hi, so lovely to be here. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast
[00:01:25] Stephanie: and thank you for coming to us all the way from Australia. That’s incredible. So I want just start off by asking, what was your biggest mom win of the week?
[00:01:35] Cara: Uh, the biggest mom win of the week. I guess it’s transitioning. From moving all the time. Like we were just in Sydney now we’re back in where we’re living and there’s always so many transitions. So I would say like, working on transitions has been like a big mom win for the week just to keep everyone sane and on the same page and making sure everything’s running smoothly.
So I would say that’s, my mom win of the week.
[00:02:06] Stephanie: Perfect. And give us a little bit of context about what your family structure looks like and your current sort of situation
[00:02:14] Cara: sure. So I’m originally from Australia. However, we were living in New York for 10 years and, uh, we decided to. Come to Australia for personal reasons during the pandemic.
And then we just decided to stay. My husband wants from home, I’m working from home and we have two young children. Theodore is 18 months and grace is five and she just started kindergarten and she is loving it. It’s so sweet. She’s in a little country school and it’s really lovely.
[00:02:45] Stephanie: I was curious about the transition from New York to Australia, for your kids in particular, you know, there was a lot going on in the world last year and to pick them up and move them, especially at the time you said that he was three months old and then your daughter was about four.
How did that go? Especially thinking we’re only gonna move for three months and then all of a sudden, it’s now a year plus later, and you’re still in Australia. How was that transition? Speaking of transitions for your
[00:03:10] Cara: kids. We decided to position it to our children as we’re going on an adventure. So we kind of hid the stressfulness of packing and, uh, the stress of packing and leaving and moving to ourselves and managed that sort of behind closed doors, I guess as much as we could.
And we sort of posed it to our four year old. I mean, obviously our baby didn’t know what was going on. Just said, you know, we’re going on an adventure. We framed it as a positive, exciting thing. Not as something that was stressful and scary. And plus she’d been to Australia many times before, so we just focused on, you know, we’re going to be in nature and you’re going to go see family and friends.
And do you remember this person? And we’re going to go here. And so we really framed it as it, a positive experience. And then we thought, you know, we had to do two weeks hotel isolation. So we gave him plenty of warning about what that entails. So she had a good understanding and I literally packed a bag of odds and frost and we kept very occupied.
[00:04:22] Stephanie: So where’s that four of you in a hotel room for two weeks, including a three month old at the time. Yeah. How did you do that? How did you mentally survive?
[00:04:32] Cara: Well, after it moved, actually we moved, we kind of came when my son was almost a year old and my daughter was four and a half. And so my son had two milestones.
He turned one in hotel isolation and he learned to walk. So it was like so adorable and he was so excited and we were so stressed, calming, packing. Nervous about getting corroded off flying visas. It was so stressful that we, for the first four days, we actually enjoyed just not having to be anywhere, but then yet by day 7, 8, 9, 10, they were long days, but we kind of said, this is a unique experience and we just enjoyed being around each other.
And it was good. It was, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Did either
[00:05:23] Stephanie: your husband or you get any work done during that quarantine period? I’m just curious, how does this all work? You
[00:05:29] Cara: know, how do you look? My husband has his own business, so he was working on New York times. And then for that week we said, you know, for the first four days we said, we’re not doing any work.
We made that kind of pact. We’re giving ourselves like three or four days to get a climatize and just to relax for a minute and take a deep. And because of the time differences, we had a lot of jet lag. He was up all night. So I was sort of tending to him to make sure he got on the right time schedule, sleep.
And yeah, no, it was, I didn’t really do too much work. You know, I, I looked at emails and attended to anything that was immediate and my husband tended to work a little bit more taking phone calls during the night and things like that. But when you can’t leave a hotel room, you know, in New York trained us.
Cause we, it was an apartment, it was two bedrooms. There was outdoor space. There was a washer and dryer kitchen. So it wasn’t like a hotel room with nothing and one room. So it, it, it was fine. It was just a little bit strange because you forget that there’s a world around you. Like after the 14th day, it’s just, you you’re just so in your world.
And you think that you just forget that there’s life outside. It’s like the very strange feeling,
[00:06:46] Stephanie: any tips on a jet lag for kids, you know,
[00:06:49] Cara: you just have to, to ride it out. There is no secret sauce. It’s just trying to get them on that schedule. And if they wake up in the middle of the night, just, you know, keeping it dark.
And I had my son with me in my bed and we just kind of, you know, he w he was more upset and crying. Cause I guess he was confused. So, yeah. And then with my daughter, she would sometimes wake up at three in the morning, like wide awake and starving. That’s an interesting one. It just takes about a week to get, so
[00:07:22] Stephanie: let’s talk a little bit about your company that you started.
Tell the audience, you know, what is it all about and what was the inspiration behind starting.
[00:07:29] Cara: Sure. So a Big World of Little Dude, as you said, was, is an educational platform, teaching kids social and emotional skills, which means teaching kids about self-awareness, social awareness, things like meditation to help with emotional regulation about feelings, manners, empathy, kindness, all those ideas that we really want our young children to have a strong foundation in.
And, uh, it is targeted for the early childhood. So three to seven, because that’s the most important time in a child’s development because they’re really learning at a rapid pace and they form the foundation of knowledge in those years.
And then my experience. Um, as a teacher, I’m a Montessori teacher. So when I was in the Montessori classroom, I just saw that there was an unmet need. Like why aren’t we teaching social and emotional skills explicitly at this age, we teach children letters, sounds numbers. We teach them so many foundational things like they read for the rest of their lives.
They use numbers for the rest of them. Why aren’t we teaching what kindness is, what empathy is and what all these important skills are and what they mean and how they affect themselves and others. And I had, uh, my dog and I, we were a therapy dog team with the good solid foundation and as a volunteer position.
And we would. Schools and hospitals. And it was through that experience of meeting just a range of people that you would never meet before. Like I would go to pediatrics ICU at New York Presbyterian and, um, a charter school for autism and aged care facility where people were really not well. And you just have experiences where you’ll.
You know, you do a small act of kindness. And I just wanted to share that idea with the children in the classroom, where I was teaching. I, why it’s important to be kind to others and the reward that it is both the giver of kindness and the receiver of kindness. So I thought, oh, I’m going to bring my dog little dude into the classroom.
I’m going to share his story. And he’ll be like my vehicle to teach them this idea about kindness. And then it just kind of started from that. So it was very organic. And then as I said, I saw an unmet need in the curriculum about teaching all those important social and emotional skills in an explicit way.
And so I thought, oh, I’m going to write a book about it. Well, what’s the impact of book. Okay. All right. A series of books and then I will write a curriculum to go along with it. So then I that’s how it all began.
[00:10:01] Stephanie: What do you think? Some of the key things that we miss about teaching kids about say empathy.
I love that you focused on the social emotional cause I see that I have an almost three-year-old and an almost six year old and seeing that, um, the other day I literally said to my head. How can we teach him empathy? Because you know, kids say things, they say what th what’s on their mind. They, they say it as it is very black and white, but sometimes it can be extremely mean.
And we just, we keep trying to say like, oh, you know, that that could hurt their feelings or that might not be the best thing to say, but it’s really hard to teach that. Like, how do you go about teaching children, empathy?
[00:10:37] Cara: You try and get it from this perspective. So you do things like, for example, with my lesson, one of the ways I do it is so little dude goes to the vet.
So you go to the doctor, how do you feel when you go to the doc that a little dude gets shot? How does that make you feel when you get a shot? So you try and put your child in their shoes. So when my daughter, as you said, like children will just say, I can be out in the street and she’ll, she’ll make a comment about something.
And it’s like, she stayed in me. But it’s about saying, well, what happens if someone said that to you? So I always turn it around. What happens if someone said that to you, how would that make you feel and let them process that? And then they’d be like, oh yeah, that would make me feel sad. Well, yeah, that would make that other person feel sad too.
And that’s why we don’t say things like that. So you just try and turn it around. And have them think about it rather than saying, oh, you know, we don’t say that because that goes over the head, they thinking why don’t we? But if you try and get it from their perspective and put them in the shoes and turn it around and get them to think about the feelings.
And it’s also got to do with like, making sure that they have the light right. And language, especially around feelings, like an emotions. And that helps self regulation to cause if a child. Name, what they’re feeling. It can help them process when they’re in the moment and you can model it. You can say, I see you a frustrated.
I see you a frustrated. So just seeing, so just you’re aware of it and you see them and you hear them and you can understand them. And that’s a good way to start practicing empathy. Language around feelings. I see you are frustrated. I see you are angry. So just acknowledging that they have feelings because we also have a range of feelings, but as adults, not all adults can still regulate.
Like some adults can go have a tantrum too. So like little children have the same rolling feelings as we do, but we just can process them. We have to help them process the feelings.
[00:12:52] Stephanie: So throughout the last year and, you know, teaching these lessons and things, have you seen a shift in kind of the social, emotional side of children, things that maybe your company was pivoting to focus more on helping parents with what kind of were those and what did you have to do maybe differently in your business?
[00:13:11] Cara: Yeah, so I really did pivot because when we were in New York yeah. They shut down schools. And so I had my fi four year old daughter at home with me, and she went to a school where they don’t do any technology for children in the elementary school. So they weren’t doing zoom or anything. And I thought, what am I going to do with my daughter?
I want her to continue learning and growing and being excited, engaged, and also was such a scary time. Threw myself into doing activities with her. And then I had a lot of friends saying like, what are you doing? And everyone was so stressed. Like, do you remember that time in March when everyone was so stressed, you had two kids at home and it was so overwhelming.
Cause there was so much unknown, so much fear. And so I was decided to write a curriculum for parents to use at home. So like hands-on activities. So I created an real, I would do it in real time with my daughter over the week. And then at night I would be madly putting it into a format that I could send to parents.
And it was all activities that were, hands-on very easy for parents to follow. So not like reams and range, cause I’m sure people were on Pinterest and this and that. I’m a teacher, so it didn’t overwhelm me. I was like, cool. I get to do all these things with my daughter that I would never get it. Cause she’s in school doing them with another teacher.
But if you’re not a teacher, it was very overwhelming. Definitely.
[00:14:39] Stephanie: I was in that
[00:14:40] Cara: position. Yeah. Like some, if someone from the top restaurant said to me, right, you got to come in and cook the meal for the restaurant tonight. You’d be like, I don’t know how to do that. And you just be kind of piecing it together.
So it’s like that feeling of, yeah. Like it was a lot of pressure on parents to deal with at that time. So yeah, I created these at-home lessons for parents and I also sold it to schools.
[00:15:06] Stephanie: So did your business, because of this change kind of explode during this time, did you see that your business was actually doing better because of all of it in a
[00:15:15] Cara: way the change was.
Changed my direction, which I thought was interesting. Like, I, I kind of didn’t have that. It was more, my lessons were books and lessons for teachers and ideas for parents, but it wasn’t as involved as like creating a curriculum. So yeah, it was a very big change, but a positive one, I think, because, you know, sometimes you just have to follow that path.
[00:15:42] Stephanie: And how did that all change now that you moved from New York to Australia?
[00:15:46] Cara: Oh, it was really like, because when I also learned launched school in a box, which has all the materials that go along with the lessons and I also have a, like, buy one, give one program where you can. Buy a box to give it to new Yorkers for children and ACS, which is where I used to visit with little dude, um, which is like the child foster care system.
We still go and visit kids because of the pandemic. Everything was shot. So I had that as well, and I launched that as we would decided to like pack up. Uh, you know, not pack up, but just pack full, coming to Australia for three months in the middle of a pandemic and launching this whole new side of my business.
That’s just physical, right?
[00:16:31] Stephanie: Like it’s, it’s fulfillment. So how do you handle, you know, physical products fulfillment when now you’re not in New York, you’re working technically remotely.
[00:16:40] Cara: How does that work? I have a wonderful teacher that I have in New York. Who’s helping me and I like run it out of my iPhone.
So she just goes there and fulfills whatever I need and helps me on that end. But yeah, it’s been really difficult because I was planning to homeschool my children. I had a teacher lined up for the new school year. A last minute decision to come to Australia because we had a family issue where we were like, no, we have to go.
So it was really disruptive to be honest. Um, and then it was such a shock when we got here and was working on New York times. So I really had to like take on the responsibility of the kids. So my business went from running at such a high level, and then I didn’t have a choice. I kind of just had to drop.
I dropped the ball. It was tough because. I was so in it and I loved it. I was so excited. And then I’m like, Nope, sorry, you, you gotta be in money and you got to do all these other things that are just going to take precedents. So it was really
[00:17:41] Stephanie: tough. I think that resonates with so many moms out there that we had to.
At least you were a teacher. So you had the, the resources to do that. But I think a lot of women out there had to put their careers on pause and had to do that during that time that, you know, you had to kind of take a step back. Have you reconsidered, anything, have you decided or changed what the vision of your business wants to be?
Or, you know, what does the future of that look like of big world little dudes?
[00:18:11] Cara: No, my mission and everything is still exactly the same. I decided when I got here that I would do a master’s of education. So I kind of am using the opportunity of being here to further my study. Which I’ve always wanted to do.
So, um, I’m doing that as well. And just finding my feet here, like I had such an amazing crew of women who was so supportive in New York who were entrepreneurs, who were mummies. And I built this amazing network over 10 years. And now I feel like in some ways, starting. I gain and like it is it’s half of it is your network in a way.
And I’m just so thankful for, Hey, mama community, because so many women there have like kept me sane pretty much, like, especially in those moments where you’re just like, oh, I’m just going to throw it all in. Like, you know, you have those moments. Why am I doing this? But then I have those feelings and then I kind of in my head play out.
Okay. So I will stop it in my head. I was like, why am I doing this? I’ll just go and teach in a classroom. Like, why am I, why am I doing this? And then I just like, no, no, no. I can’t like, I don’t want to, like, I have a passion to do it. And so I kind of, that’s my trick that I do. I was like, In your head fantasize about not doing this anymore.
How would it look like how would it make you feel? And then I was like, no, I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. And I’m not just going to throw that away. I’m just going to keep going and put one foot in front of the other. And also, you know, you have up and down days, you just got to ride that way. Yeah.
[00:19:51] Stephanie: I think you said a few key points there though is it’s not just putting one foot in front of the other and saying that you worked so hard to build this. You added the point that you were super passionate about it. Because one of the questions I like asking is, you know, was there ever a point you just wanted to quit throw it all away and why didn’t you?
And so maybe to the woman. Yeah, who are thinking about it and fantasizing about leaving something, but it actually feels good to them. I think that was the that’s. The big difference is you were so passionate about it that you couldn’t imagine when you envision leaving to leave. So that’s why you put one foot in front of the other, versus some people might look at it and be like, what am I I doing?
I hate this so much. I do just want to leave. And it’s okay. And I think I’ve even had those moments where I’m like, but I worked so hard. But I’m not enjoying it. So then why continue? And it’s hard to let go of that. So thank you for saying that.
[00:20:44] Cara: Yes. And I think that’s like, especially this year, it’s been very challenging and that’s the kind of the one not tip, but anyone who’s sort of says, you know, I want to stop this business.
And I was like, are you passionate about it? Because if it’s not, you don’t want to live, breathe. Think about it all the time. And it’s not like something that you really passionate about. Don’t do it because you will not last the distance. It has to be something that connects with you makes you feel inspired, creative, wants to make change. And that’s where I, I go back to this. Like, I want to make a difference, even if it’s for one person’s life or one family’s life or whatever it is. And it’s kind of brings it back to my idea of, you know, the experience I had volunteering with. In all the hospitals, it’s like just one little act of kindness.
Yeah. It’s not going to change the universe, but it’s going to change that person’s moment in that time. And that’s why I do what I do.
[00:21:44] Stephanie: So another question is. Also women have companies and had to take a step back from working or doing that. But it was also really hard because financially they needed to keep working too.
And so some of them are looking for other things. Maybe they’re not passionate about it, but because they need to financially. You know, help their family. Were you ever in that position or were you fortunate enough to be able to step back? Because that’s, I think another part of the overall picture, and if you were, you know, what other things did your family maybe do to make this
[00:22:17] Cara: work?
Yes, no. I mean, that’s the other thing. The pandemic shine a light on it. I woke up every morning and saying, I have gratitude for where I am. So yeah, my life is disrupted and I put all these other things and, you know, you don’t feel two things at once. You can feel frustrated and sad and one like, oh, this happened like, you know, I used to have this life and do these things and be around these people, but also at the same time, be like, I have all the key things I need in my life.
I have beautiful family, wonderful children roof over my head food on my table and love in my home. And like, those things have remained consistent. And those, when I am having those tough moments, I kind of draw myself back to life. No, I have all the essentials and like, I am in a very lucky position where, you know, my husband supports what I do and he’s an entrepreneur too.
And so I was lucky enough to step back to be able to step back. But I know like so many families, we’re not in that position, so yeah, no, it’s been a tough year for family. Yes.
[00:23:29] Stephanie: And along the lines of support, I mean, you had a support system in New York. What is your support system now look like in Australia, whether it’s, you know, behind the scenes childcare help or whether it’s, you know, business support, like, what does your support look like now?
And, or are you still searching for that?
[00:23:45] Cara: Uh, a bit of both. Like, I, you know, I grew up here, so I. All my family and friends, which, you know, in New York was I didn’t have my family and I didn’t. I had my, my brother was there, which I was really lucky, but I didn’t have my parents there. I didn’t have my childhood friends.
Like all my friends were new friends. So I have that support, which is lovely, those connections, which is great. But I would say. Building that business network. I feel like I’m starting from zero and it’s very different here. It’s not like New York or America where it’s like, it’s different. It’s different.
[00:24:26] Stephanie: I’m curious. What are the biggest differences? I don’t know too much about the business culture of Australia, but I would love to learn more. Well,
[00:24:33] Cara: it’s definitely smaller, a lot, much, much smaller pool because there’s just not as many people. Like America’s got hundreds of millions of people.
Australia has 25 million, like in the whole of Australia, so it’s much smaller and they’re just not into it. Maybe things have changed in the last 10 years, but, and I’m sure they have, but it’s just not as much of a networking culture. Like it is in New York. Different it’s different. Well,
[00:25:03] Stephanie: I was going to say on my podcasts, a few episodes back, I had, um, Emma Isaacs and she is the founder and head of business chicks, which was Australia.
[00:25:14] Cara: Check her out. I do. I know her cause she’s married to her husband is went to my school, been to some of her events, but it’s, . Yeah. And also I’m in the country too. Like I managed a small country town of 2,500 people, but it’s fine because you know what, it pushes me out of my comfort and to meet new people and find my feet.
So it doesn’t scare me. It will worry me, or I have fear around it is just, is this the time to accrue those relationships? That takes time to build relationships. They don’t happen overnight. And as you know, you have children and a family. So, you know, people are time poor at this stage of our lives and we’ve got young kids.
So it’s hard to, it’s doubly hard to make those connections.
[00:26:08] Stephanie: I definitely agree. I, and it’s also hard because everything’s over zoom pretty much now, you know, we’re, we’re barely back in person. And so there aren’t big events that you can go to and meet other yeah. Other women. So I completely relate.
[00:26:23] Cara: Yes. I miss that.
I really miss in person events. Don’t you miss your meeting hosts,
[00:26:29] Stephanie: host an event yourself in Australia, bring
[00:26:33] Cara: people to you. Good idea.
[00:26:37] Stephanie: Well, I wanted to kind of wrap this up with a couple of final questions. What do you think is a superpower that you gained once you became a mom? And how does that help you in either business or life?
[00:26:49] Cara: I would say time management and being organized.
I mean, I’ve always been very organized, but in terms of time management, like you don’t have time to mess around, like you have to make sure everything is. Organized and in place. So everything runs smoothly. So I would say that is something that has helped me business and in everything.
[00:27:14] Stephanie: And any last advice for any moms out there who are going through this sort of transition, or maybe even took a step back for a little bit and are getting back into things, you know, any advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
[00:27:28] Cara: Yeah. I would say follow your passion. And also don’t be so hot and yes. We tend to be our harshest critics and like that’s me included. I would like to take my own advice, which is really difficult to say, so it’d be your harshest critic and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s been a tough year and every, everyone has done amazing way and we’ve got through.
And so I think focus on that and have those moments where you soft and easy on yourself.
[00:27:57] Stephanie: Well, thank you so much for joining today. Where can we find you online?
[00:28:01] Cara: Sure I am, uh, at world of little dude or www.worldoflittledude.com.
[00:28:07] Stephanie: Thank you so much for joining today. I really appreciate it.
[00:28:11] Cara: Yeah. So lovely to chat to you.
[00:28:13] Stephanie: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Mommy’s on a Call.
Your support means the absolute world. To me. You can find the show notes for this episode and other things. Over at mommysonacall.com. And if you enjoyed this episode or have gotten value from the podcast, I would be so grateful if you could head on over to apple podcasts and leave a rating and review so that we can reach and empower more moms all over the world together.
Thank you so much again, mommy pod, and I will see you here next time.