With everything we juggle in this working parent life, taking a few moments out of the day to attain some Zen never goes astray. But figuring out how to access real calm can be difficult even for us adults, let alone for the little ones we are hoping to guide along their path too. #MindrMama, educator and children’s author Cara Zelas has created a gorgeous new resource for teaching meditation to children, called ‘Brain Vacation: A Guide to Meditation.’ We caught up with Cara to hear about the process of writing her newest kids’ book, and her broader ‘Big World of Little Dude’ series for teaching kindness to children.
Meditation can be such an important outlet for all of us. What inspired you to bring this tool directly to the kiddos?
When creating the Big World of Little Dude book series and curriculum, I wanted to give children, parents and teachers practical tools to nurture social and emotional growth in a fun and engaging way. As a teacher or parent, you have strategies and approaches to guide your child to help them understand their emotions, how to process information and navigate the world around them. Mediation is a tool for your toolkit. It can support emotional regulation, and help your child find moments of internal peace and quiet.
What advice do you have for parents wanting to teach their children about meditation and other self-care tools?
Start in small increments, and make it fun and part of your daily routine.
Begin with getting to know your breath. You can use tools such as bubbles or pin wheels, since both require deep breaths, in and out. Ask your child to pick out their favorite teddy, lay on the bed or yoga mat, and place the teddy on their tummy. Watch the teddy rise and fall with each breath in and out. Can they make the teddy go higher by taking deeper breaths? As part of the bedtime ritual and routine, begin with 30 seconds and gradually increase the time, to close your eyes together, and just breathe. Placing hands on tummies can help with keeping still and provides direct input from the hands to feel the breath going in and out of your body.
Listening to a guided meditation can also be helpful. They can be found online for free, or you can listen to the Big World of Little Dude Sleep Meditation here!
My favorite self-care tool is to be in nature. It is simple, it is free, and taking a nature walk with your children can be an opportunity for conversation with little distraction from technology and toys.
Tell us about your journey from first coming up with the idea for the Big World of Little Dude to becoming a published author?
Little Dude is my dog. He and I volunteer with The Good Dog Foundation as a therapy team. We volunteer at schools and hospitals in Manhattan. The experience of volunteering with Little Dude taught me about the meaning of true kindness and empathy and how a small act of kindness can have a ripple effect.
My background is in education, and I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to share the ideas of kindness and empathy with children. I was teaching at a wonderful school, West Side Montessori, and they allowed me to bring Little Dude into the classroom and teach the children about being kind to others. This inspired me to write a book, so these ideas could be shared with many children.
At the same time, I began to discover an unmet need in school curriculum, that social and emotional skills were not being explicitly taught. We teach our children numbers, letters, art, music – why not teach social and emotional skills in a formal way that can be assessed and measured? This lead me to write a social and emotional literacy-based curriculum.
Writing is a very self-driven pursuit. How do you stay motivated?
I love being creative and using my imagination, this is what drives me. When I read my stories to children and see their faces light up, their eyes engaged and eager to see the next page turn, this propels me forward to continue to write.
Writing tends to be a solo activity, it is about making the time, with intention, to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I have different tactics that help me with the writing process so it does not feel overwhelming. I go in baby steps. I leave the work to sit and then return with fresh eyes. It is a process.
The new series are books you can read and sing and I work with an amazing musician. Collaborating in the writing process has been life-changing. We click, the words flow and we have a lot of laughs in the process.
Where do you find community as you progress this self-driven work?
Finding different communities to feel nurtured and supported has been the biggest game changer for my business in the last year. I belong to the co-working space The Wing, and it feels like I am working in a beehive, with amazing queen bees buzzing, hustling and taking over the world. It is a very motivating environment to work in. The Big World of Little Dude curriculum will be part of enrichment programming for The Wing’s new child-centered space, The Little Wing, which I am super excited about!
HeyMama is a fierce community of mamas and it is wonderful to know an army of amazing women, who you can reach out to for guidance, advice and support. Female Founders Collective is helping to identify women run businesses, so consumers and clients know that your business is female founded. And Mindr! I love being able to attend events, with my daughter, with other mother's and engage with learning. Knowledge is power and learning should never cease.
What’s one big objective you have for 2019?
To see Big World of Little Dude as a mixed medium video series, a combination of puppets (puppets are wonderful teaching tool for young children), live actors and animation.
Cara Zelas teaches kindness to children all around the world. She is an author and educator originally from Sydney, Australia and now living in New York City with her family and therapy dog, Little Dude. Cara and Little Dude visit hospitals and schools throughout New York City, where they deliver kindness and support to those in need. Little Dude has taught Cara and countless children that being kind to others is contagious.