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How big questions from my little guy inspired Indigrow : A diversity & inclusion company for kids

How big questions from my little guy inspired Indigrow : A diversity & inclusion company for kids

On a typical balmy Singapore afternoon, I picked up my little boy Neil, all of 3.5 years old, from preschool. A normally exuberant, cheerful Neil was quiet and sullen. I resisted the mother bear urge to immediately probe and fix the problem, and decided to play a fun “guess what happened in school” game. Side note, it’s a great way to get kids to spill the beans!  

I began with the easy stuff. 

“Let me guess, you played on the monkey bars?” 

“Obviously” he said, indifferently. 

“Hmm… Let me guess, you ate carrots and yellow rice for lunch?” I asked. They serve a healthy meal at school and we get sent the menu beforehand, so this is always a good segue, considering I know the answer ;-)

 “No! Guess again Mamma!”.  He lightened up at me being wrong. 

“Oh wait.. Spaghetti then?” 

 “No! Last try Mamma! ” he responded, giggling mischievously. 

 Pretending to wrack my brain, I scratched my head and exclaimed - “Chicken Noodle Soup!!!” 

“Yes!! Well done Mamma!” he said, smiling ear to ear.  

Now that we seemed to have crawled out of the shell, I dug a little deeper and asked if anything  happened in school that made him feel sad or upset. 

“Arya asked me why I look different from everyone else, and where I’m from. She even said I look different from my Mamma….I didn’t say anything… “ he said softly, crawling straight back into his sullen state of being. 

I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but I remember it made him feel better for the moment. I also remember wishing I had phrased it better, wishing I could revisit that conversation, wishing I had done it differently. 

It seemed so obvious in hindsight, that these questions would come up. I was raised in India and worked and studied in Europe and Africa before moving to Singapore. My husband Richard is from South Africa. Neil has a fairer skin tone, closer to his. Although his features are a tad more like mine, you can’t really pinpoint where he is from. Growing up in Singapore, he certainly didn’t look Chinese or Indian… You ask him now and he’ll say he is Indian, Singapore and South African…and he’d be right. 

But coming back to the point, it seemed that amidst playing with Lego blocks, shaping play dough and scrambling in sandpits, these little kids were asking some big questions. 

“Why does your food smell yucky?” 

“Why don’t you celebrate the festival that I celebrate?”

“Why do you look different from me?”

“Why does your dad speak differently” 

“Why is that girl’s name so funny?” 

Questions like this seemed to linger on their minds and I wish I was better prepared. I also wondered what impact it was having. 

I quickly realised other parents felt the same way too. First and second generation immigrant parents, interracial parents, expat parents, adoptive parents, gay parents, or parents from two different parts of the same country -  everyone had stories about kids picking up cultural, physical and other differences earlier than they thought. Parents either shied away from talking about it - claiming it was too early or fumbled through answers hoping they did their best. 

The fact is, the world is getting more diverse. Nearly 70% of the largest cities in the world are ethnically diverse, Gen Z is already more diverse culturally and ethnically than any other generation before them. 45% of millennial parents in the U.S are multicultural, with similar statistics across other countries. Family structures are also different. (Source: Pew Research Centre, Census Data)

Diversity is not a section in the bookshelf anymore, it is the lives our kids are living everyday. Be it how you look, what your family looks like, what you eat, wear, talk about or celebrate - differences will be pointed out. Self esteem and empathy take seed in early childhood. Nurturing confidence and kindness about oneself as well as others should start then too, right?

Talking explicitly about issues like culture, race, religion and abilities can be awkward for adults. But for children, it’s not awkward. It’s essential. They are already thinking about these topics and making sense of them in their own way, whether adults talk with them about it or not. Early childhood anti-bias education expert, Louise Derman-Sparks, explains: “By the age of two, children begin absorbing socially prevailing stereotypes, attitudes and biases about themselves and people different from themselves”. (Source: Barefoot Books)

When we started, we started with the intention of bringing alive different cultures in a modern, delightful, relevant way. And we did. Our A to Z series of Playbooks and games bringing alive Indian, Chinese and Singaporean cultures are wildly popular across more than 30 countries. It’s a great way to start conversations about heritage & culture. 

But we aim to do more. We want to empower kids to celebrate the diversity of themselves and those around them. Backed by science, powered by play - our team of moms and educators will create a whole universe of books, activities, songs, tools & resources to help kids and their grown ups navigate a more multicultural world. So you don’t have to fumble and shy away from conversations - you can make them fun! “Everyday moments of diversity inspired play and talk” we like to call it. Something to weave into your daily routine that will nurture confidence and empathy for years to come. 

By truly diversifying playrooms, we hope to create a more empathetic & kinder generation of the future. 

And that’s our why. 

Thank you for reading! Join our community & help us spread the word. Drop into  for a peek at what we do. Oh and also, welcome to indigrow :-)


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