Cultural education isn’t all fun and games—but some of it is
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Dr. Zabina Bhasin changed her profession from child psychiatrist to small business owner after recognizing the lack of diversity in children’s playthings. As a first-generation Indian American and mother of two, Bhasin knew the importance of sharing cultures and traditions with children. And she believed toys could provide both joy and cultural learning.
In 2019, Bhasin made the leap and launched her brand, In KidZ, headquartered in Agoura Hills, California. Today she sells such products as culture boxes, which contain toys and crafts that highlight traditions and holidays around the globe, as well as culture-specific puzzles, accessories and stuffed animals. In KidZ toys are now sold in her online shop and by major retailers like Nordstrom and Maisonette.
On Monday, Oct. 24, Diwali begins. Widely known as the festival of lights, it’s one of the most significant holidays celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs around the world. Here is what Diwali means to Bhasin, and how she is managing her business throughout the year.
First, Diwali. What does it mean to you, and how do you plan to celebrate?
When I was a child, Diwali meant family, friends, parties and religious events, but the best part was knowing the year-end festivals had started.
Growing up in India, I really got to understand the meaning and feeling behind Diwali. Now, as a mom, not only do I want my children to understand the meaning behind it, I want them to enjoy the festival and share it with friends of all backgrounds from their life. That’s why in our home, in the past years, we invite friends of all cultural backgrounds to celebrate Diwali with us and now they invite us into their homes to celebrate their celebrations and traditions. We are creating inter-community belonging and acceptance.
Why is it important to teach children about culture with toys?
Children use their imagination through toys and play to both learn and communicate, which makes the playroom the perfect place to begin teaching children about different cultures. We live in such a connected world that it is essential for parents to teach their children from a young age to be respectful when it comes to cultures that are unfamiliar to them. This will not only help them feel connected to other people in the world but also set the foundation for them as they grow older to be respectful global citizens.
During my training, we were taught and saw more and more that through play, crafts and the use of a child’s words, we connected with patients and their caretakers.
I realized when we launched In KidZ: What better way than toys to create a language for them to learn culture and traditions? They create a place of belonging and acceptance for all without any judgment.
One of the other things we know is that if you start kids as early as their preschool years, as they grow older and are in middle school, there is a decrease in bullying, prejudice and violence of all kinds.
How do kids respond when they play with items that focus on their family traditions?
Most of all, it’s joy, excitement and a fun way to learn about culture, traditions and language. Then it creates a space to connect with their peers… This brings a connection to one another.
What was launching your business like?
It started at the kitchen table during the pandemic. But before I even stepped into the world of In KidZ, about four years ago, I began creating Diwali baskets for family and friends just for fun. This brought so much joy and light to people, which is when the idea of In Kidz started. Little did I know, I was developing a company.
Even though it was tough to start during the pandemic, it was also a time when many parents realized that there were some serious holes in the education system. With many parents taking on homeschooling and being educators, many struggled to keep children engaged via Zoom and in online classrooms. That made products like ours so vital.
Did you take out any loans to finance your business?
No, the business has been bootstrapped. We never took out any loans.
What about credit cards? Which do you have and why?
I have a couple cards for the business. The first is The Platinum Card® from American Express (which gives a high travel rewards rate, free lounge access at airports all over the world and monthly credits).
I also have a business credit card from Wells Fargo. It’s the Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card (an account that offers two options for rewards — either 1.5 percent cash back on purchases or one point for every dollar charged, plus no annual fee and embedded cash management tools).
Both of these credit cards are great partners. They help uplift a small business.
What are your biggest challenges as a business owner?
I’ve had a lot: starting a business during the pandemic, learning as we go, being a woman of color and finding capital. And then there was creating something after 40, and trying to keep the negative people’s voices out of my head. But I did it!
Where do you see In KidZ going?
In KidZ is a diverse and inclusive multimedia ed-tech company that educates through play. We have several kits currently that focus on culture or traditions, as well as mindfulness and mental health. In the future we will create more kits that also educate on any topic. We want to make products, experiences, resources, educational materials, apps and games that all have children at the center.
Our goal is to create a world full of acceptance and understanding, so that no child ever has to experience bullying or harm in any way because of being “different.”
Learning about different cultures and traditions from around the world is about more than just learning how we all have different games, toys and traditions. It is about understanding that the world is full of diversity already. We are more similar than we are different.
What advice would you give other business owners, especially immigrants and first-generation Americans?
Live, believe and make your dreams happen. There is no age or time that you can’t do it. Remember, if you think it and truly believe in it, it will happen.
The world should know that there is no shame in not always having the answer, but it is important to be open to learning and asking questions.