Despite major steps towards providing early childhood care and education (ECCE) services in Kenya and Uganda, access to responsive services is still out of reach for many young children, and where available, they are often out of touch with local realities. In this paper, I trouble the universalising and totalising tendencies of the dominant narrative of ECCE as a template of thought and action and highlight the role of indigenous knowledge as a critical but often missing link in ECCE policy and practice. I draw on the situated experiences of caregivers and local communities, which counter the dominant narrative and argue that culturally responsive ECCE requires contextually sensitive policy and programmes. Such policies should affirm and support the important role of local knowledge in the care and socialisation of young children. Policies should also recognise the informal resilient social protection system without obscuring the role of the state in addressing structural vulnerability.