I've been in Bali for the last two weeks, enjoying the sun and learning about local culture. The Balinese are lovely, kind and generous people, who genuinely like to meet and spend time with newcomers. In 2005, there was a double bombing in one of the tourist areas, carried out by extremists from another island. Local justice has done an excellent job of making sure things like that don't happen again, and now all of Bali is quite safe and pleasant at all hours.
The local religion is Balinese Hindu, and the gods are everywhere. You will see people putting offerings in tiny woven leaf trays, three times a day. They speak with the god and leave the offering on the street afterward (kind of like leftovers!). If you ask, locals are happy to explain their beliefs and ceremonies, which are unique to Indonesia and profoundly connected to their way of life.
Balinese are also very concerned about their poor. Because there's no free public education, it's very difficult for the poor to move up the socioeconomic ladder. People volunteer time, effort and what little money they have to help families educate their children, build decent housing and start small businesses. But resources are extremely scarce. Just to find an old magazine to help a teen learn English can be difficult. I spent a day at a wonderful pair of programs, the Learning Center and H.E.L.P. afterschool program in Singaraja in northeast Bali, teaching a class and learning how the programs help extremely poor Balinese boys and girls of all ages.
The Helen Flavel Foundation funds the work of the Learning Center, which provides free education including books, to the poorest Balinese. They send "Frontliners" around the community to find which families need the most help, and coordinate with a program similar to the US Habitats for Humanity, and a microcredit lending group to help these families help themselves.
One of the most important things to Balinese is that their children learn proper English. It's considered one of the pillars of a secure future here. Volunteers from the local university and all over the world come to teach at the HELP center, but it's a difficult language to learn for many kids, especially with limited resources. If you're interested in volunteering, donating or just learning more about these wonderful, nondenominational and nonpolitical education programs, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on HELP, or you can contact the Helen Flavel Foundation at helenflavelfoundation.org for more information on the Learning Centre. Whether all you have is a few books to send, or a week to donate, or a few dollars, you'll know it's going to a cause that will change children's lives.
While each child is unique, they have a lot in common at a given age. It helps to be aware of what's important to your child at each stage, as well as what her skills and abilities are. There are plenty of books available to help you understand how your child sees the world, and how to help her grow. But the most important tool you have is your own relationship with the child. Teachers who pay attention and have a warm connection with their students, and parents who maintain an attached parenting style (see my link to Dr Sears Web site for this topic), can sense when a child is ready to learn new things, when a child is challenged, and what kinds of activities or style of learning will work. By seeing what the child is interested in, what (or who!) engages her and keeps her attention, you can find a starting point to guide the child toward learning the skills you need to teach. Toddlers learn by exploring. Older children may learn better through hands on activities, by seeing someone else act, by listening or reading. Certainly by teen years kids are greatly affected by peers, and popular culture. Use your understanding of your child to guide you in choosing resources and methods for encouraging learning academic and pro-social skills.