When I hear that Oregon is third from the bottom nationwide in graduation rates I wonder aloud, "How can that be?" Living in a state with numerous opportunities for enrichment, this doesn't seem possible.

Taking that thought a bit forward I wonder about our own school district and Sisters High graduation rate. Where do we stand? Well, actually rather high. According to The Bulletin on January 25, 2018 Sisters was fourth in our area with an 86.54 percent, behind Summit High with 90.71 percent, Crook County with 90.06 percent and Bend High with 89.5 percent. All of these are higher than the national average of 84.1%, which raises the question, "Why, at 76.65 percent, is Oregon still in the lowest group of graduation rates in the country?"

Even with our high rates I wonder, "Why aren't they higher?" Perhaps one of the ways to make that happen is to concentrate on developing a love of learning at an early age. If kids are imbued with excitement about learning from early on wouldn't a consistent goal be to graduate from high school?

Even though formal "school" starts at an earlier age than in years past, the first and most important teachers of kids are the parents. The extent and quality of that "life long learning" depends a lot on the seeds planted early.       

In recent years, most parents have become aware of the importance of the first years of brain development. The media has done a good job sharing that message. Research shows that during the first three years of life the foundation for later learning is laid down.  A couple of books that help with understanding what's happening are "The Scientist in the Crib," (Alison Gopnik, Ph.D, Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph.D, Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph.D), and "The Whole Brain Child," (Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D).

Two internet resources full of ideas that encourage life-long learning are www.joinvroom.org and the Daily VROOM app, suggesting many tips that make any experience a brain-building moment.

What are the things parents should focus on to be sure life-long learning continues? One of the most important is language. It's been said, "Say anything and everything," Turn off the TV and be sure your kids hear you talk, using as many different words as possible. Read out loud, explain what you are doing, narrate your day, describe what you and they are looking at and explain how things work.

Listen openly and answer their questions. Use nouns, adverbs, and vocabulary to make every moment a teachable moment, igniting curiosity and keeping it alive. Change your expression and make conversation fun.

Through this type of interaction experiences take on meaning, and out of that new experiences happen and learning takes place.

Pay close attention to what your kids are interested in and determine where their strengths lie. By supporting them in identifying their strengths, aptitudes, and interests you are lighting the fires that encourage learning.

Kids read and respond to what they perceive you think about them, so having high expectations and believing in their potential is essential for growth. Many studies show that when adults have high expectations motivation and achievement excel.

Success needs to be experienced or the love of learning will dwindle. When parents help their children develop relevant goals without imposing their own ideas, along with encouraging self-assessment, success can be found in small increments. Building on these keeps the love of learning active and helps develop more skill and knowledge. All of this is important.

Our world is full of opportunity for learning. Take your kids to work with you; travel to a part of Oregon that is new; take a class together; ask for their advice, teach them to do what you love doing; ask what they think about a TV show and why; and show excitement for big and small encounters.

Give them a problem to solve and listen carefully to their solution, asking questions that stretch their thoughts. Allow them to fail at something new and together figure out what might work better. Be sure every day has some kind of an adventure in it.

Enjoy life together, and before you know it you will be watching them receive their high school diploma. A proud moment for both of you as you realize it's not the end but just one big step in the continuation of your goal to encourage life-long learning.