The Rapidian

Dads get their day as parents learn to play

Connections program helps parents learn about their children’s development and find out how to help them grow through play.
Kevin Clemens and his one-year-old son, Zion.

Kevin Clemens and his one-year-old son, Zion. /David Chandler

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Connections is a free program for Grand Rapids parents with children ages 0-5. It uses playtime to track children’s development, while also including age-appropriate tips and activities and someone to talk to if you ever have questions or concerns.

Sign up online or call 616.454.4673.

Kevin and Trinity Clemens read to their son, Zion.

Kevin and Trinity Clemens read to their son, Zion. /David Chandler

Ah, Father’s Day. A great time to kick back with the kids and enjoy some quality time. Maybe play a game of catch.

But wait, are your children ready to play catch? Is this the stage when you can do that? What other activities are good for this age?

It’s no secret that play is important to a child’s development. Research consistently shows that through play, kids form a foundation of behavioral, physical, social and emotional skills they carry through life.

But few parents are experts, and every child grows differently. Family Futures has a program, Connections, that helps parents learn about how their child is developing.

For Connections dad Kevin Clemens, parenting his one-year-old son Zion is all about play.

“That’s how they communicate, is through play,” Clemens said. “I try to be very involved and take time out of my schedule to play, because that’s how he communicates to me.

“Play is huge.”

Clemens, a former professional football player, is pretty sizable himself. Right now his go-to activity with Zion is basketball, rolling the ball back and forth and other games that use hand-eye coordination.

“We love sports,” he said.

As Zion grows, the things they do change along with him.

“It always depends on what age he’s at,” Clemens said. “I would adjust what kind of games we would play with his age. When he was younger, we would try to get him to crawl and do crawling things. Now he’s just starting to take steps and do walking. He gets a kick out of that.”

Connections gives Clemens and other Grand Rapids parents customized feedback about how their child is developing. Every couple months, Family Futures sends an age-specific questionnaire to families.  Parents use playtime to answer the questions (things like “Can your child stack three blocks?”), then send it back. Family Futures then shares the results, showing where the child is at in categories like gross motor and communication skills.

In addition to the questionnaires, parents get tips on what to expect at that stage, age-appropriate activity ideas and the option to talk to a parent coach if there are any concerns. By receiving this just-in-time info, parents can have a little more guidance about what’s going on and different things they can do to help their child grow.

“We have to learn to come down to their level and play. That’s how the bond is created, I believe,” Clemens said. “I just do things he likes to do. Anything he smiles at, it’s something I’ll do then. Then it’s my daily ritual.”

On a holiday all about parenting, it’s a good time to think about what parents can learn by signing up for Connections.

As for the Clemens family Father’s Day celebrations, Kevin and his wife Trinity plan to take Zion out for some family time.

“We always go get ice cream cones,” said Clemens, who also planned to use Zion’s newest developmental skill.

“And we’ll probably go for a walk.”

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